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Davis Journal

Ninth graders dissect sheep brains to learn more about the mysteries of the mind

Mar 07, 2024 04:52PM ● By Becky Ginos

LAYTON—Kids at Central Davis Junior High definitely have something on the brain – sheep brain that is. As part of an introduction to psychology course, students had hands-on experience dissecting a sheep brain to see the connections between the animal’s brain and human biology and physiology.

“It’s the first course in the district in a junior high setting,” said psychology teacher Patrick Ferlin. “We’re focusing on anatomy and physiology of the brain month and looking at what the structures and functions do and if you were to cut out a part how it would affect you.”

With the sheep brain, students can see and feel the parts of it, he said. “Sheep brains are very similar to human’s. They can see the differences between us. There are parts of the brain like the frontal lobe that are bigger. It deals with complex thinking. That’s why studying it is so important.”

Psychology focuses on behavior in humans and animals, said Ferlin. “Anatomy can affect your job or the ability to do things.”

Ferlin referenced Phineas Gage, a railroad worker in the 1800s who survived an accident where a large iron rod was driven completely through his head. “It went through his frontal lobe and there was a massive change in his behavior. Parts of the brain affect behavior in social aspects.”

The class just barely started up in January, he said. “We wanted to expand the psych department and my background is in neuroscience and we did research on bees and manipulated their DNA. We did dissection there. It’s the one thing that really cements everything in.”

Some kids were nervous and grossed out to dissect the brains, said Ferlin. “I told them I wanted them to at least try. After they made the first cut, they started to go ‘wow this is amazing. Why haven’t we done this already?’”

Austin Coburn is a ninth-grader at Central Davis and he’s in Ferlin’s class. “It was a little bit gross but I thought it was pretty cool,” he said. “It was interesting to see the different parts. Some regions are bigger or smaller and they affect psychology.”

The frontal lobe controls personality and emotions, said Coburn. “They’re similar to ours.”

Coburn said the class also did a brain project. “We were supposed to create a brain. We had different options like drawing, etc. I made mine out of rice Krispies and labeled the parts. It’s a pretty fun class.”

The class is only offered in ninth grade, said Ferlin. “It’s been a huge hit. All of the eight graders are excited to take it.”

Ferlin said he hopes this exercise will inspire students to pursue careers in neuroscience and psychology so everyone can learn more about the mind. 

“We absolutely don’t understand the human brain and its complexity,” he said. “It’s ever evolving and we are decades behind other forms of medical technology and research.”