Penn State’s Brain3M Program Brings Brain Science Online

(Photo: Pexels, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pexels, Creative Commons)

A Pennsylvania State University research project is helping middle school students to explore the human brain with the help of 3D printing and interactive technology.

Funded by the Penn State Social Science Research Institute, the Brain3M project, standing for mobile devices, magnetic resonance imaging and 3D models, has allowed researchers to create a tailored online learning platform through which students can travel through a series of virtual 3D structure models and descriptions of the brain.  In addition, users can view photos and diagrams that make complex concepts pertaining to how the brain works more clear.

Ping Li, a professor of psychology and associate director of the Institute for CyberScience, and the principal investigator for the study, said the idea came about in an effort to uncover a way to inspire new students about the inner workings of the brain while at the same time encouraging them to continue brain research in the future.  Li then collaborated with Victoria Braithwaite, a professor of fisheries and biology as well as co-director of the Center for Brain, Behavior, and Cognition, in order to create a research group that would focus on exploring multimodal learning methods for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.

Students who participate in the program will also receive their own 3D printed model of the human brain on a keychain to examine for themselves and take home as a souvenir, writes Michael Hart for Campus Technology.

“The students can click on any parts of the brain in any order they want, so we’re really letting them make their own decisions about their learning,” said Jennifer Legault, a graduate student at Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology. “The kids seemed to like that they could take control of their own learning experience and go at their own pace.”

Pilot programs were launched the Young Scholars of Central Pennsylvania Charter School and the Science-U summer camp held each year for middle school students on the Penn State campus to test the effectiveness of the program.

Two different lessons on brain science were taught to students.  While one lesson was taught through a PowerPoint presentation, the other made use of the interactive Brain3M website.

Although researchers did say the sample size was too small to make any substantial conclusions, they added that students who participated in the Brain3M platform lesson showed more excitement and appeared to be more engaged.

“More than 80 percent of the participants said they would want to use this website again to learn about the brain, and that’s pretty cool given the fact that interest in STEM fields is not always as high as we’d like,” Legault said.

Legault went on to suggest that one of the benefits of program could be the opportunity to create individualized learning.  The program promotes interactive learning by allowing students to click on any part of the brain they would like, allowing them to make their own decisions concerning their own learning.  Legault noted that this type of learning has been shown to be more effective, as children typically enjoy having control over their own learning experience and being able to study at their own pace.