Talented students investigate “that piece of thinking meat”

Published 23 June 2008

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By carefully dissecting lambs’ brains, 130 students from rural and regional schools throughout northern NSW have gained some valuable insights into the function and essential maintenance of their own “grey matter”.

In the “Amazing Brain Workshop” at the University of New England on Saturday 21 June the students learnt to locate, identify and describe at least 10 parts of the brain. The workshop was one of a series of “TalentEd Enrichment Days” for gifted and talented students organised by the Learning and Teaching / Gifted and Talented Education team in UNE’s School  of Education in collaboration with all school systems in the region.

Presented by the independent educational consultant John Joseph (known as “the brain man”), the full-day workshop engaged students between the ages of 6 and 16 from 31 schools – as well as 50 parents and teachers. Participants came from Scone, Coffs Harbour, Yetman, Inverell, Guyra, Glen Innes, Uralla, Tamworth, Walcha, Grafton, Warnervale, Newcastle, Waratah, and the Hunter  Valley.

The organiser of the event, UNE’s Dr Susen Smith, said it had been “wonderful to see the parents being just as excited as the students”. As well as dissecting brains and modelling them from playdough, they discussed the function of the brain in learning, and the care of the brain through healthy patterns of eating, drinking, sleeping, studying, and recreation.

“Kids want to know about themselves – and their brains,” Mr Joseph said. “It’s critical that they know how to look after their brains and how to be efficient learners.”

He said the students’ initial reactions to the lambs’ brains ranged from a “Wow! factor” to a “Yuck! factor”, but that they were all excited by the fact that they could find and name 10 parts of “that piece of thinking, feeling meat”.

Mr Joseph has presented these workshops to more than 100,000 students in 16 countries. His visit to Armidale was made possible by funding for the TalentEd Enrichment Program from the National Centre of Science, ICT and Mathematics Education for Rural and Regional Australia (SiMMER), based at UNE.

“The ‘Amazing Brain Workshop’ helps students to understand the complex process of learning, and to increase their sense of control over their learning performance,” Dr Smith said.

She said a major benefit of this and other “enrichment days” at UNE was the opportunity for students to spend time with others who have similar interests. “UNE is a leader in the field of gifted and talented education,” she explained. “Our TalentEd Enrichment Program seeks to increase opportunities for gifted students (and their teachers and parents) in the New England, North Coast, Hunter Valley, and North West regions of NSW to access a variety of enrichment activities and/or professional learning in creativity, mathematics, science, and information and communication technology. Such opportunities can be scarce in rural and regional areas.

“Our unique model provides learning opportunities for students, teachers and parents together, and participants are encouraged to return to their own educational context and share their new-found strategies and skills.”

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here expands to show John Joseph (wearing a “brain cap”) and Dr Susen Smith talking to students about brain function with the help of a playdough model.