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Backyard Brains:
DIY Neuroscience

Course Instructors
Backyard Brains Staff Scientists

About this course:

The brain is complex, but extremely fascinating. We need more people interested in studying the brain because 20% of the world will have a neurological disorder... and there are no cures! To study the brain, you typically have to be a graduate student at a major university. Not any more! Backyard Brains enables everyone to be a neuroscientist! They provide affordable neuroscience experiment kits for students of all ages to learn (hands-on) about electrophysiology. Teachers will learn how to record electrical activity produced by cells using the original spikerbox and the muscle spikerbox and their mobile phone. Discussion of lesson plans and experimental design will be combined with lots of hands-on practice. At the end of the day, you’ll be ready to run experiments with tools similar to those used by real neuroscientists worldwide!



Synthetic biology for the classroom

Course Instructors
Biobuilder Scientists and Science Teachers

About this course:

What’s the best way to solve today’s health problems? Or hunger challenges? Or keep the environment cleaner? These are big questions. And everyone can be part of the solution. Synthetic biology programs living cells to tackle today’s challenges. Biobuilder is a synthetic biology system developed by an award winning team out of MIT that converts cutting edge science and engineering into teachable modules that increases understanding of these fields and fosters an engaged community. This course will be co-taught by a Biobuilder and a High School Science teacher that implemented the BioBuilder curricula in their school. These tools and curricula capitalize on students’ need to know, to explore and to be part of solving real world problems.


How neuroscience can inform classroom practics.

Course Instructors
Ido Davidesco, PhD, NYU Department of Psychology

About this course:

Do we really use only 10% of our brain power? Are there right and left-brain learners? In this mini-course we’ll debunk these myths and discuss recent findings in the neuroscience of memory, language acquisition, math, creativity and emotion and the ways they can be applied in schools. This course will build a bridge between the worlds of neuroscience and education. The course will begin with a review of the nervous system and move on to methods for measuring nervous system output including electroencephalograms. Teachers will be trained to use electroencephalogram (EEG) headsets to record brain electrical activity and will have time to acquire and analyze information from their own brain. Discussions will focus on how current neuroscience research enhances our understanding of students and informs educational practices. Open laboratory time is planned to allow teachers to form questions and investigations using available resources. The course also incorporates hands-on demonstrations including comparative brain anatomy, sensory neuroscience, and learning and memory tests. This course will be aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Teachers of Living Environments, Biology and Psychology high school classes as well as any teacher with an interest in brain and neuroscience are invited to attend. No prior knowledge in neuroscience in needed!


Using a bioblitz to teach urban ecology:
A workshop for elementary and secondary school educators

Course Instructors
Sarah Kornbluth, PhD Candidate, Rutgers University Newark
>Caroline DeVan, PhD Candidate, The New Jersey Institute of Technology
Megan Litwhiler, PhD Candidate, The New Jersey Institute of Technology
Lisa Nett, The Brainery

About this course:

Modern cities often appear largely void of nature. However, when we take a closer look, wondrous biodiversity can be found in even a small patch of green space. The ability of certain organisms to adapt and thrive in the urban environment is a fascinating topic to introduce children to the exciting world of scientific research through their own discovery and inquiry. In this two-day workshop, elementary and secondary school educators will be led through a series of outdoor activities focused around how to conduct an “urban bioblitz”, a survey with the intent to record all the living organisms in a given area. Day one of the workshop will include a lesson on urban tree identification and bioblitz sampling methods. On day two, teachers will work in teams to collect and analyze primary bioblitz data based on their own original hypotheses. Upon completion of this workshop, teachers will (1) have an understanding of the urban ecosystem and urban biodiversity (2) be proficient in urban tree identification and ecological sampling methods appropriate for elementary and secondary school-age children (3) be prepared to lead their students through their own research projects from hypothesis discovery to presentation of results (4) have in-hand several prepared and modifiable lesson plans and (5) possess a variety of resources to continue their investigation into the ecology of cities. We look forward to meeting you for a couple of fun and highly interactive days exploring urban nature on the beautiful Rockefeller University campus grounds.



