As an Art Education major, Jessica Figueroa is required to learn about brain science. When she was called upon to teach about it recently, she embraced the challenge and put her artistic talents to work.
After introducing herself to a small group of seventh graders at CREC’s Academy of Science & Innovation, she held up a cardboard cut-out of a brain she made as a prop. It was painted pink on one side and dotted with tiny battery-operated lights that twinkled to simulate brain activity. Students listening to her lesson on mirror neurons got wide-eyed when she invited them to pass it around.
Figueroa was one of 30 pre-service teachers presenting mindfulness and brain science workshops to seventh-graders at the Academy of Science and Innovation in New Britain. The CCSU School of Educational Leadership and Professional Studies organized the inaugural exercise at the school in November. Most of the students are either applying to or have been accepted into the teacher certification program, explained Jacob Werblow, an associate professor of Educational Leadership, Policy and Instructional Technology.
“This is giving them a creative opportunity to work with kids and decide if teaching is what they want to do,” Werblow says.
Student broke into four groups to deliver the 13-minute workshops, each of which had a catchy name. Figueroa and her partner, junior Kyle Anglace, were part of one called the “We-Me Connection.” Others included “Exercising Mindsight,” “Use it or Lose It,” and “Implicit/Explicit Memory.”
“When someone does something, your brain mirrors it,” Figueroa explained after passing out a worksheet with pictures of situations that might trigger the response and spaces for students to fill in examples of their own.
“What would be your response to a fight if you were to see one?” Figueroa asked, to get the ball rolling. “I walk away. Others will see that, neurons will go off, and others will walk away.” When she was in high school, Figueroa continued, a classmate carrying cans for a food drive dropped them in the hallway, sending them rolling across the floor. “When I kneeled down on the floor to help, others did too,” she said.
There’s a lot of emerging research on how the brain processes conflict de-escalation, communication, learning, and memory, Werblow said.
“When teachers help students understand what takes place in the brain, it helps them understand how to better control themselves socially, emotionally, and cognitively,” he said.
CCSU students have worked with students at the Academy of Science & Innovation before, but this is the first time so large a group has come to teach accompanied by a professor, Werblow said.
“This is a nurturing process for these new teachers,” noted Chrystal Caouette, a STEM theme coach at the school. Students benefit, too.
“Everybody here is learning how to problem-solve,” she said. “They are learning [about] collaboration, critical thinking, listening, and respecting opinions.”