This Course at MIT

This Course at MIT pages provide context for how the course materials published on OCW were used at MIT. They are part of the OCW Educator initiative, which seeks to enhance the value of OCW for educators.

Course Overview

This page focuses on the course 9.14 Brain Structure and Its Origins as it was taught by professor Gerald E. Schneider in Spring 2014.

This class is taken by MIT undergraduates with a special interest in learning about brain structure and how this structure underlies brain functions. The lectures are designed to teach key concepts as well as definitions of specialized terms used commonly by neuroscientists. Brain development and evolution are discussed to help students gain an understanding of why the central nervous systems of mammals (including humans) are put together the way they are.

Course Outcomes

Course Goals for Students

  • To develop an interest in the brain and its functions, as well as its evolutionary and developmental origins
  • To develop a broad understanding of mammalian functional neuroanatomy
  • To gain familiarity with important neuroanatomical terminology

Possibilities for Further Study/Careers

Many students enrolled in this course go on to medical schools or to graduate schools. The latter most commonly enter neuroscience departments, but not all. Some pursue degrees in psychology, electrical engineering, and occasionally even the humanities or physics.

 

Curriculum Information

Prerequisites

9.01 Introduction to Neuroscience

Requirements Satisfied

9.14 can be applied toward a Bachelor of Science in Brain and Cognitive Sciences, but is not required.

Offered

Every spring semester

The Classroom

  • Room with 10 tables arranged in a rectangle, chairs, and a podium. A bookshelf with books along the right wall. A large window on the left wall.

    Lecture

    Students attended lectures in this seminar room, which featured moveable tables and chairs, along with a LCD projector and screen.

  • Lab space featuring workbench, chair, and shelving. White bottles with orange caps on the shelves.

    Laboratory

    Students met in a laboratory like this one to dissect sheep brains during session 20.

 

Assessment

The students' grades were based on the following activities:

The color used on the preceding chart which represents the percentage of the total grade contributed by quizzes, homework, and class participation. 35% Quizzes, homework, and class participation
The color used on the preceding chart which represents the percentage of the total grade contributed by the midterm exam. 25% Midterm exam
The color used on the preceding chart which represents the percentage of the total grade contributed by the final exam. 40% Final exam
 

Student Information

On average, 16 students take this course each time it is offered.

Breakdown by Year

1/3 sophomores, 1/3 juniors, 1/3 seniors

Breakdown by Major

1/2 Brain and cognitive sciences, 1/4 Biology, 1/4 Electrical Engineering.

Typical Student Background

Students have met basic MIT undergraduate requirements in physics, mathematics, chemistry and biology, and most have taken a basic neuroscience class in addition to introductory psychology.

 

How Student Time Was Spent

During an average week, students were expected to spend 12 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows:

Lecture

3 hours per week
  • Met 3 times per week for 1 hour per session; 38 sessions total; mandatory attendance.
  • Some classes began with a short quiz.
  • Students completed a sheep brain dissection during lecture session 20.
  • Students took a midterm and final exam.
  • Two class sessions, lecture 18 and lecture 38, included review of material for the midterm or final exam, respectively.
 

Out of Class

9 hours per week
  • Each lecture had associated readings (required plus supplemental) to be completed in advance of the lecture.
  • Students completed 7 homework assignments based on literature and concepts covered in class with questions devoted to exploring particular ideas in depth.
 

Semester Breakdown

WEEK M T W Th F
1 No classes throughout MIT. No session scheduled. Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session.
2 Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session; quiz held. No session scheduled. Lecture session.
3 No classes throughout MIT. Lecture session; assignment due date. Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session.
4 Lecture session; assignment due date. No session scheduled. Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session.
5 Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session.
6 Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session.
7 Exam review session; assignment due date. No session scheduled. Exam held. No session scheduled. No session scheduled.
8 No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT.
9 Sheep brain dissection lab. No session scheduled. Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session.
10 Lecture session; assignment due date. No session scheduled. Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session.
11 Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session.
12 No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT. Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session.
13 Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session; assignment due date.
14 Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session; assignment due date.
15 Lecture session. No session scheduled. Exam review session. No session scheduled. No classes throughout MIT.
16 No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT; exam held. No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT.
Displays the color and pattern used on the preceding table to indicate dates when classes are not held at MIT. No classes throughout MIT
Displays the color used on the preceding table to indicate dates when lecture sessions are held. Lecture session
Displays the color used on the preceding table to indicate when lab sessions are held. Sheep brain dissection lab
Displays the symbol used on the preceding table to indicate dates when exams are held.Exam
Displays the color used on the preceding table to indicate dates when no class session is scheduled. No class session scheduled
Displays the color used on the preceding table to indicate dates when exam review sessions are held. Exam review session
Displays the symbol used on the preceding table to indicate dates when assignments are due. Assignment due date
Displays the symbol used on the preceding table to indicate dates when quizzes are held. Quiz
 

Instructor Insights

Dissecting a sheep’s brain helps students gain a better sense of the brain’s three-dimensional structure, which makes the course material more concrete.

—Gerald Schneider

Below, Professor Schneider describes various aspects of how he taught 9.14 Brain Structure and Its Origins.

Course and Resource Development

The content of the course has evolved over the past 14 years. It began with a focus on the anatomy of model systems used in neuroscience research and in studies of brain development. This focus was designed to help students learn the relevant neuroanatomy. Since then, I’ve introduced more and more comparative anatomy. I’ve also added more and more content about brain development.

My experiences teaching this course are what inspired me to write Brain Structure and Its Origins in Development and in Evolution of Behavior and the Mind (2014). The material for the book, just like the material for the class sessions, was prepared over my many years of teaching and involvement in laboratory research on brain anatomy and function. The book will be required reading for residential learners beginning in Spring 2015; it may also serve as a helpful resource for independent learners studying the material through OpenCourseWare.

Helping Students Learn Complex Material

One challenge students face in this course is learning a large number of new terms. I help students meet this challenge by providing them with online access to a glossary written especially for this course. I also define the most important terms in class, and ask questions during lectures to trigger students’ active participation.

Another strategy I use to help students learn the complex material in this course is to begin the discussion of brain structure with what we believe to be the simplest nervous systems of some of the first chordate animals—animals that preceded all the vertebrates. Detailed discussion of large primate brains occurs only in the final part of the class and textbook. I simplify diagrams to emphasize major concepts.

Dissecting a sheep’s brain helps students gain a better sense of the brain’s three-dimensional structure, which makes the course material more concrete. This is important because, during class sessions, we view and discuss many illustrations; relating the illustrations to a real brain is crucial. The dissection experience increases students’ ability to think dynamically about brain illustrations, and for this reason, I would prefer to include at least two dissection sessions instead of only one.