My Day as Sparky the Neuron: Learning about Learning by Wearing a Funny Hat

Recently I signed up for a Human Brain, Human Learning course, and I had no idea what to expect. The first day, I walked into a classroom full of streamers, balloons, flashing lights, and light sabers. I thought I must be lost, but after confirming with the security guard, I was definitely in the right place.

Class commenced, and it was pretty interesting. The lecturer used light sabers as pointers. He had handmade model neurons — constructed with household recycled products. As he described the architecture of the nervous system, I couldn’t help but ask, “But how? How does a thought actually become a thought?” The lecturer paused for a second and said, “In order to answer you, I’ll need an actor, someone to play the amazing, fantastic Sparky, our neuron friend!”

I was the one who asked the question, so I was the one who was ‘volunteered’ to play the part of Sparky. On my professor’s desk was a hat, with very colorful jagged pipe cleaners extending in every direction. These were the neuron’s dendrites I learned, as I put the hat on my head. Next, I was handed a script, about 35 pages long, and I was told that I was in a play now — a play exploring the origins of thought.

As I’m not exactly an Oscar winning actress, I’ll spare you the details of my debut performance as a neuron; however, I’m happy to share a few lessons I learned that day.

  • The brain systems that allow us to learn are fascinating, complicated, and flexible. This is why it is so important to teach in ways that are accessible to everyone. Every brain is unique, so everyone learns in their unique way.
  • The process of creating neural pathways to represent a memory can be activated consciously. We can use strategies, like a silly song or a picture, to remember important information.
  • Learning should be fun! While I was scared to play the part of Sparky, I had a great time, and I don’t think I will ever forget the lessons my professor taught that day. By letting go and enjoying myself, I was more engaged and was able to learn complicated material more easily.


These lessons are beginning to shape my understanding of successful strategies for teaching, and this was only the first day of class! I imagine I’ll be sharing more adventures with you as the semester continues.

  • Bee Keswa, B.A., SMARTS Associate