BIOL358: Neurobiology of Movement

Name : Krista Perks, PhD (they/she)
Email :
Office Hours: via Zoom. Please schedule during this time by appointment.

Classroom Sessions
Mondays and Wednesdays 8:50-10:10am SCIE121

Background and Introduction

The motor system does much more than contract muscles. Even the most basic movements such as walking require whole-body coordination that must be learned and adapted to our environment. During active sensation, motor systems even modulate our sensory perceptions. Much of what we have learned about motor systems comes from animals as diverse as crickets, electric fish, and birds. This course uses a comparative approach to understand the functions various brain regions contribute to our active lives.

General topics covered in this course include: kinematics, neural and muscle electrophysiology, central pattern generators, action-specific neural circuits, motor cortex, basal ganglia, cerebellum, corollary discharge.

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • Formulate and support an opinion about how each part of the motor system contributes to motor control.

  • Interpret the main types of data that can be collected and interpret processed metrics.

  • Explain neural mechanisms involved in the production of a motor sequence by an animal.

  • Explore data through interactive visualizations.

You should gain skills in:

  • The scientific study of the motor system

  • Communication of information through the context of your own ideas

  • Analytical thinking

  • Reading primary literature

Of you I ask:

  • Come to class having thoroughly read the reading and completed any assignments ahead of time. Try to figure out things you have questions about. Note down anything you are wondering or related concepts you think of. Etc

  • Remember the basic perspective on any scientific result: don’t believe it is true. Don’t take published papers at face value.

  • Respect to yourself and others in the class. Different people have different backgrounds, interests, and learning styles. All are important to consider.

  • Independence and self-motivation. This is your education. The learning process belongs to you.

  • That you have fun and explore.

We’ll be working together to create an equitable and inclusive environment of mutual respect, in which we all feel comfortable to share our moments of confusion, ask questions, and challenge our understanding. Everyone should be able to succeed in this course. If you do not feel that is the case please let me know.

You are encouraged to scrutinise and question learning material as you explore topics in your own way. I, as the instructor, am here to serve as your coach from the sidelines. The goal is for you to develop your own understanding of the topics and practice formulating your ideas into something that can be communicated to a broader audience. In this course (and others) I hope you find inspiration and develop your own interests, and develop the skills to go on to study those interests in depth in your own unique ways.

The assessment in this course requires that you formulate your own opinions and models and curate what information you think is relevant to express those ideas. This structure is a bit open-ended, which can feel uncomfortable. You will not be told what to prioritize in your editorials, which can feel uncomfortable. Classroom discussions will revolve around what you find interesting and challenging. You do not need to “know the answer” to contribute to discussions. Be open to dialog and debate and to holding conflicting ideas in your mind.

The course content has been thoughtfully curated and designed to meet the following standards as published in “The New Blueprints: Undergraduate Neuroscience Education in the Twenty-First Century.“ Specifically, this course works toward the following goals:

  • To have students explore neuroscience more deeply by:

    • Increasing exposure to primary literature

    • Engaging them in analysis of research and research findings

    • Providing experiences in presenting research findings, orally, visually, and in writing Involving them in more sophisticated analytic, quantitative, computational, and empirical work

  • To promote students becoming independent investigators in neuroscience by gaining:

    • an in-depth understanding of primary literature;

    • facility with sophisticated quantitative and computational skills;

Some of the materials challenge you to interact with and analyze data. I ask that you keep a growth mindset and understand that there is no such thing as a computational person.

For this course you will read journal papers. As Mark Humphries lays out in his opinion piece, students often have two reactions to journal papers :

  1. I don’t understand a word of this, please can I have my textbook back? (Answer: no, because the textbook is wrong and you need more primary resources to formulate your own ideas.).

  2. It’s published, so it must be true. This is nonsense. Papers are, in all probability, wrong. Do not defer to authority, but be constructively skeptical – ask of a paper basic questions: “do the claims follow from the actual results?”; “What could have been done better?”; “What could be done next?”. We need to remember a simple truth: Every paper is an idea – it says “hey look at this, this could be cool”. Not “This is The Truth.”

