Nervous System Lesson
This is part 3 of a 7 part hands-on unit study on anatomy of the human body. Create a clay model of the brain, create an edible neuron, dissect a sheep brain, race in a synaptic relay activity, and more! These lessons are geared toward 4th-5th grade level children and their siblings. We meet each week for 2 1/2 hours and have 33 children between the ages of 1-13. Use these fun lessons with your classroom, family, after school program, camp, or co-op!
Love God with Your Mind, Review, and Introduction to the Nervous System
1. Pray. Read and discuss Luke 10:27 and Proverbs 18:15.
2. Quickly review what we learned last week.
3. Read a book about the nervous system. We read most of The Brain: All about Our Nervous System and More! by Seymour Simon. If you are teaching younger children, Think, Think, Think: Learning About Your Brain by Pamela Hill Nettleton would probably be the best option.
YOU WILL NEED: a book about the nervous system
Best Read Aloud Option for Older Children
This has only photographs. They are amazing eye-catching photographs of the brain and its parts, including a number of magnified images. It is written to be more informative rather than as a story; however, it was interesting enough that my children and students were able to sit through this book. It is the only book I came across that goes through all the aspects of the brain we will be covering in this lesson.
Best Read Aloud Option for Younger Children
This would be the best read aloud option if you are teaching only younger children (Preschool - 1st Grade). It has wonderful illustrations that kept the attention of my 2, 3, 5, and 9 year old, and it includes great educational information as well. It would make a great option if you would like a book to read aloud to your group to introduce the nervous system about the three main parts of the brain and how to protect and strengthen your brain.
Central and Peripheral Nervous Systems and the Brain
4. Quickly introduce the central nervous system (like a main highway) and peripheral nervous system (like smaller roads that go off the main highway). Ask children to describe what they think a brain looks and feels like and then give a general introduction about it.
-It weighs about 3 pounds. Allow children to pass around a 3 pound weight to feel how heavy their brains are.
- It is wrinkled with hills called gyri and valleys called sulci. It is pink and red and full of blood vessels and capillaries when you are alive and gray and white when you are dead. It is moist and soft like jello or a mushroom)
YOU WILL NEED: a 3 pound weight or something that weighs about 3 pounds & a book that shows the central nervous system and peripherial nervous system and the parts of the brain
Play-Doh Model of Parts of the Brain
5. Use clay or play-dough to make a model of the brain. As the children mold each part, explain what that section of the brain controls. *To see the script of what I said and did during this section and the next section, please see Appendix A toward the bottom of this lesson.*
-Lead the children in making play-dough models of their brain parts. While the children model the play-dough parts, also point out the parts in a book and discuss what each part does. Using different colors of play-dough, the children will mold the cerebrum, the cerebellum and the medulla. They will then cover the cerebrum with a cerebral cortex and pinch it around so it has the gyri and sulci (hills and valleys).
YOU WILL NEED: wax paper or other material to use as a mat, Play-dough (preferably 4-5 colors), a rolling pin for play-dough (optional), and a book that shows the parts of the brain
Lobes of the Brain
6. Lead the children in adding lobes to their play-dough models of their brain parts. After mentioning each lobe, lead the children in selecting 1 color of play-dough, dividing it into 2 small pieces, and placing each piece in the correct location on their brain model. Also point out the parts in a book that shows the brain lobes and discuss what each part does in relation to your body functions. Then have the children touch that part on their heads as they say the lobe name. *To see the script of what I said and did during this section and the next section, please see Appendix B toward the bottom of this lesson.*
i. Frontal Lobe (above your eyebrows) = controls your thinking and learning. It is in charge of your impulses, judgment, language, problem solving, emotions, socialization
ii. Parietal Lobe (on top of your head) = interprets your senses, interprets numbers, letters, and words
iii. Temporal Lobe (over your ears) = interprets what you hear and some of your memory
iv. Occipital Lobe (behind the head) = vision/seeing
YOU WILL NEED: 4 different colors of play-dough or clay
7. Review the location and functions of the 4 lobes of the brain. After each lobe is mentioned, have the children touch that lobe on their clay model and then on their own heads.
a. Temporal Lobe: Tell the children to think of one thing they have learned about the brain so far. Then have them share this one thing with the person sitting to their right.
