Using a pop-science book to teach introductory neuroscience: Advantages for science majors and non-science majors alike

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The traditional approach to teaching neuroscience often involves presenting a topic like one might present a murder mystery; evidence is presented serially until he final answer is revealed. Although this approach mirrors the scientific discovery process, it is not always effective at engaging students, particularly those who are less familiar with the scientific concepts being presented as evidence. By the time the answer arrives, students may be too overwhelmed to absorb it. One way to combat this is to reverse the order of presentation. By starting with the final condition and working backwards through the underlying neuroscientific concepts, students have a relatable framework in which to couch the scientific detail necessary to understand neural phenomena. It was with this approach in mind that the course, Fundamental Neuroscience: Understanding Ourselves was designed. Taught for the past seven years at the University of Minnesota, the course uses the best-selling book The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge in lieu of a traditional textbook. Each chapter focuses on a case study of a particular neuropsychological problem or, in some cases, the work of a particular neuroscientist. This material is then used as a launching point to delve deeper into the neurobiological mechanisms underlying the particular disorder. In our experience, the result is that students from a wide variety of academic backgrounds are able to engage with the material throughout the entire lesson and apply their new knowledge broadly across the discipline of Neuroscience. This article aims to provide an in-depth presentation of the course, including potential challenges of working with a pop-science text. Further, we extend our discussion to a newly-developed companion course using non-traditional texts and how these courses fit into a Neuroscience minor.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)A67-A71
JournalJournal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


  • Neuroscience minor
  • Non-science majors
  • Non-traditional textbook
  • Pedagogy
  • Popular science


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