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Tualatin Elementary students learn how they feel

From stethoscopes to miniature marshmallows, Barry Albertson shows some fifth-graders how they're all connected
by: Jennifer Clampet, HOW DO YOU FEEL? — Fifth-graders Corina Pigg and Jeff Watts poke at a sheep’s brain during a presentation on the nervouse system at Tualatin Elemen-tary School on Friday.

TUALATIN - How do you get kids interested in learning about the human body's nervous system? If you're research scientist Barry Albertson, you turn the lesson into a food fight.

Holding a handful of miniature marshmallows, the Tigard-Tualatin School Board member walked cautiously around a group of fifth-graders who were bunched together and holding extension cords.

'If neurons are twisted around one another but never actually touch one another, how do you think they communicate?' Albertson asked.

And as 80 fifth-graders shook their heads with little response, Albertson aimed his handful of 'neurotransmitters' and threw them at one of the neurons (a fifth-grader).

The classroom erupted with laughter, and some shrills of excitement followed as Albertson allowed his five volunteer 'neurons' to grab handfuls of marshmallows and communicate with their classmates.

'It makes it so it's real to them,' Albertson said of his brief presentation on the nervous system at Tualatin Elementary School. 'It's making a difficult subject understandable.'

Albertson utilized extension cords, marshmallows, a stethoscope, a reflex hammer and a real sheep's brain and eyeballs in order to get kids excited about their own nervous systems.

At one point, Albertson had teachers holding pieces of fried chicken to show students that they do see parts of nervous systems everyday.

And as Albertson unwrapped the grand finale of his short lesson - the sheep parts - the students gasped in anticipation. They had waited for it. They were excited.

'It's huge,' said Pam Rossio, the Tualatin Elementary fifth-grade teacher who invited Albertson to speak. 'It's just to see and touch (actual pieces of a nervous system), it just makes sense for them. It just makes sense.'

Albertson, the director of the division of clinical research at Fanno Creek Clinic in Portland, has always been interested in science. 'The laws of science are constant,' he told the students. 'What happens in science on Friday, happens the same on Monday, and when you're awake and asleep.'

Albertson's Dec. 14 presentation at Tualatin Elementary School was just part of the students' lessons on the human body. Rossio said that while it was her idea to ask Albertson to give a presentation, it was his idea to get a sheep's brain to add a level of interaction to the lesson.

Almost all of the 80 fifth-graders from three different classrooms hurried to get in line for their chance to touch the sheep brain and eyes. The kids grabbed and wrestled on large-fitting latex gloves. They poked, massaged and glided their hands over the pink and white masses.

'Every good class has to have something gross in it,' Albertson said, as the kids shrieked at the first sight of the naked brain and eyeballs.