Stevens Forest pupils get up-close look at human brain


February 19, 2002|By Dana Klosner-Wehner | Dana Klosner-Wehner,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

HOLD A human brain? Stevens Forest Elementary School third-grader Alexis Novotny thought she would have to be much older before she had a chance to do that - at least in seventh grade, she said.

"I really though it would be bigger," Alexis said, as she inspected the shape and size of the gray matter she held in Ruth Barth's third-grade science class last week. The children held sheep and horse brains, too. No plastic models in this class.

The school has a partnership with the National Museum of Health and Medicine of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington.

Museum curator Archie Fobbs brought the brains to school in a plastic container, as part of his bag of tricks in a talk about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and the importance of safety and wearing a helmet. The human brain came from a brain bank, used for medical research.

He saved the human brain for the grand finale.

After showing slides and directing children around a "brain map," a diagram of the sections of the brain, Fobbs mysteriously passed around latex gloves without telling the kids what was coming next.

Then, to squeals, he handed the first child a human brain to pass around the room.

"Wow, it's really smushy," said Jacob Mann.

"My sister's gonna gross out when I tell her," James Pope said.

After the kids got over their initial reaction, Fobbs discussed sections of the brain and what functions of the body they control.

"The message of drug and alcohol damage really hits home when the children can directly see their effects," Fobbs said.

But, because seeing is not always believing, Fobbs had some of the children experience what it's like not to be in complete control of their senses. Four volunteers worked in pairs to demonstrate the effects of simulated alcohol and drug abuse.

Fobbs placed distortion goggles on two children. The goggles "messed up their visual cortex," Fobbs explained. The goggle-clad kids threw balls to their partners who were not wearing goggles.

Balls were flying in the wrong direction.

When the balls were thrown back to the goggle-wearers, not only couldn't they catch them, the goggle-wearers couldn't find the balls on the floor.

"When you wear the goggles, everything feels blurry and you get dizzy," said Blair Davis. "It seems nasty to take drugs. It just seems dumb."

The museum will visit all grade levels throughout the school with programs that will match subjects the children are studying in class.

"It's an excellent program," Barth said. "The children always like hands-on experiences. It stays with them much more than reading something from a book."

The museum is funded through the National Science Foundation. Its goal is to educate the community as a whole, Fobbs said.

"We're looking forward to continuing to making a contribution to the kids of Howard County," he said.

Information on the museum's partnerships: Archie Fobbs,

Soar like an Eagle

Howard High School senior Christopher Porter of Boy Scout Troop 874 achieved the Boy Scouts' highest rank, Eagle Scout, last month. His leadership effort at a church was appropriately titled "The Jericho Project."

The expanding Grace Community Church in Columbia needed a larger Sunday school classroom, and Christopher, an active member of the church's youth group, took on the role of supervisor, planner and participant in the demolition of a wall that divided two classrooms.

With the help of about 20 Scouts from his troop and five adults, he obtained demolition materials through Home Depot.

On a Friday night, the demolition crew readied the rooms, dropping tarpaulins on furniture. The next day, the crew got to work, and the wall came tumbling down.

They spent the rest of that Saturday cleaning and preparing the room for Sunday school.

"It was a wonderful lesson in leadership," said David Porter, Christopher's father. "He was in charge. He had to plan the project, get it approved by the National Scout Headquarters, then work with the other Scouts and adults. This will really help him deal with people in the future."

Christopher hopes to go on to writing and directing musical productions, his father said, and is applying to college.

Overseas valentines

Like many children, Jeffers Hill Elementary pupils prepared homemade valentine cards during the past few weeks. But the cards were not only for family and friends. The children made them for people they didn't know.

The project was part of Operation Valentine, an effort to have schoolchildren across the United States send Valentine's Day greetings to American troops overseas.

The kids made about 200 cards, said Principal Stephen Zagami.

"We sent [the cards] to Washington and they sent them on the way," Zagami said. "It's a nice way for the kids to do something charitable."

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