Discovering personal greatness in pre-school through grade 8 students - Burlington, Vermont

Dr. Margaret Vizzard

Dr. Margaret Vizzard, a professor in neurological science at UVM, taught a class about neuroscience to the first graders at Mater Christi School. Dr. Vizzard not only did a Smart Board presentation, but, very quickly involved the students in hands-on experiences.

 Dr. Vizzard showed the students the differences in the brains of various mammals, passing around models of the brains of a rat, cat, monkey, and a human. She suggested that they compare not only the difference in sizes but the amount of wrinkles in the various brains. The amount of wrinkles in the brain signified the amount of information in the brain. To illustrate the wrinkles in the brain, she asked the children to fold an 8-foot long piece of paper (the human brain) so that it would fit into a small cardboard box (the skull). 

Dr. Vizzard asked the children to name the senses, pointing out that the brain was responsible for their working ability and then called on students to name the organs in the body that are governed by the brain.

The students especially enjoyed her illustration of the purpose of the fluid in which the brain floats. She first asked the children to take turns shaking a plastic container which contained an egg. The egg soon broke, much to their delight. Then she shook a container containing an egg which was floating in water (cerebral spinal fluid) and the students observed the heavy shaking did not crack the egg. She also reminded the class that things floating in water seem lighter, and the presence of this fluid makes the brain lighter for the neck to carry it and also prevents the headaches that could occur without this fluid.

This demonstration led to a conversation about the importance of wearing a helmet. Dr. Vizzard held onto a melon and invited the children to take turns hitting it with a hammer which she had provided. She then put a melon into a helmet and pounded on the helmet to show how it protected the “brain.” 

To show how wonderful the human brain is, Dr. Vizzard led a game of charades demonstrating the many varied activities that are governed by the brain, such as memory, balance, reading (de-coding), and movement in general.

First grade teacher Mrs. Leslie Sem, who had arranged for Dr. Vizzard’s presentation, will probably discover that arranging an intriguing and fun follow-up activity will be a “no-brainer!”

Professor of Neurological Sciences at UVM