If I think about it, I know very little about neurons and how the internals of my brain work. I never really learned about Neuroscience in high school or college and honestly, I can not remember ever reading or seeing a learning instrument that can help explain the topic in a way that is easy to understand. Thankfully, I have found a great storybook app that will help you and your juniors learn about our one hundred billion neurons.
The Adventures of Ned the Neuron
The Adventures of Ned the Neuron is an interactive storybook designed for kids aged 7-11 with an objective to inspire them to learn about their brains in a fun and creative way. The app actually started as a Kickstarterproject in early August 2012 and was fully financed in eight weeks with 363 backers pledging over $26K. The developers have high hopes that the app could promote life-long learning and creativity among our juniors.
The story starts by introducing Sophie, the person whose brain is going to be examined throughout the book. After a brief look into Sophie's brain, you will be introduced to Ned, one of the neurons, who is eager to start his work.
One morning, Ned receives a letter from the Cortex Academy, offering him to learn more about the inner workings of Sophie's brain by working inside the Motor Cortex, an area of the brain that controls the muscles and how the body moves. Upon arriving at the Motor Cortex, Ned is overwhelmed by the huge number of neurons who are busy working. It seems that Sophie is playing outside, so the neurons are giving out instructions to her body to run, jump and skip. Ned is really excited to get to work and can't wait to get Sophie to play with the cartwheels.
As he learns to operate his equipments, Ned meets with Stella and G, two neurons who are stationed by his side. After learning a thing or two from Stella, Ned eagerly send out an electrical potential. An electrical potential is the way neurons communicate to each other and sends commands to our body. Little does Ned know that his first electrical potential causes an alert to go out. Miss Muriel, the neuron in chief, is furious with Ned. She immediately instructs all the neurons to tell Sophie to go back inside the house.
Knowing that Ned really wants to get Sophie to play with the cartwheels, Stella helps him track the pain that Sophie feels which causes the alert. It seems to have started from the sensory neurons near the bottom of the spinal cord. After meeting Spike, a neuron who works in the spinal cord, they learn that the problem originates from Sophie's skin. As they trace it back to the brain, they arrive at the sensory cortex.
Unfortunately, the sensory cortex neurons only know how to sort messages about touch, temperature and pain on the skin. They don't really know what causes the alert. They only know that they received three hints, i.e. Pokey, Foot and Outside. After consulting the Memory Database, they find out that Sophie has stepped on a rock. Stella immediately takes Ned to the pupil to search for an item that can be used to protect Sophie's feet so that she can stay outside and play with the cartwheels.
After looking around, they find a pair of shoes that Sophie could wear. They immediately return to the Motor Cortex to appeal to Miss Muriel and Ned demands a vote among the neurons whether they would agree with him to let Sophie play safely with her shoes on. By finishing a mini matching game, you can convince the majority of the neurons to let Sophie play with the cartwheels.
What parents need to know
Neuroscience is quite an advanced topic, but our juniors can start learning about it as early as possible. As soon as they understand that their brains are responsible for letting them hear, see, smell, taste, think, feel, move, remember and learn, they will be eager to learn more about their own brains. Erica Warp, an award-winning educator and neuroscience researcher who wrote the story for this app, believes that our juniors would be able to relate to the neuroscience theme in this storybook:
Everyone thinks, feels, sleeps, learns and senses the world around them. Asking kids to think about how they do this is a great way to get their curious minds whirling.
The app has a mini game of matching the back of 12-20 cards. There are four different levels that you can play with the game. The simpler levels would allow you to see the same exact information for each pair of cards, but the more complex ones would ask you to associate the different types of information (e.g. a neuron's name and its roles) with the correct entity. This nicely tests your knowledge of the neurons after reading the storybook.
Within the book, you will find neuroscience terms that are shown in red. You can tap on these to bring up a small popup containing additional information on that term. There are also three interactive diagrams accessible from the top toolbar:
- The first diagram shows the anatomy of a neuron, its dendrites, axon, action potential, synapse and neurotransmitters.
- The second diagram shows the areas of the brains. It also highlights three areas that are discussed in the storyline, i.e. motor cortex, sensory cortex and spinal cord.
- The final diagram shows how we sense touch, pain and temperature by tracing signals received from our senses to the neurons in the brains.
What I like about the app
In addition to a great story, the story has great character designs. As outlined by Erica in a recent interview, she had a specific design goal with the characters of Ned and Stella:
We all have different personalities, but we can all learn from each other. When we work together and combine our talents, we can do big things.
In addition to the wonderful illustrations by Andy Warner, I really enjoy how Jessica Voytek, the sole developer for the app, implemented the accelerometer and gyroscope features in the pupil page. By moving your iPad around in 360 degrees, you can control Sophie's pupils to look around to find a pair of shoes that she could wear.
Ned the Neuron is an awesome storybook app that allows your juniors to learn about neurons and how our brains work in a fresh and exciting way. I really like how each page is drawn in details and how the facts are described as is. The characters in the storyline are relatable and entice juniors to learn. I highly recommend this app to parents who want to get their juniors interested in learning all kinds of science.
Get it on the App Store: iPad