-Ask the children which lobe they just used. They have just used their temporal lobe which is in charge of auditory stimuli (hearing) and memory (hippocampus).
b. Occipital Lobe: Ask, “What color was your temporal lobe on your clay model?” Ask them which lobe they just used. They just used their occipital lobe which is in charge of your vision.
c. Parietal Lobe: Have the children to rub their fingers over their clay models. Ask, “What did it feel like? Was it rough or smooth? Warm or Cool? Does it hurt to touch it?” Ask them which lobe they just used. They just used their parietal lobe which is in charge of your perception of stimuli related to touch, pressure, temperature and pain.
d. Frontal Lobe: Ask, “Are you enjoying this?” and “What do you think I’ll have you do next?” Ask them which lobe they just used. They just used their frontal lobe which is in charge of your emotions, reasoning, and problem-solving.
The Six Parts of the Brain (A Murder Mystery)
We have murder spelled backwards (cerebrum) and skeletons in the celler (CEREbeLLum controls skeletal coordination). There's a detective PONdering M.O. (pons, medulla oblonga), poisoned mulleb wine (in cerebellum), and someone will die before long (Diencephalon), probably some dyslexic dim-brain (mid-brain). Furthermore, forensics have discovered "brain stem" is made up of letters from midBRAIN, pons, and Medulla oblonga. As well, C+D+E=F because Cerebrum + Diencephalon = Forebrain.
The 6 parts of the brain are the cerebrum, diencephalon, midbrain, pons, medulla oblongata, and cerebellum. The 3 major groups are the forebrain (the most visible part), brain stem (3 parts piled on top of the spinal cord in the center of the brain), and cerebellum hanging off the back. (http://www.valuemd.com/physiology.php)
Brain Hemisphere Hats
8. If you are not limited by time, have children cut out, color, tape together, and wear the Brain Hemisphere hats, which can be printed free at the below link. (To save some time, you can have families cut these out ahead of time.)
YOU WILL NEED: crayons or markers, scissors, and Brain Hemisphere hats printed from http://www.ellenjmchenry.com/homeschool-freedownloads/lifesciences-games/brainhemishpere.php
Dissect a Sheep Brain
9. Dissect an mammal's brain such as a sheep brain.
What to do: We covered the table with a plastic, disposable table cover and placed the brain on a hard plastic, disposable plate. I used a paring knife from the Dollar Tree for cutting. I watched the below YouTube videos to help me prepare what to say.
How to get one: The first year we got a deer brain from a hunter. You can also check with a local butcher (which is where we get our cow eyeballs for dissection). The second year we did this, we purchased a sheep's brain from http://www.hometrainingtools.com/brain-sheep/p/PM-BRAINSH/ for about $12. For a better deal you can buy a set of animal organs (brain, eye, heart, and kidney) for about $28 at http://www.hometrainingtools.com/mammal-organs-dissection-kit/p/DE-ORGANS/. I have purchased items from hometrainingtools.com before and have always been very pleased with their fast shipping and quality of their specimens (which do not smell).
(Tip: Don't freeze the brain. We froze ours once and it came out mushy. We were still able to dissect it and identify many parts of the brain, but it did disintegrate before all the children had a chance to handle it. All the other parts of the deer we used for dissection (eyeball, lungs, & heart) defrosted perfectly.)
