Sound Health: Shaping Our Children’s Lives Through Music Engagement

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For the second year, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts spent a weekend exploring the connections between music, the brain, and humanity. A piece of their ongoing “Sound Health” partnership, the events at the Center this past weekend focused on how important the arts are to children’s development, both experiencing art and practicing and producing it. [See also our report and KC videos from last year’s event.]

The idea partnership came up in conversations between NIH director Francis Collins and renowned soprano and Kennedy Center artistic advisor Renée Fleming, and they led the chorus of brain experts and musical prodigies starting with a conversation and concert on Friday. Collins also announced a new program that will soon offer $5 million in research grants to study the effects of the arts on the brain, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.

All the Saturday events are available as webcasts—including a drumming circle led by Grateful Dead percussionist Mickey Hart! They are all worth a watch or two, with engaging scientists talking interspersed with great musicians performing. Together they add up to more than seven hours, so take your time. Many have small sections where the audience can participate; if you really want to get your rhythm on, jump down to the Interactive Drum Circle recording and have at it for a good 60 minutes.

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Back to School Materials for Teachers and Students

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Image: Shutterstock

With summer coming to a close, now it’s time for fall and a new school year to begin. To help ease the transition, why not stop by the Dana Foundation’s website and look over some fun, yet educational, activities and materials? The site has two separate sections designed specifically for educators and students, depending on what you’re looking for.

The Kids page is grouped into elementary, middle, and high school sections and offers students of different age groups a chance to explore games, quizzes, and online exhibits of most things covering the brain and human body. In the “Lab,” students can explore different types of brain maps and atlases to learn all the parts and differences between healthy and diseased brains. Digital dissections to discover how different parts of the body work, and a chance to have all of your questions about the brain answered by real neuroscientists, are also available!

For teachers, we offer resources from both Dana and outside organizations that cover various lesson plans, science news, and the history of neuroscience and human behavior. In this section, you can also find our Brain Awareness Week (BAW) Lesson Plans, designed for grades K-5. These classroom exercises incorporate fun activities using Play-Doh to create make believe brains, experiments to learn about our sense of smell, and a PowerPoint presentation to teach students about common brain injuries and how to stay safe.

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Mindfulness for the Developing Brain

meriah dejosephOn Thursday, March 15th, Know Science, an organization that advocates the knowledge of new science and scientific research to the public, hosted the talk “Regulating the Brain: The Science of Mindfulness” at the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute in New York City. This was an event presented as part of Brain Awareness Week.

Meriah DeJoseph, the presenter for the evening, is a lab manager for the Neuroscience and Education Lab at New York University (NYU). She will be starting a PhD program in developmental psychology this fall to further investigate self-regulation and how mindfulness can affect the developing brain. Prior to NYU, she worked on a project at Teachers College, Columbia University studying brain activity of children from Girls Prep Bronx Elementary, who have a mindfulness class integrated in their curriculum.

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New K-5 Lesson Plans Now Available

New lesson plans about the brain are now available for teachers and students!  Each lesson plan has an accompanying PowerPoint presentation for students and an interactive activity that allows them to get hands-on with how the brain works. The lesson plans also include student objectives and background information, and are paired with relevant Dana Alliance fact sheets (for 3rd to 5th grade students).

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Neuroethics Society Meeting: Environmental Factors Impacting the Developing Brain

It’s not just genetics, it’s not just diet—many factors contribute to healthy brain development in people, which continues until about 25 years of age. At yesterday’s International Neuroethics Society (INS) panel, “The Brain in Context,” three neuroscientists talked about different aspects of the physical and social environments that can affect the developing brain.

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Even before a baby is born, in utero processes can have long-term effects on brain development. Panelist Moriah Thomason of Wayne State University uses fMRI to study how the different regions of the fetal brain communicate with each other. In a longitudinal, Detroit-based study, she and her colleagues found that babies born pre-term show less brain connectivity than those born full-term. Of particular note, a small area on the left side of the brain associated with language processing showed weaker connectivity with other brain areas.

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