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Baycrest’s Research Training Centre develops new ways to teach high school students about neuroscience
December 13, 2018 Nathan Kalfon has always been interested in computers and science. As he prepares to pursue post-secondary education, the Grade 12 student finally had a chance to see a real-world example of these two areas coming together through Baycrest’s neuroBRITE program.

“I was struck by the fact that the program offered a chance to do a professional experiment,” says Kalfon, a student at John Polanyi Collegiate Institute. “It was great to see a practical use of work in these two areas and produce results.”

The nine-month neuroBRITE (Baycrest Research Innovation and Technology Education) initiative was created to educate high-schoolers about the field of cognitive neuroscience by providing them the opportunity to run their own experiments under the mentorship of the Rotman Research Institute’s Research Training Centre, staff and trainees. Through Baycrest’s unique neuroBRITE program, high school students had the opportunity to learn and use the latest mobile technology to measure brain waves and study cognitive aging, as well as learn from and work with older adults on their experiments.

Kalfon and his group were among 75 students who attended the most recent neuroBRITE conference, held the week of December 3, 2018. The conference provided the opportunity for students to present posters of their experiments, network with researchers and other professionals with scientific and healthcare backgrounds and hear from speakers offering insight into their career journey.

Three neuroBRITE teams were also highlighted for their exceptional work in the following categories:
Best Experimental Design – Deja View: A study of short-term memory, John Polanyi Collegiate Institute
Best Poster Design – Language and Association, Northview Heights Secondary School
Best Poster Presentation – Finding Waldo – The P300 response, William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate Institute

Nathan-Kalfon-headshot.jpg“During the program I learned about the coding aspect of experiments, an area that I might consider working in,” says Kalfon. “It was a great overall experience and I received great mentorship.”

While Kalfon hopes to pursue a career in video game design and programming, this experience has encouraged him to consider working in the “serious games” industry, where games are used as educational tools.

While high-schoolers had a chance to learn about neuroscience, many of the research trainees also had the opportunity to challenge themselves and improve their teaching skills.

“The program was a roller coaster ride of learning how to put together a training program, working with the hardware and directly communicating with students,” says Dr. John Griffiths, a postdoctoral fellow at the Rotman Research Institute and Krembil Research Institute, and one of the neuroBRITE developers and mentors. “The neuroBRITE team was given the opportunity to launch a challenging and fun application of the skills we’ve learned. It was great to see that despite some of the challenges the students faced, their enthusiasm was not curbed.”

The curriculum and software library that the team developed for neuroBRITE has received a great deal of interest from neurotechnology professionals, educators and scientists around the world.

John-Griffiths-headshot.jpg“Cognitive neuroscience integrates a wide range of fields, such as psychology, biology, neurobiology, computer science, data analysis and physics, all in one,” says Dr. Griffiths. “The skills we taught them can be widely applied to those interested in research or clinical medicine, as well as anyone working in scientific computing or statistics. We taught these kids information that is usually taught to students pursuing graduate degrees and we were able to innovate this technology for both research and educational purposes.”

The next iteration of the program will begin in February 2019.
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