It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin1, barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known but to question it

-— Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man

Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.

—Albert Einstein

The mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting.


Course Resources


(subject to change)

Classroom Sessions

Identity Class rosters are provided to the instructor with the student’s legal name. I will gladly honor your request to address you by an alternate name or gender pronoun. Please advise me of this preference early in the semester so that I may make appropriate changes to my records.

Class Preparation
In preparation for class, complete any “Assignments” listed in the Schedule page.


All graded work will be handed in via Gradescope.

Classroom Sessions 15%
Attendance and participation.

Editorials 85%
The due dates are listed in the Editorials tab and the general guidelines are here.

Attendence in classroom sessions is mandatory. If unforseeable emergency comes up, please reach out as soon as possible so that we can make a plan.

In general, you can refer to the following general guidelines to gauge your expected grade in the course:

“F” work results from minimal effort and attendance. Absence from classroom sessions even if assignments were completed.
“D” work shows insufficient levels of understanding. With no effort to remedy misunderstandings. Writing and presentation of material is disorganized and unclear and/or incomplete.
“C” work shows a basic level of understanding. The bare minimum required has been addressed, but there is minimal effort toward personal exploration of the material. Work generally contains errors and is kind of disorganized, even though correct elements are included.
“B” work shows a very good understanding of the concepts and demonstrates logical thinking. Not much independent synthesis and extension of the material beyond what was directly discussed in class.
“A” work shows excellent grasp of the concepts and the importance of the topic and demonstrates clear logical thinking and reasoning. Writing and presentation of material is clear and concise and grabs the reader’s attention. It stimulates the reader to learn more to enhance their understanding of the subject. Information is used synthetically to make one or more original connections with/among course topics.


Email Policy
I do my best to respond to emails within 24 hours. However, I cannot guarantee email communication over the weekend as this time is reserved for family.

Writing Workshop Working on your writing? Don’t go it alone! Instead, make a free one-on-one appointment with peer writing tutors at the Writing Workshop. Trained to help Wesleyan writers at any stage of the writing process, writing tutors are available for online appointments, Sunday - Friday at a range of times. Let us help you get your ideas out of your head and onto paper!
Make an appointment by going to Wesportal→ Academics–>Writing Workshop Account. You’ll be asked to make an account before being brought to our online scheduler.
Want semester long support? Apply for a writing mentor who will work with you for an hour every week. Focus on specific writing tasks like organization and time management with the help of a trained peer all while earning a .25 credit!
Learn more here or email Professor Lauren Silber or the Ford Fellow.

Deadlines Assignment due dates are available from the start of the semester. Students are expected to meet all deadlines. Extracurricular activities (sports, social/volunteer activities) and other academic commitments are unacceptable excuses for rescheduling requests. Rescheduling a test will only be considered in unforeseen and extreme circumstances.

Time Commitment
Attendence in classroom sessions is mandatory. If your in-class work is finished before the classroom session ends, you can use the additional time to work on Take Home work or explore the preparation further. I have designed the class so that it should be feasible to satisfactorily complete the requirements with approximately twelve hours per week of time commitment (as per the standards for a full credit course). If you are spending more time than this on a regular basis I encourage you to check in with me.

Accommodation Statement
Wesleyan University is committed to ensuring that all qualified students with disabilities are afforded an equal opportunity to participate in, and benefit from, its programs and services. To receive accommodations, a student must have a disability as defined by the ADA. Since accommodations may require early planning and generally are not provided retroactively, please contact Accessibility Services as soon as possible. If you have a disability, or think that you might have a disability, please contact Accessibility Services in order to arrange an appointment to discuss your needs and the process for requesting accommodations. Accessibility Services is located in North College, rooms 021/218, or can be reached by email or phone (860-685-2332).

Religious Observances
Faculty make every effort to deal reasonably and fairly with all students who, because of religious obligations, have conflicts with scheduled exams, assignments, or required assignments/attendance. If this applies to you, please speak with me directly as soon as possible at the beginning of the term.

