Introduction to Brain and Behavior (PSB2000)
This survey course fulfills a liberal arts credit, and provides an opportunity to introduce concepts in neuroscience to a large cross-section of undergraduates. Herein lies arguably the greatest challenge of teaching the course; students enter the class with widely varied backgrounds in biology, psychology and chemistry, and it is necessary to reach all of these students in a meaningful way. There are a number of ways that I do this. First, I present the background material that they need in order to understand each topic, while making available more resources for those students who are well- equipped to go beyond the introductory level. I find that even those who have learned a concept prior to my class usually appreciate the review and certainly take advantage of the advanced material. Second, I entertain all levels of questions in an attempt to reinforce class participation and to enhance the breadth of the discussion. Third, I make every attempt to describe in my l ectures the ways in which each topic is applicable to the students' every-day lives. Most students find this approach very engaging, and become (sometimes surprising themselves) quite dedicated to the class. Occasionally they even find their passion in neuroscience, and for them the class is transformative. My great satisfaction, however, comes not only in those students who decide to pursue neuroscience as a profession, but also in those who simply become more appreciative of science, and in particular, the intricate relationship between the brain and human behavior.
Sensation and Perception (EXP3202)
Teaching these advanced neuroscience courses to Psychology majors is quite rewarding. At this point in their education they tend to be dedicated to their coursework, and have a solid foundation in psychology. Not only are we are able to explore various topics (including scientific techniques) at a deeper intellectual level, but the smaller class size allows for more intimate discussions of the real-word implications of the subject matter. Perhaps the best part of teaching these courses is that the students' curiosity and interest ultimately drive me to learn more as well. As these students are closer to making decisions about post-graduate education, I do my best to incorporate information on different career paths into these classes. For example, I always have an audiologist speak to the Sensation and Perception class toward the end of our segment on the auditory system; next semester I hope to bring in an optometrist to augment our section on the visual system.
While I thoroughly enjoy teaching undergraduate courses, in 2008 I had the opportunity to design and teach a graduate-level neuroanatomy course. I was well-suited for this endeavor as I studied under a neuroanatomist while pursing my doctorate degree, and taught a human neuroanatomy lab for many years. I have taught this course now for four years, and it has evolved over that time. The lecture portion of the course begins with an overview of the nervous system, and then delves into every major structure and system from the spinal cord to the forebrain. I encourage students to learn how to draw each of these regions as well as the circuitry within and between them. I have found that while not everyone is a visual learner, those who are benefit greatly from such an approach, and those who are not still find that their understanding is enhanced. The laboratory portion of the class now includes sheep, rat and human brain dissection, as well as special lessons in histology and a week-long immunocytochemistry project. Included along with the rat brain dissection is an opportunity to use a brain matrix in conjunction with a rat brain atlas to learn how to find discreet nuclei for histology, electrophysiology, or other laboratory techniques.