Neuroethics Education for Young Minds

By Lacey Campbell

Image courtesy of TCEA
I enjoy transforming modern, dense neuroethics literature into accessible reading for children. Today, elementary children have an encyclopedia, a dictionary, and the latest research findings at their fingertips, yet many do not meet the standard reading comprehension level to engage with novel research—such as neuroethics literature. As a result, a child’s assigned reading is placed at the mercy of availability, or it is restricted to a particular field of study. Specialized, modern topics of inquiry, like neuroethics, should be made more accessible to an additional population—children. I use “neuroethics” as a blanket term to describe the ethical issues posed as a result of an evolved understanding of the brain and the development of neurotechnology. 

In recent years, some institutions have taken advantage of the vast sources of knowledge available, providing accessible, modern research to children. In 2013, Frontiers launched its journal for Young Minds, targeting children ages 8-15, and similarly, in 2015, the Science Journal for Kids was established, which primarily targets students enrolled in middle school. Both journals offer intelligible, engaging information and research on a wide variety of standard and specialized topics. When children interact with the material, they have the opportunity to develop a new passion or to discover a new platform for debate.

Moreover, I believe neuroethics curricula can transform how today’s children think and understand the world. Neuroethics and neuroscience are often omitted from early education because of “a general underemphasis on science at this level” and instead a prioritization of mathematics and literacy.1 In 2012, Marshall and Comalli discovered that to include neuroscience in elementary education is to transform how children understand “human biology, an area that is currently neglected in early educational curricula.”1 As instructors, it is our responsibility to ensure that the sciences (and neuroethics) are not neglected in children’s education. Furthermore, the format of instruction is important. A recent study conducted by the Science Journal for Kids demonstrated the value of a well-written scientific article; the right article can significantly improve a child’s understanding of the scientific method and process.2 Neuroethics should be a topic in children's scientific literature and a topic of discussion in the classroom; additionally, it does not require “a great deal of specialized knowledge on the part of the teachers.”1 In fact, instructors can write and build scientific articles catered to their students’ interests in neuroethics. 

Consider the neuroethics article I wrote below tailored to 11-13 year olds. 


My article is more than just a list of facts about neuroethics. On the topic of neuroprosthetics, I discuss the framework of these devices and evaluate the ethical implications associated with this advancement in neurotechnology—identity, moral responsibility, etc. I try to select topics which are pertinent to advancements in technology today. With only a handful of children having read my article, I believe my target audience is adolescents 11-13 years old or older. Children younger than the target age were intimidated by the length of the article and struggled to understand and maneuver around the larger and more unfamiliar words used; older children were better equipped to engage with the material. I generally try to cater my writing to pre-teens because they are cognitively equipped to engage in hypothetical reasoning and abstract thinking; they can evaluate the ethical and moral implications of neurotechnology. A common take away among the young audience was their position on the externalization of the self—that is, whether they believe the self could be extended outside of the human body. Interestingly, the degree of attachment to an externalized object and the efficacy of a neuroprosthetic were used as qualifiers for the externalization of the self. 

Like the workshops held by the undergraduate students of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, my article promotes adolescent student engagement and enhances knowledge of neuroscience concepts.3 Moreover, neuroethics provides a “fertile ground for discussion, engagement, and the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills.”4 Neuroethics, like philosophy, is an innovative field open to debate, and children should be included in this debate. When I write an article for young learners, I like to include features like “Challenge Questions,” “Figures,” and “Key Words;” I find that each feature aids in instruction, encourages engagement, and most importantly, enables critical thinking.5
  • Challenge questions provide an opportunity for the student to engage with and respond to the material. I want my article to promote independent, creative thought and discourage regurgitation of material in the article. I often place a challenge question at the end of a section or a figure. With limited readership, I discovered that the challenge questions included in my article above provoked conversations about embodiment and identity amongst young readers. I hope to receive more feedback from more ages of children as the article continues to be shared and distributed. 
  • Figures are visual materials that greatly enhance learning.6 I include figures to visually address a discussion on a page. Some students respond better to illustrations than text. However, it is important that a figure compliments the discussion; it should not cause overstimulation. Figures that include relatable content are ideal; in fact, I received feedback requesting for athletes to be in my discussion on neuroprosthetics.


  • Finally, I like to incorporate and use key words. Similar to the key words included in scientific literature, they mark the important vocabulary. I often highlight key words and include their definitions at the end of the article. This strategic formatting relays the importance and the value of the word to the young reader.  

When I write an article, I prioritize the young learner’s ability to understand the topic and relate to it. Reading tailored for young minds should be “a richer way of interaction and communication.7 Moreover, the study of neuroethics should facilitate a richer and broader understanding of our world, both philosophically and biologically. Similar to Ann Fink’s comic-making curriculum, the goal of this neuroethics article is to invite young populations to explore new perspectives on old and modern pursuits of inquiry. 


References 
  1. Marshall, P.J., Comalli, C,E. (2012) Young Children's Changing Conceptualizations of Brain Function: Implications for Teaching Neuroscience in Early Elementary Settings. Early Education and Development 23:1, 4-23.  https://doi.org/10.1080/10409289.2011.616134 
  2. Siegner, A., Dimitrova, T. (2019) Impact Assessment Study: Energy and Resources Group, University of California, Berkeley. Science Journal for Kids. https://www.sciencejournalforkids.org/wpcontent/uploads/2019/08/impact_assessment_report.pdf
  3. Foy, G., Feldman, M., Lin, E., Mahoney, M. Sjoblom, C. (2006) Neuroscience Workshops for Fifth-Grade School Children by Undergraduate Students: A University-School Partnership. Life Sciences Education 5:2, 128-136. https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.05-08-0107  
  4. Hue, G. (2014). Teaching Tactics- Neuroethics in the Curriculum. The Neuroethics Blog. Retrieved on November 10, 2020, from http://www.theneuroethicsblog.com/2014/09/teaching-tactics-neuroethics-in.html
  5. Zabihi, R., Pordel, M. (2011). An Investigation of Critical Reading in Reading Textbooks: A Qualitative Analysis. International Education Studies, 4, 80-87.    https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1066522.pdf   
  6. Agrawal, R., Gollapudi, S., Kannan, A., Kenthapadi, K. (2011) Enriching textbooks with images. In Proceedings of the 20th ACM international conference on Information and knowledge management. Association for Computing Machinery, 1847–1856. https://doi.org/10.1145/2063576.2063843  
  7. Ding, M. (2020) Promotion Path of Children’s Literary Works Reading in the New Media Age. In: Yang CT., Pei Y., Chang JW. (eds) Innovative Computing. Lecture Notes in Electrical Engineering, Springer, Singapore vol 675. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-5959-4_10 

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Lacey Campbell recently earned her BS in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology at Emory University’s College of Arts & Sciences. Her research focuses on evaluating the neurological production of the self and the philosophical implications of defining a self.






Want to cite this post?

Campbell, L. (2021). Neuroethics education for young minds. The Neuroethics Blog. Retrieved on , from http://www.theneuroethicsblog.com/2021/03/neuroethics-education-for-young-minds.html

Comments

  1. The Center for Neurotechnology has also developed some excellent materials to teach about neuroethics. See for example: https://centerforneurotech.uw.edu/education-k-12-lesson-plans/neural-engineering-and-ethical-implications

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