University of Washington, Seattle Campus
How do you go from talking to a few preschoolers about your job to getting children all over the world to learn about neuroscience? Eric Chudler, a Research Associate Professor in Bioengineering and the Executive Director of the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering, did just that when he created his interactive, award-winning Web site which now averages over 20 million files downloaded per month.
Chudler created the Neuroscience for Kids Web site after talking about his work at his children's preschool, and later their elementary and middle schools. He kept coming up with more activities for children to do to learn about the brain and science. His children's teachers talked to other teachers who wanted to use his materials, so he posted them on the Web. The number of visits skyrocketed.
Involving users in his site
Chudler wanted visitors to his site to learn from exploring, experimenting, and interacting with other users. In the late '90s, he tried lots of different free, but unreliable software which would sometimes simply disappear. He then started using QuickPoll, Catalyst's tool for asking a one-question survey. He embedded the polls into his Web site to let visitors compare their responses to others' on a variety of topics including:
- The Stroop Effect (click "Run Experiment")
- Contagious yawns
- Reaction time brain games:
- Caffeine consumption
- Dream memories
He has found QuickPoll to be reliable, and thousands of people have responded to each poll.
Every year he hosts a contest, alternating between drawing and poetry. Additionally, he runs a treasure hunt where students find the answers to ten challenging questions, email their answers to Chudler, and he emails them a link to a certificate for a "Golden Neuron Award."
The science education community's enthusiasm for Chudler's work is evident in their contributions to the Web site. The site was funded by a Science Education Partnership Award from the National Center for Research Resources at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for five years, and now Chudler continues to keep up the Web site on his own time. He has received funds to help support the site from everywhere from a school bake sale and donations from teachers to a site license for translating the site into a Chinese book. Other scientists and teachers sometimes send him content which he formats and publishes on his site.
Students and teachers benefit from the vast amounts of information on the Neuroscience for Kids Web site. Teachers frequently assign the activities from the site to their students. People from all over the world have found the information to be so useful that they have translated portions of the Web site into their own languages. Chudler conducted pre and post surveys where he learned that students' knowledge of the brain improved after using his site.
Chudler's enthusiasm for making science fun for children goes beyond sharing materials on his Web site. He teamed up with UWTV to create BrainWorks, a television show that has been nominated for a Northwest Regional Emmy Award. The show is modeled after his Web site. He also sends out a newsletter through Mailman to 10,000 people. In May, 2013, W.W. Norton published Chudler's Little Book of Neuroscience Haiku.
Chudler recognizes that it is challenging to get children excited about science from a Web site alone, and he has concluded that having an enthusiastic, live person teaching the materials is important. Now, he and students from the UW Graduate Program in Neurobiology and Behavior often visit school children with "Brain Boxes" full of activities from the Web site.
Images courtesy of Neuroscience for Kids