AP Psychology Students Explore Parts of the Brain in a Play-Based Way: With Play-Doh

Play-based learning may be more closely associated with early-childhood education, but it’s a joyful way to learn about the world no matter the age. 
 
Case in point: This week in the Upper School’s AP psychology class, students learned more about the parts of the brain by building one—out of Play-Doh. 
 
That familiar smell of Play-Doh rarely shows up in the Upper School, but Upper School Principal and AP psychology teacher Jeneen Graham and teacher Chelsea Runge guide students each year through a constructivist activity with Play-Doh to help students better understand each part of the brain. 
 
Bringing different colored Play Doh to class and following along with a video made by the department of psychiatry at Columbia University, students created of a Play-Doh brain one step at a time, using different colors to represent the brain stem, medulla, thalamus, cerebellum, hypothalamus and more. 
 
The Play-Doh brains was just one way AP psychology students learned more about the different parts of the human brain. This year, students were also able to gain insight from Dr. Mike Gazzaniga, one of the world’s leading researchers on split-brain surgeries and the director of the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Students submitted questions to Dr. Gazzaniga, which were answered during a Zoom interview conducted by Dr. Graham and Mrs. Runge.
 
“Our students had the great privilege to gain insight from one of the globally recognized leaders in the study of the brain,” Dr. Graham said. “At the same time, through the joy of play, they were able to scaffold their learning with something as fun and simple as Play-Doh. Learning really takes on so many forms, as this unit shows.” 
 
The Play-Doh brain activity took place the same week that the parent community learned more about play-based learning during the first PTF General Membership Meeting of the year on Wednesday. The meeting featured presentations by Early Childhood School Director Cris Lozon and Director of Community Health and Athletics Patrick Bendzick on the value of play in students of all ages, and included a short activity for parents using Play-Doh.
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