The Chemistry that Holds Us Together: Exploration of Bonding and Intermolecular Forces Using Biomolecules

Course Instructors
Disan Davis, PhD

About this course:

A human body is made of an estimated 100,000 unique molecules, consisting of mostly hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen in different configurations. Chemical bonds and interactions are central to forming such diversity and providing these molecules with their useful biological functions. These molecules demonstrate the full range of bonds and intermolecular forces taught in high school chemistry courses while being engaging and relatable for students.
This 2-day professional development opportunity will introduce teachers to a range of laboratory techniques and biochemical applications relevant for teaching and explaining bonding and intermolecular forces. Teachers will perform chromatography at the bench and see similar applications being used by scientists in the laboratory. Teachers will also look at reversible and irreversible ways to form and break bonds and intermolecular interactions in similar molecules. Through these experiences, we will look at several food molecules, such as fat and protein, and their applications in nutrition, health, and disease. This course will be aligned with the New York State Regents Chemistry curriculum and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). While the course will primarily address chemistry standards, biology teachers are also welcome to attend, and we think that there is much to be gained by increasing interaction between chemistry and biology teachers.


Plant Study: In class and in the neighborhood

Course Instructors
Michelle Kean, PhD, Plant Geneticist, Laboratory of Plant Molecular Biology
Lisa Neff, Urban Ecologist, Curator of The Tree Seen
Special Lecture on GMOs Presented By Amy Harmon, The New York Times

About this course:

Study the loveliest solar collectors imaginable - plants!  This course offers opportunities for plant study inside and outside the classroom.  For the inside portion we use Arabidopsis thaliana as a convenient fast growing plant to demonstrate growth, natural variation, and adaptability. For the “Teaching with the Trees” segment, we will head out to explore New York City’s urban forest where you will learn to identify common street trees and develop long-term observation projects. We will help you develop plans to provide an easily accessible subject for students to engage in long-term observation. Take your students on an adventure in the urban forest and unlock their imaginations to the wonder of life that we pass by every day. 


Using a BioBlitz to Teach Urban Ecology: A workshop for elementary and middle school educators

Course Instructors
Sarah Kornbluth, PhD Candidate, Rutgers University Newark
Caroline DeVan, PhD Candidate, The New Jersey Institute of Technology
Megan Litwhiler, PhD Candidate, The New Jersey Institute of Technology
Special Lecture on microbial ecology by Peter Groffman, The Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

About this course:

In this workshop, elementary and middle school educators will be led through a series of classroom and outdoor activities focused around how to conduct an “urban bioblitz,” a survey with the intent to record all the living organisms in a given area. The bioblitz is a fun and interactive exercise that engages students in the discovery of urban biodiversity and elementary practice in scientific research. Upon completion of this workshop, teachers will (1) have an introductory understanding of the urban ecosystem and why certain organisms do or do not thrive in cities (2) be proficient in ecological sampling methods appropriate for elementary and middle school-age children (3) have in-hand several prepared and modifiable lesson plans (4) possess a variety of resources to continue their investigation into the ecology of cities. We look forward to meeting you for a fun and highly interactive day exploring urban nature on the beautiful Rockefeller University campus grounds!


DNA Barcoding

Course Instructors
Melissa Lee, Lab Manager, Harlem DNA Lab
Special Lecture on genomics and big data presented by Joe Pickrell, NYGC

About this course:

Just as the unique pattern of bars in a universal product code (UPC) identifies each consumer product, a short “DNA barcode” (about 600 nucleotides in length) is a unique pattern of DNA sequence that can potentially identify any living thing.  DNA barcodes allow non-experts to objectively identify species – even from small samples, damaged, or processed material.

DNA Barcoding is a simple way to bring open-ended experimentation (inquiry) into formal and informal science settings. Barcoding projects stimulate independent student thinking across different levels of biological organization, linking molecular genetics to ecology and evolution.  DNA barcoding also integrates different methods of scientific investigation – from in vivo observations to in vitro biochemistry to in silica bioinformatics.  The core experimental and sequence analysis work can be mastered in a relatively short time, allowing student teams to reach a satisfying research endpoint within a single summer or academic-year cycle.

Students may participate in a “distributed” project where they add data to a coordinated effort to examine a local ecosystem, museum collection, or conservation issue. Projects may take on a forensic slant by identifying product fraud (such as mislabeled food items) or the biological sources of some common products (such as plants or animals used in traditional medicines).

In this two-day course for high school biology, AP biology, and science research teachers, participants will extract and amplify DNA from tissue samples, and produce DNA barcodes to identify species and explore the relationships between them.  Using DNA Subway, an online bioinformatics tool developed by the DNA Learning Center of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, DNA sequences will be compared across online databases and phylogenetic trees will be constructed.

