Image_1_Neurorobotics Workshop for High School Students Promotes Competence and Confidence in Computational Neuroscience.jpg (588.11 kB)

Image_1_Neurorobotics Workshop for High School Students Promotes Competence and Confidence in Computational Neuroscience.jpg

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posted on 13.02.2020 by Christopher A. Harris, Lucia Guerri, Stanislav Mircic, Zachary Reining, Marcio Amorim, Ðorđe Jović, William Wallace, Jennifer DeBoer, Gregory J. Gage

Understanding the brain is a fascinating challenge, captivating the scientific community and the public alike. The lack of effective treatment for most brain disorders makes the training of the next generation of neuroscientists, engineers and physicians a key concern. Over the past decade there has been a growing effort to introduce neuroscience in primary and secondary schools, however, hands-on laboratories have been limited to anatomical or electrophysiological activities. Modern neuroscience research labs are increasingly using computational tools to model circuits of the brain to understand information processing. Here we introduce the use of neurorobots – robots controlled by computer models of biological brains – as an introduction to computational neuroscience in the classroom. Neurorobotics has enormous potential as an education technology because it combines multiple activities with clear educational benefits including neuroscience, active learning, and robotics. We describe a 1-week introductory neurorobot workshop that teaches high school students how to use neurorobots to investigate key concepts in neuroscience, including spiking neural networks, synaptic plasticity, and adaptive action selection. Our do-it-yourself (DIY) neurorobot uses wheels, a camera, a speaker, and a distance sensor to interact with its environment, and can be built from generic parts costing about $170 in under 4 h. Our Neurorobot App visualizes the neurorobot’s visual input and brain activity in real-time, and enables students to design new brains and deliver dopamine-like reward signals to reinforce chosen behaviors. We ran the neurorobot workshop at two high schools (n = 295 students total) and found significant improvement in students’ understanding of key neuroscience concepts and in students’ confidence in neuroscience, as assessed by a pre/post workshop survey. Here we provide DIY hardware assembly instructions, discuss our open-source Neurorobot App and demonstrate how to teach the Neurorobot Workshop. By doing this we hope to accelerate research in educational neurorobotics and promote the use of neurorobots to teach computational neuroscience in high school.