If you anticipate that your religious/spiritual observance may conflict with academic obligations such as attending class, taking examinations, or submitting assignments, you can work directly with your professor to make reasonable arrangements. Should you require additional support or guidance, please feel free to reach out to Rabbi David Teva, Director of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life or any of the chaplains in the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life.

For a list of religious holidays celebrated by members of the Wesleyan community, go to Wesleyan’s Multifaith calendar.

Discrimination and Harassment
Wesleyan University is committed to maintaining a positive learning, working, and living environment. Wesleyan will not tolerate acts of discrimination or harassment based upon Protected Classes or related retaliation against or by any employee or student. For purposes of this Wesleyan policy, “Protected Classes” refers to race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, age, disability, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, veteran status, political affiliation or political philosophy. Individuals who believe they have been discriminated against should contact the Office for Equity and Inclusion at 860-685-4771. The responsibility of the University Members has more information.

Title IX Resources
If trauma inhibits your ability to fully participate in class, please contact Debbie Colucci, Title IX Coordinator,, or your class dean. Additionally, and if you are comfortable, you can work directly with your professor to make reasonable arrangements.

Honor Code
All students of Wesleyan University are responsible for knowing and adhering to the Honor Code of this institution. Violations of this policy may include: cheating, plagiarism, aid of academic dishonesty, fabrication, lying, bribery, and threatening behavior. All incidents of academic misconduct shall be reported to the Honor Code Council – Office of Student Affairs. Students who are found to be in violation of the academic integrity policy will be subject to both academic sanctions from the faculty member and non-academic sanctions (including but not limited to university probation, suspension, or expulsion). The Office of Student Affairs has more information.

I remind students of the Wesleyan honor code which you signed as a first-year student. I value your academic integrity and therefore require that you sign the following summary pledge: In accordance with the Honor Code, I affirm that all work for this course expresses my own contributions (including in collaboration with others) and all content taken from other sources has been properly acknowledged. I affirm that all work is completed without improper assistance.

For written and multimedia work: In accordance with the Honor Code, I affirm that this work is my own and all content taken from other sources has been properly acknowledged

It is expressly forbidden to submit work from another course without my permission. While written reports will be accepted, they must be accompanied by an electronic format too. Submitting only in electronic format is acceptable. Please note that active checking for plagiarism will occur. Ensure that all sources are cited and in sufficient detail for the reader to locate your primary source. Consult with me if you are uncertain whether a source needs citing. Don’t risk plagiarism as this is an academic violation with severe consequences. Should I suspect the honor code has been violated, I will consult the Vice President for Student Affairs to decide whether to refer the matter to the Honor Board.

Skills beyond content More than eighty percent of employers surveyed indicated that undergraduate education should place more emphasis on the following three areas:

  • Critical thinking and analytical reasoning

  • Problem solving and analysis

  • Written and oral communication

Problems versus Exercises A problem exists when one does not know what to do or does not have an internalized algorithm for obtaining an answer. If one knows what to do, it’s not a problem—it is an exercise. Many STEM textbooks have numerous numbered items at the end of each chapter for students to solve; regardless of how these are labeled, in most cases the vast majority of these items are exercises, not problems. That is, students in general know what to do when they encounter these items: they either have an internalized algorithm for generating a correct answer, or they know that what they need to do to generate a correct answer is to look back through the chapter for a sample item that is phrased similarly and then mimic the solution that is presented there.


Oxford languages defines it as: “a person, typically a child, in ragged, dirty clothes”. It is also a breed of cat. The term ragamuffin is used affectionately in this context of recognizing the value of rugged scrappiness. Though its roots are in describing a lazy and worthless, or beggarly individual. In the early 19th century the word became associated with the children who would dress up for Thanksgiving as ragamuffins and parade asking for handouts, parodying begging and beggars. I have not found any resources informing that this word is derogatory or discriminatory nor contains any racial undertones. If you are informed otherwise do not hesitate to edit this quote for the syllabus.