Upon completion of this training course, teachers will be eligible to mentor student research teams for participation in the Urban Barcode Project through the Harlem DNA Lab ( To date, over 400 students have engaged in explorations of the urban environment through this program, which is supported by a freely available biochemical and bioinformatics workflow – including robust protocols and low-cost sequencing.


The Dynamic Brain

Course Instructors
Beth Waters, PhD
Nicolas Renier, PhD, Neuroscientist, Laboratory of Brain Development and Repair
Special Lecture on video games and the brain presented by Jordan Shapiro, Temple University

About this course:


The brain is the most complex part of the human body. Before it completes development during early adulthood, it undergoes two major developmental phases: The first occurs before birth and the second takes place from childhood through the teen years. But the brain doesn’t stop changing, and throughout life it continues to alter how it receives, processes and sends information to other parts of the brain and body. This plasticity occurs in response to signals from both the internal and external environments. After reviewing brain architecture, this course will address how scientists are studying plasticity, particularly the role of neurotransmitters in synaptic transmission. Lab visits will introduce neurotransmitter networks in rodent and human brains and measurements of neural transmission. Educators will participate in an ongoing research project to measure changes in synaptic plasticity with increasing age. The day will conclude with a lecture and discussion on the role of video games in promoting plasticity during and development and adulthood.

What is Synaptic Plasticity?

To be plastic means to be moldable — adding an environmental stimulus like heat, and we can transform plastic into a new shape. Just as plastics are flexible, the connections, or synapses, between nerve cells can change their shape or function after exposure to changes in their environment. The brain’s ability to change how neurons behave in response to the environment is called synaptic plasticity, and is the fundamental basis underlying the processes of learning and memory. Research on synaptic plasticity is trying to understand what changes within a synapse and how these changes alter the brain’s actions.

While there are two sessions to discuss this topic, each course can be taken as a standalone session.

Session 1: Glutamate Receptors and Synaptic Plasticity

The first workshop in the Synaptic Plasticity Series will address the role of glutamate receptors in synaptic plasticity, particularly in relation to memory and aging. Participants will participate in the analysis of an ongoing research project through the Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology to quantify changes in synaptic glutamate receptors in aging females after hormone replacement therapy. Using serial electron microscopy, images of the hippocampus from female rodents treated with either placebo or estrogen, the NR2B glutamate receptor will be characterized by location and number within a synapse. The synapses will also be reconstructed in 3D to determine its phenotype. This work provides insight into the role of steroids in maintaining a healthy brain across the life span.


Session 2: Steroid Hormones and The Brain

The second workshop will discuss how steroid hormones alter the structure and function of the brain. Using estrogen as an example, we will examine how steroid sources, receptors, age, and disease interact. Workshop attendees will participate in an ongoing primary research project through the Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology to quantify changes in synaptic glutamate receptors in aging females after hormone replacement therapy. See above for more information.

Getting the message: G-Protein Coupled Receptor signaling

Date: October 14, 2014
Time: 5:00pm - 7:00pm
Location: The Science Outreach and Education Laboratory @ The Rockefeller University


G-Protein Coupled Receptors (GPCRs) are the largest family of cell surface proteins encoded by the human genome. They are activated by diverse signals, whether external such as light and odors, or internal signaling proteins released by cells including hormones, neurotransmitters, and cytokines. GPCRs are important throughout the lifespan and regulate diverse physiological processes, and, as such, they provide a wide variety of drug targets. Yamina Berchiche, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Laboratory of Chemical Biology and Signal Transduction, will speak on her work in progress on the chemokine receptor CXCR3, and lead demonstrations of the genetic and high throughput analysis techniques she uses to study GPCRs.

Understanding Uncertainty: Statistics for Science

Uncertainty and misconceptions often surround statistics. Confusion persists between statistical terms and their common language, and the role of statistics in the scientific method. Diane Lane from the Department of Neurobiology at Weill-Cornell Medical College will lead a discussion and hands on activities for understanding statistics. Statistics will be practiced through the design, analysis, interpretation and presentation of results from a research project accessible to the high school laboratory classroom. While all measurements contain some uncertainty and error, we aim for the statistical interpretations to be transparent and insightful. 


Special Saturday Workshop: Hacking the Life Science Classroom


science outreach program, the Rockefeller university, education, science, teachers, science teachers, professional development