This semester, I have the privilege of peer mentoring for the First-Year Seminar “Understand Your Brain: How to Work, Learn, and Play Smart.” The class is one of many offered to first-year students, all of whom are required to take a seminar. Though required, they are far from boring: Various topics are offered from Harry Potter to romantic comedies. In my first year, for example, I participated in “Choreographing the Word,” which used a traditional classroom approach to examine the relationship between dance and poetry. Conversely, the “Understand Your Brain” seminar utilizes a flipped classroom approach in which students use class time to perform experiments regarding brain function. No matter the course material, first year seminars always help to foster community and build connections. As a peer mentor, I’ve enjoyed meeting with students, answering questions, and assisting the professor in planning outings and events. It’s been both an academically and socially fulfilling experience that I would definitely recommend.
This past week, the class (“Understand Your Brain”) showcased what they have learned over the course of the semester with an event: Improve Your Brain Day. The class is full of talented, enthusiastic, sometimes sleepy, always good-natured characters who honestly love learning. I’m convinced that anything they endeavor to do will always be successful, as evidenced by the success of this event. Improve Your Brain Day was the brain child of the class’s thoughtful professor Dr. Clare Papay. Students went above and beyond the requirements and transformed the assignment into a collection of thoroughly considered, engaging activities and presentations that helped participants understand how to more effectively use their brains.
While Dr. Papay and I hobbled across campus, schlepping an abundance of supplies, students arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed promptly at 10:20 a.m. They found their designated tables in the Chat, Arcadia’s informal meeting and dining spot in the Commons building, with their poster boards completed and heads full of brain-related knowledge. Passers-by could take part in a number of activities crafted by the students each proving some useful truth about the brain. Soft pretzels served as an added incentive to participate.
One group of students, for example, presented images of commonplace items and emotionally charged events. Participants were instructed to memorize as many images as possible in the span of a minute. Then, they were asked to recall the images. Overwhelmingly, the results indicated that people remember more emotionally-charged ideas. Another group demonstrated that multitasking is ineffective with the use of a video game. One group illustrated that exercise increases brain activity utilizing rounds of ping pong. After participating in each group’s activity, I was overwhelmed by their preparedness and enthusiasm (and marginally better at ping pong).
In addition to showcasing the students’ resourcefulness, creativity, and knowledge, the event brought people together. Strangers competed against each other in the gender activity in which one lady and one gentleman completed a “spot the difference” puzzle, racing against one another. It was meant to demonstrate that male brains tend to be more aggressive and impatient (I don’t think my frantic attempt represented my gender as particularly patient, though).
Passers-by stopped to learn something new, chat a little, get to know new people, and discover new things about themselves. It was rewarding to observe the connections being made and explicitly see how the First-Year Seminar impacted both the students of the class and, through their diligence in creating and presenting their projects, those in the larger Arcadia community as well.