Nothing in the world is closer to us than our own brain. At the same time, nothing in the world is more mysterious than how this 3-pound organ can give rise to ourselves. At BrainSTEM, we believe that this dichotomy has intrinsic interest to people of all ages, and we are dedicated to developing the instructional tools to properly teach what science has discovered about the brain. By teaching about the brain, we hope that students learn not only the skills that they need to succeed in STEM fields, but also how their own minds works.
During the school year, BrainSTEM mentors go every Thursday and take over two classes at KIPP Sunnyside High School. Every week we are teaching approximately 45 students with a new lesson – these can range from dissecting sheep brains and learning anatomy, to coding neural networks that recognize objects, to doing experiments with diffusion gradients that simulate neurons. We approach neuroscience from every angle in order to best prepare students for STEM fields in the future.
BrainSTEM is a multi-institutional program in the Texas Medical Center hosted by Rice University. Our mentors come from a variety of institutions and range from undergraduate students to full professors at prestigious universities. The program has several components.
BIOC 129 – Teaching STEM Through Neuroscience
For Rice undergraduates who can dedicate a part of every Thursday afternoon to volunteering, we have a for-credit course available. Undergraduates who join this course will be provided with pedagogy training and will learn how to lead a classroom. Initially, you will assist more senior mentors in lessons; as you gain experience, you will be given more responsibility. At the end of the semester, you will help run an entire lesson by organizing a lesson plan and coordinating mentors.
This course is an official part of the Rice neuroscience major, and counts towards major elective credit. Please note that BIOC 129 is a one hour course – to obtain elective credit, you must take the course for three semesters.
For people who aren’t Rice undergraduates, or undergraduates who cannot commit to coming every Thursday, we have a club that coordinates involvement. When you sign up for the club, you will be asked to make the best guess of the days that you will be able to come during the current semester. While you aren’t committed to going on those days, it helps us organize transportation every week.
Throughout the year, we do various events on different days of the week. People who can’t make our Thursday lessons, but wish to participate in the club anyway, are put on the “BrainSTEM Reserve” email list. Whenever a volunteer opportunity comes up, we message everyone in the club, including this list. These opportunities come up approximately once a month, and people can come when they can make it.