* Squeamish about doing a dissection yourself? My oldest son said watching the YouTube video was just as good as watching the dissection in real life.*
YOU WILL NEED: a brain such as a sheep brain, something to cover the table (newspapers or plastic tablecloth), hard plastic disposable plate, sharp cutting tool (like a paring knife from the Dollar Tree), & disposable gloves
Sheep Brain Dissection Edited for YouTube
This is an excellent video of a sheep brain dissection and was the main one I used to determine what to say as I did the dissection with my class. I love that the instructor includes easy ways to remember things such as comparing the 3 layers of maters to a knight's armor, chain mail, and cotton undershirt and comparing the cerebellum to a mansion with many rooms for storing information that looks out on a "pond" (as the pons is across from it). This is Part 1. Part 2 can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VcpeqrCmvHk. Part 2 starts with about 6 1/2 minutes that repeat from the Part 1 video and then it goes into new material.
Sheep Brain Dissection
This is a 4 part series on dissecting a sheep brain. Each segment is short (1-3 minutes in length). The instructor does point out a few things that the instructor in the first video that I posted above did not mention, such as the Hippocampus, which decides what to store as memories. She said you can remember that because if you would certainly remember it if you saw a hippo on a college campus. I used what I learned from this video to add in a few extra tidbits to what the first dissection videos mentioned.
Want to Skip the Dissections?
This is a miniature 31 piece model of the brain that can be taken apart and put back together again. It's great for if you're a bit squeamish about dissecting a real brain or simply don't have access to one.
10. Introduce the spinal cord and nerves, and then lead the children in making an edible neuron model. *To see the script of what I said and did during this section and the next section, please see Appendix C toward the bottom of this lesson.*
sugar cookies = cell body
frosting = cytoplasm
skittle = nucleus
string licorice = dendrites and axons
mini-marshmallows = myelin
Begin with the cell body (the cookie). Frost the cookie to represent the cytoplasm. Place the Skittle (nucleus) in the center of the frosted cookie. Break up two single strands of licorice into short pieces, placing the end of each into the cytoplasm (frosting) at the top of the cookie. These are the dendrites. Place the piece of 3 licorice strands intertwined at the bottom of the cookie with one end in the cytoplasm (frosting) and the other extending off the plate. It is the axon. Separate the bottom part of the licorice about 1/5 of the way up. This the synaptic or axon terminal. Dip each of the marshmallows in the frosting and attach them to the licorice strand axon. These represent the myelin sheath.
YOU WILL NEED PER CHILD: 1 plate, 1 sugar cookie, 1 disposable spoon, 1 spoonful of vanilla frosting, 1 spherical candy (such as a Skittle or M&M), 5 strings of pull-apart red string licorice (There are 9 strings of licorice on each bigger piece of string licorice.), 3 white mini-marshmallows, & 1 plastic sandwich bag
(Were you hoping for a craft-type neuron rather than an edible one? You can find a number of other creative neuron models at http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/chmodel.html.)
11. Messages can travel in neurons at speeds up to 268 miles/hr! These signals are transmitted from neuron (nerve cell) to neuron across "synapses."
-Divide children into 2 lines. Have each child hold out their arms to their sides. Their fingers should be close to the next person’s fingers in line, but they should not be able to touch because neurons do not touch each other.
- Each line is a chain of neurons. Each person in the line is a neuron. Their left hand will be the dendrites of a neuron. Their bodies will be cell bodies. Their right arms will be the axon, and their right hands will be the synaptic terminal. In their right hand they should have a water spray bottle or other squirt bottle that will represent neurotransmitters. [Be sure to have the children repeat each of these and make sure they understand.]
-When the leader says "Go," have the person at the beginning of the line start the signal transmission by spraying his or her "neurotransmitter" onto the hand of the adjacent person. Once this message is received, this second neuron places sprays his or her neurotransmitter into the dendrite of the next neuron. This continues as the "signal" travels to the end of the line. The transmission is complete when the "signal" goes all the way to the end of the line.
-Remember that each "neuron" will pass its own transmitter to the next neuron in line. Each neuron HAS ITS OWN neurotransmitter.
-If children enjoyed this and there is time, they can do the relay again.
