When Cloquet Middle School seventh graders walked into their science class Friday, Nov. 8, instead of an assignment on the board, they were greeted by a group of University of Minnesota Duluth students.
The UMD students were there as part of an ongoing collaboration between the UMD Department of Psychology and local schools like CMS. The partnership began in 2014 when Professor Rebecca Gilbertson and a group of UMD students came to Cloquet to help kids there learn about the physiology of the brain.
Typically, 10 or more students from UMD go to area schools and work with middle schoolers to help them learn the parts of the brain and their functions.
Gilbertson challenged the students to ask tough questions as she introduced the four students helping with this class — students from as close as Two Harbors and as far away as China.
“Please, see if you can stump us,” Gilbertson said to the class.
Students reviewed the different parts of the brain with their UMD counterparts and then made “brain caps” — paper models of the brain they could wear.
It all led up to what more than 1,000 Cloquet students have experienced in past years of the collaboration — examining and holding a preserved sheep brain in their class. At first, some of the students were apprehensive about the pale, gooey organ in the metal trays in front of them.
“My hands are full of brain juice,” seventh grader Jazmin Dean joked.
As the lesson went on, students became more comfortable, started to ask questions and examine the sheep brains, which resemble the structure of a human brain.
The exercise is beneficial to students from UMD and CMS, according to Gilbertson. While CMS students get some hands-on learning experience, those from UMD benefit from explaining it to the kids.
“The (UMD) students learn the material in class, then they come here and teach the material,” Gilbertson said. “The other thing that’s cool is the middle school students see what college students are like and start thinking about higher education.”
Two Harbors native and UMD senior Allison Morsette said she felt her understanding of the brian’s physiology was enhanced by working with the seventh graders.
“I would never have seen something like this when I was in middle school,” Morsette said. “It simplifies it for me. It makes me review and helping them understand it makes me understand it better, too.”
The exercise made an impression on the seventh graders.
“I thought it was pretty cool,” seventh grader Niko Gentilini said. “I’ve imagined what brains look like before, but I’ve never seen one. I would definitely do this again. It was really cool.”