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Best Instructional Videos: The Human Brain

brainThe central nervous system is one of the most complicated topics covered in middle- and high-school biology, making visual aids a crucial part of instruction. EducationWorld has combed the Web to bring to you great videos that will hold students’ attention as they explore this challenging content.

The clips below focus on the centerpiece of the nervous system, the human brain. These videos cover several aspects of brain study, beginning with a basic overview of the organ. In addition to a description of each video, we include a suggested grade level and note its capacity for student engagement (“cool factor”).

How the Brain Works

Source: UCLA/YouTube

UCLA is one of the most prestigious universities in the U.S., and its medical school is one of the most respected institutions in the world.YouTube features videos uploaded by individuals, along with media corporations including American networks, the BBC, Vevo, Hulu and other organizations.

Grade level: Middle and high school

Run time: 9:58

Description: Dr. Bruce Dobkin, Professor of Clinical Neurology at UCLA, takes students through the basic workings of the human brain. He discusses brain areas such as the frontal lobe and brainstem. Dr. Dobkin also explains how each part of the brain works and the role it plays in our everyday activities.

Cool factor: Moderate. The information presented here is second-to-none, and Dr. Dobkin utilizes a model brain when discussing the organ’s various parts. However, his calm, monotone delivery may be soothing enough to put some viewers to sleep. He is hosting the video because of his expertise and not his panache, but he could do with a slightly more dynamic presentation.



The Real Reason for Brains

Source: TED

The TED Web site offers countless expert TED Talks, with the goal of giving everyone on-demand access to the world’s most inspiring voices.

Grade level: Middle and high school

Run time: 19:57

Description: Cambridge Neuroscientist Daniel Wolpert starts from a surprising premise: the brain evolved not to think or feel, but to control movement. In this entertaining, data-rich talk, he gives us a glimpse into how the brain creates the grace and agility of human motion.

Cool factor: High. This is essentially one man talking to a large group from a stage, but Wolpert is so genuinely excited about the topic that listeners can’t help but be engaged. His use of graphics, and even the stage setting, add to the cool factor.



Dissecting the Brain

Source: Imperial College London/YouTube

Imperial College London is a public research university specializing in science, engineering, medicine and business. It is consistently ranked among the top universities in the world.

Grade level: Middle and high school

Run time: 7:07

Description: Steve Gentleman, Professor of Neuropathology at Imperial College London, takes viewers step-by-step through the dissection of a human brain. What’s more, he discusses how these dissections help the understanding of diseases such as multiple sclerosis. The filmmakers have full access to the dissection table and capture the entire process.

Cool factor: High…if only for the fact that viewers get to see a real human brain sliced up on a table. Again, we are plagued by a voice-over that would do well on a recording designed to help insomniacs, but that soothing effect is tempered by the tremendous information and stunning visuals.


How Does the Brain Work?

Source: PBS’ NOVA

NOVA is a PBS news magazine described as an experiment in coverage of “breaking science, science that’s right out of the lab, science that sometimes bumps up against politics, art, culture.

Grade level: Middle and high school

Run time: 53:06

Description: By studying several seemingly unconnected fields, this episode of the PBS show attempts to decipher how the brain works. The show investigates the psychology of magic tricks, magnetic wands, artificial intelligence and more—all in an attempt to understand the inner workings of the brain.

Cool factor: Moderate. PBS goes all out in an effort to entertain while informing, but the result is a bit over the top. On-location shoots in Las Vegas and other places come off as forced attempts to make the subject matter hip. The content, however, is terrific, and the show will play well with middle-schoolers. (Expect a few snickers or eye-rolls from high-schoolers.)




Article by Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
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