Grade 8 students learn about vision and the brain

Twenty Grade 8 students put their textbooks aside to investigate how the brain works through an experiential learning partnership at York University and a Toronto middle school.

Students from Portage Trail Community Middle School visited laboratories at York’s Centre for Vision Research June 11 to learn how the brain works when humans see objects and reach for them. The visit also gave students an opportunity to experience an authentic scientific environment, to observe experiments and to learn about the scientific method, said Michael Vesia, a York doctoral student in kinesiology and co-organizer of the event.

“Teaching science to kids using only textbooks is an arduous task. In a day and age when kids’ senses are constantly being overloaded with media images and gadgets, most kids need to be engaged through hands-on activities, when learning science,” Vesia said.

The hands-on activities for students will capitalize on ongoing studies at the Centre for Vision Research that investigate how people see in three dimensions, how they reach out to things, how vision determines people’s perception of orientation, how the brain controls the way people’s eyes move and how our brain processes optical illusions. The students were divided into four groups of five students, each group appropriately named for lobes of the brain.

The reversing prisms demonstration showed students how the brain can be retrained to use visual information to guide the body’s movements. This procedure is part of ongoing research promoting recovery following stroke from York’s Visuomotor Neuroscience Laboratory.

The tumbling room demonstration illustrated how vision determines peoples’ perception of orientation as the Tumbling Room – a cube resembling a typical room – is rotated around a stationary subject.

Students also had an opportunity to learn more about functional magnetic resonance imaging and its role in research.

Vesia and Portage Trail Grade 8 teacher Valeria Cuda, conceived of Brain Day as an excursion that would conclude other career fair events at the middle school throughout the year. Vesia and Cuda design the events to increase student awareness of various career paths available in the sciences.

This past year, Cuda and Vesia were the co-recipients of a Society for Neuroscience Neuroscientist-Teacher Partner Travel Award. The award give teachers the opportunity to attend the society’s annual meeting – the premiere venue for the world’s neuroscientists to debut their cutting-edge research.

Vesia is also the recent recipient of last year’s University-wide teaching award at York.