Quantitative assessments reveal improved neuroscience engagement and learning through outreach

J Neurosci Res. 2019 Sep;97(9):1153-1162. doi: 10.1002/jnr.24429. Epub 2019 Apr 15.

Abstract

Lack of resources and exposure to neuroscience in K-12 education has resulted in a limited number of K-12 students pursuing higher education in the field. Meanwhile, the rapid expansion of the field of neuroscience has encouraged many higher educational institutes to offer neuroscience majors. This has opened up the opportunity to engage faculty, as well as graduate and undergraduate students in bringing the most needed knowledge and awareness about neuroscience into K-12 classrooms. However, undergraduate neuroscience curricula have limited formal opportunities to engage in outreach, and few existing programs have assessments to determine their effectiveness. To address these needs, we developed quantitative assessment tools that complement an existing neuroscience outreach program-Project Brainstorm-at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). 29 UCLA undergraduates enrolled in the 2016 and 2017 programs participated in this study, along with 298 K-12 students from local schools across the Los Angeles area. In undergraduate students, we assessed (a) improvement in students' teaching/communication abilities across the course of the outreach program, and (b) confidence in explaining neuroscience topics and interest in pursuing teaching career. In K-12 students, we evaluated (a) knowledge gain in neuroscience topics and (b) interest in pursuing higher education. Overall, Project Brainstorm showed significant improvement in all the above-mentioned categories. The assessment tools and data presented here provide a data-driven approach for optimizing neuroscience outreach programs and can easily be adapted to other outreach programs within neuroscience and in other STEM fields.

Keywords: K-12 STEM education; learning; neuroscience outreach; quantitative assessment; teaching.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate
  • Faculty
  • Humans
  • Neurosciences / education*
  • Students
  • Teaching