- Review: What are the parts of a neuron? The hand that receives the neurotransmitter is the "dendrite." The middle part of your body is the "soma" or "cell body." The arm that passes the neurotransmitter to the next person is the "axon" and the hand that gives the slap is the "synaptic terminal". In between the hands of two people is the "synaptic gap".
YOU WILL NEED: water spray bottle (or other spray bottle such as body splash spray) brought by families
Dendrite Song & Review
12. Sing "The Dendrite Song" (sung to the tune of "Clementine")
Use your dendrites,
Use your dendrites,
To connect throughout your brain.
Take in info, analyze it,
Grow some new ones
Axons send out
To the dendrites all around
Across the synapse
Jumps the impulse
New ideas can now abound.
Is what the brain needs
To make dendrites stretch and grow.
Make us smarter
In what we think and what we know.
Use your dendrites,
Use your dendrites,
To connect throughout your brain
Take in info, analyze it,
Grow some new ones
*This song is from http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/songs.html .*
YOU WILL NEED: copies of the song printed for children to share
13. Ask questions such as: What system did we learn about today? (nervous) The central nervous system is made up of what (the brain and the spinal cord). The nerves that extend from the central nervous system to the outer edges of the body are called what? (peripheral nervous system) Tell me a part of your brain and what it does. (cerebral cortex – think/reason/memory/language), cerebrum (voluntary movements/learning/thinking/creativity), cerebellum (balance/coordination), medulla/brain stem (involuntary breathing, heart rate, blood pressure). How many hemispheres or halves does the cerebrum have and name them. (2. Right & left) Name a lobe of your cerebrum and where it is. (Frontal Lobe above your eyebrows, Parietal Lobe on top of your head, Temporal Lobe over your ears, Occipital Lobe behind the head). What is something you thought was interesting when we were dissecting the sheep brain? What is the job of the spinal cord (connects nerves to the rest of the body so that the brain can communicate with the body) What are nerve cells called? (neurons) Name a part of a neuron and what it does. How can you become smarter? (Stimulate the dendrites, learn something new, be challenged, eat Omega 3 Fatty Acids, etc.) Tell me about how a message is delivered between neurons. What was your favorite activity from today. [Have everyone answer.]
More Great Children's Books on the Nervous System
Also look for Why I Sneeze, Shiver, Hiccup, & Yawn (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2) by Melvin Berger, which is a cute picture book that discusses how your reflexes work, and Your Fantastic Elastic Brain by JoAnn Deak, which is about how to develop and stimulate your brain.
This is more advanced than the others. My younger children did eventually get bored just before we finished the book, but they enjoyed most of it. It has both photos and illustrations and is geared more toward ages 9+.
This is a great book that kept the attention of all of my children. It has fun illustrations and explains complex terms in simple words.
Joke: Why do neurons like e-mail?
They like to send and receive lots of messages!
Materials Needed for This Lesson
*This list does not include materials used for optional activities listed as "If you are not limited by time."*
Items for families to bring for each of their children:
-four or 5 different colors of play-dough (Up to 4 children can share 1 canister.)
-play-dough rolling pin or object that can be used for that purpose (optional)
-a water spray bottle with water in it or other bottle that can squirt a liquid that is fine to get on a child’s hand (such as body splash spray or Pam cooking spray)
-words to the “Use Your Dendrites” song (1 copy for every 2 children)
Items for families to bring to share with the entire group:
-a book about the nervous system such as The Brain: All about Our Nervous System and More! by Seymour Simon or Think, Think, Think: Learning About Your Brain by Pamela Hill Nettleton
-a 3 pound weight or something that weighs about 3 pounds & a book that shows the central nervous system and peripherial nervous system and the parts of the brain
-wax paper or other material to use asa mat and a book that shows the parts of the brain
-a brain such as a sheep brain, something to cover the table (newspapers or plastic tablecloth), hard plastic disposable plate, sharp cutting tool (like a paring knife from the Dollar Tree), & disposable gloves
-PER CHILD: 1 plate, 1 sugar cookie, 1 disposable spoon, 1 spoonful of vanilla frosting, 1 spherical candy (such as a Skittle or M&M), 5 strings of pull-apart red string licorice (There are 9 strings of licorice on each bigger piece of string licorice.), 3 white mini-marshmallows, & 1 plastic sandwich bag
