Raising the Brain in Tolima, Colombia

Dr. Liliana Francis Turner, Senior Researcher from the University of Tolima in Colombia, was the coordinator of the highly successful Brain Awareness Week (BAW) of Tolima. It was funded by a Global Advocacy Seed Grant and took place from 16-20 April 2018. The aim of the event was to increase brain awareness among students and teachers in preschool, elementary and high schools.

The week began with a lecture by Dr. Lisette Blanco Lezcano, a researcher at the International Center for Neurological Restoration in Havana, Cuba. She highlighted the work of women in neuroscience and those who had received recognition through the Nobel Prize. She paid special attention to the life and work of Rita Levi-Montalcini, the Italian neurologist who won the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Stanley Cohen for the discovery of the nerve growth factor.

On Tuesday, several school awareness activities were organized. A painting contest called “My Brain” was run at a local preschool. The three best paintings were given prizes and all of the drawings that the children made will be used in a collage for the cover of a book, “100 questions children ask about the brain.” Students from grades 3-5 participated in a relay race, solving motor, cognitive, concentration and perception challenges. Ten students were divided up into two teams of 5 each, while the rest cheered them on.

On Wednesday, Dr. Turner gave a lecture, “Pay Attention,” to secondary and high school students. Through examples and games, she explained the importance of paying attention and capturing the different external stimuli to improve the quality and capacity of learning and memory. The activity continued with a cerebral rally, in which the students competed in three teams to solve riddles, problems and questions about the brain. When the students successfully completed each part of the competition, they were awarded a brain lobe, which was used in the final brain puzzle.

A symposium was held on Thursday for primary and secondary school teachers. The symposium was called “Identification and treatment of conflict in the classroom. From the brain to behavior.” It included a number of specialists: Dr. Teresa González Gay from the Cuban Neurosciences Center (CNEURO); Marcos Fidel Ávila, professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Tolima; psychologist Luis Eduardo Rojas Bohórquez, a specialist in Child Maltreatment Prevention at the Comunikate Foundation; and Jessica P. Alcazar Arzuza, a PhD student in Biological Sciences at the Universidad del Tolima. They spoke about the different forms of conflict in the classroom, the behaviors assumed by perpetrators and victims which become important signals for intervention and prevention, and the relevance of the nervous system through its neurotransmission system.

On the final day of Brain Awareness Week, surveys were disseminated to obtain 100 questions on the brain which could eventually be featured in the book, ”100 questions that children ask about the brain.” The objective of the publication is to provide a fun and didactic way for children to learn about the brain.

Although BAW Tolima was only one week, the results and impact will continue for  much longer. Dr. Turner explained:

“In the activities carried out in the schools, the children and professors expressed their gratitude and asked us to repeat these activities more frequently in the institutions. The children showed a lot of interest in the activities and they did it with great motivation. In the case of the teachers, they have asked us to repeat the symposium in the 5 participating institutions. So, we are now developing the programming for the next months.

Among the important benefits achieved with the advocacy seed grant activities, the Colombian Neurosciences College has allocated a fund for the realization of social extension activities of the neurosciences in Colombia. Our group, due to its experience and expertise, will assume the leadership of this new area of activity.“