Translating Neuroscience into Education: A Neuroscience-based Health Curriculum for North Carolina Ninth Grade Students (2016-2017)

One of the most critical issues facing our country is the need to educate a generation that is ready to compete in a 21st century workforce. In North Carolina, student performance in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines is especially weak. A major impediment to student success is lack of opportunity for teachers to receive adequate training in STEM disciplines.

The Healthful Living course taught in North Carolina schools is designed to teach 9th grade students about behaviors that contribute to a healthy lifestyle and improve quality of life. To integrate information on brain health and function into the course, two Duke faculty developed a neuroscience-based curriculum with a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. It was approved for the honors version of Healthful Living and piloted in Wake County.

When teenagers understand what is happening in the brain, it can be the first step to having the power to make healthier choices. Most students don’t know their brains are still growing and can be permanently damaged by alcohol and drug experimentation, for example. The curriculum, tested with 150 students with five, 90-minute lessons in three classes, discusses the brain’s role in supporting life and physical performance, the fundamental neuroscience of motivation and learning, the critical role of brain health in brain function and brain performance-inhibiting substance abuse. Alongside instructing students how to care for their brain, the course exposes them to STEM topics.

However, Healthful Living classes are often taught by coaches and others with little science background. This Bass Connections project team aimed to create a community in which the teachers feel supported and confident to teach this new material. Team members created and implemented a professional development program to introduce teachers to the neuroscience content of the curriculum. Through an online platform, health teachers can learn the new honors curriculum and engage in conversations with each other alongside a neuroscientist from Duke. Each module includes an introductory quiz debunking myths about the brain, a series of instructional videos, comprehension questions, an exam, additional materials for further reading and a community section where teachers can ask questions communicate with other teachers or professors from Duke.

The team also organized a Duke Neuroscience Training Institute for Health Teachers in which teachers participated in three training days to learn brain basics, such as how nerve cells control behavior and learning.


Summer 2016 – Spring 2017

Team Outcomes

Translating Neuroscience into Education: A Neuroscience-based Health Curriculum for North Carolina Ninth Grade Students (Dorothy Alexis, Zoe Bakker, Persis Bhadha, Gabrielle Graham, Allison Kam, Nidesh Lamichhane)

Online professional development platform with teacher training modules

Project website

Translating Neuroscience into Education (presentation by Dorothy Alexis and Persis Bhadha, EHDx Talks, April 19, 2017)

Family-oriented activities at Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS) Discovery Day (April 9, 2017)

Duke Neuroscience Training Institute for Health Teachers


Translating Neuroscience into Education


Zoe Bakker, French Studies 17

Gabrielle Graham, Neuroscience ’18

Dorothy Alexis, Biology ’19

Allison Kam, Neuroscience ’17

Dish Lamichhane, Global Health ’17

This Team in the News

Teaching Students How to Keep Their Brains Healthy and Improve Their Learning Abilities

This project team was originally part of the Education & Human Development theme of Bass Connections, which ended in 2022. 

Team Leaders

  • Cynthia Kuhn, School of Medicine-Pharmacology and Cancer Biology
  • Wilkie Wilson, School of Medicine-Medicine

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Dorothy Alexis, African/African Am St (AB)
  • Zoe Bakker, French Studies (AB)
  • Persis Bhadha, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Gabrielle Graham, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Allison Kam, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Nidesh Lamichhane, Psychology (BS)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Carmen Sanchez, Social Science Research Institute-Center for Child and Family Policy

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Ann Dishong, Education Consultant