Appendix A: Script for Play-Doh Parts of the Brain
6. Lead the children in making play-dough models of their brain parts.
-Give each child a sheet of wax paper to act as their play-dough mat.
-You will make the model as well to demonstrate for them. While you all model the play-dough, also point out the parts in a book that shows the brain parts and discuss what each part does.
-The brain is composed of the cerebral cortex, the cerebrum, the cerebellum and the medulla. [Have children repeat each of those words after you.]
a. Cerebrum: The cerebrum is the largest part of the brain and controls many things. [Point to it on the picture and have them repeat cerebrum.]
i. Tell the children to shape 2 large lima bean shapes of play-dough and then put them together. (Note: If desired, just use 1/3 of a canister of play-dough as the brain model does not need to be big.)
ii. The cerebrum is the top part of the brain consisting of the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere. The left hemisphere controls the right side of the body and the right hemisphere the left side of the body. It is responsible for thinking, knowing, feeling, and remembering. It controls what you sense and your voluntary movements. The cerebrum is where your thoughts and decisions happen. You think about what you want for lunch in the cerebrum. When you decide you want a turkey sandwich for lunch, your cerebrum sends a message to your arm to open the refrigerator and reach for the turkey and cheese.
b. Cerebellum: Tell the children to stand up and balance on one foot. Their ability to balance on one foot is a job of another part of the brain called the cerebellum. [Have them repeat cerebellum.]
i. Tell the children to shape 2 small balls and push them together. They can then put it under the cerebrum in the back.
ii.The Latin word for cerebellum means “little brain” because it looks like a smaller version of the cerebrum. Cerebellum is made of the two small wrinkled lobes at the lower rear of the brain. In addition to controlling your sense of balance, the cerebellum also controls the movement of different parts of your body, coordination skills, and your posture. The cerebellum controls your ability to remain balanced while you do your daily activities. Even when you stand still, you might not think there are muscles working, but the cerebellum makes sure your muscles are doing the work of making sure you stay standing up.
c. Medulla/Brain Stem: Tell the children to try to feel their pulse on their neck or wrist. One job of the medulla, also called the brain stem, is to control a person’s breathing. [Have them repeat medulla or brain stem.] The medulla, or brain stem, is the lowest part of the brain, where the brain merges into the spinal cord.
i. Tell the children to form a column of play-dough and push it up in front of the cerebellum.
ii. The medulla (located at the base of the brain) is used to control involuntary muscles of the body such as breathing, heartbeat, and blood circulation. Your cerebellum makes sure these things happen automatically without you having to think about it.
d. Review: Ask: What would happen if your cerebellum stopped working properly? (You would have trouble moving or walking.) What might happen if your medulla stopped functioning properly? (Your heart might stop pumping blood, or you could stop breathing.) What might happen if your cerebrum stopped functioning properly? (You might not be able to move, think, remember, have certain feelings, see, hear, feel, or taste.)
e. Cerebral Cortex: Ask for a volunteer to raise their hand to tell you what the largest part of the brain is called. (cerebrum). Tell the child that s/he has just used the part of their brain called the cerebral cortex. [Have them repeat cerebral cortex.]
i. Have the children roll out a large piece of play-dough to make it thin and flat. If they don’t have rolling pins, they can just flatten it with their hands. Then have them fold and pinch it up over the cerebrum.
ii. The cerebral cortex is made of the outer layers of the cerebrum. It also controls voluntary movement (such as raising your hand) and reasoning skills (also known as problem solving). The word “cortex” comes from the Latin word for “bark” of a tree. Just like the bark of a tree makes up the outer layer of the tree, the cerebral cortex (cerebrum) is the outer layer of the brain. It surrounds the cerebrum. It is folded up so that it takes up less space.
iii. The five senses are a part of the cerebral cortex’s job as well. Who can name one of the 5 senses?
