Backyard Brains: Improving neuroscience education through open-source lessons and technology

Location: F151 Level: Novice
Average rating: *****
(5.00, 1 rating)

You probably never learned neuroscience in grade school of high school. Why is that? Neuroscience is a hard subject to teach because the tools to understand it are expensive, and the subject matter is difficult. We are fixing that! Using open-source hardware and software, creative-commons lesson plans and student experiments, we are changing the way neuroscience is taught in the classroom. The hands-on approach makes science cool for middle schoolers, and the open standards allow our content and technology to mature quickly.

During the talk, I will discuss the background of our company, Backyard Brains, and how we are implementing an open-education model. I will do a few demos that will highlight how our experiments are being used in the classroom, and through audience participation, attendees will see a live surgery, implantation, and neural recordings from a cockroach using the same gear and software that we make available to schools and amateur neuroscientists for free (as in freedom, not just as in beer). After giving the audience a feel for the new approach we’re bringing to the science classroom, I’ll present how opening up not only our lesson plans, but our whole “stack”, if you will, has let us do what other educational companies haven’t. We have even made our finances “open book” to encourage others to start their own open-education companies, by seeing how we make money. Throughout, I’ll also be highlighting how the hackerspace we work out of, All Hands Active, as well as the hackerspace culture, an open education community in its own right, synergizes with our mission to bring neuroscience to everyone.

In closing, I will discuss the future plans of the technical development. I will also show the challenges we are facing in the mobile architecture and call others to action to help us begin the Neurorevolution!

Photo of Nathan Dotz

Nathan Dotz

Detroit Labs

I’m a software engineer at Backyard Brains, and strive to make the world a freer, smarter, and more enriching place. In addition, I work in open communities, run a hackerspace in Ann Arbor, MI and help out our local software craftsmanship and user groups!


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