Appendix B: Script for Play-Doh Lobes of the Brain
7. Lead the children in adding lobes to their play-dough models of their brain parts. You will make the model as well to demonstrate for them. While you all model the play-dough, also point out the parts in a book that Shannon will bring that shows the brain lobes. Also discuss what each part does. Then have the children touch that part on their heads.
a. Your cerebrum is made of 2 folded layers: gray matter and white matter. The gray matter (which is red when you are living and gray when someone is dead) is the cerebral cortex. It is made of dendrites and cell bodies that receive information. It covers the white matter like bark on a tree. The white matter is myelin-covered axon.
b. Your cerebrum is divided into 2 halves, the left hemisphere and right hemisphere. It is responsible for thinking, knowing, and remembering. It controls what you sense and your voluntary movements. The left hemisphere controls the right side of the body and the right hemisphere the left side of the body.
c. Your cerebrum is divided into 4 lobes. Each lobe controls a different part of your body functions.
i. Frontal Lobe is located above your eyebrows, and it controls your impulses, judgment, language, problem solving, emotions, and socialization.
-Have the children touch that part on their heads and then repeat, “frontal lobe.”
-Lead the children in selecting 1 color of play-dough, dividing it into 2 small pieces, and placing each piece toward the front of the brain model.
ii. Parietal Lobe is located on top of your head), and it interprets your senses, interprets numbers, letters, and words.
-Have the children touch that part on their heads and then repeat, “parietal lobe.”
-Lead the children in selecting 1 color of play-dough, dividing it into 2 small pieces, and placing each piece toward the top of the brain model.
iii. Temporal Lobe is located over your ears, and it interprets what you hear and some of your memory.
-Have the children touch that part on their heads and then repeat, “temporal lobe.”
-Lead the children in selecting 1 color of play-dough, dividing it into 2 small pieces, and placing each piece toward the middle sides of the brain model.
iv. Occipital Lobe is located behind the head and it controls your vision/seeing.
-Have the children touch that part on their heads and then repeat, “occipital lobe.”
-Lead the children in selecting 1 color of play-dough, dividing it into 2 small pieces, and placing each piece toward the back of the brain model.
8. Review the location and functions of the 4 lobes of the brain.
a. Temporal Lobe - Tell the children to think of one thing they’ve learned about the brain so far. Then have them share this one thing with the person sitting to their right.
-Ask the children which lobe they just used. They have just used their temporal lobe which is in charge of auditory stimuli (hearing the question) and memory (hippocampus – recalling what they learned about the brain). Have them touch the temporal lobe on their clay model. Now have them put both their hands on their heads from their ears to their eyes. They’re putting their hands over their temporal lobes.
b. Occipital Lobe - Ask, “What color was your temporal lobe on your clay model?” Ask them which lobe they just used. They just used their occipital lobe which is in charge of your vision (seeing what color their model is). Have them touch the occipital lobe on their clay models. Now have them clasp their hands over the backs of their heads just above their necks. They’re putting their hands over their occipital lobes.
c. Parietal Lobe - Have the children to rub their fingers over their clay models. Ask, “What did it feel like? Was it rough or smooth? Warm or Cool? Does it hurt to touch it?” Ask them which lobe they just used. They just used their parietal lobe which is in charge of what you feel (touch, pressure, temperature and pain). Have them touch the parietal lobe on their clay models. Have them place their hands on the tops of their heads. Their hands are over their parietal lobes.
d. Frontal Lobe - Ask, “Are you enjoying this?” and “What do you think I’ll have you do next?” Ask them which lobe they just used. They just used their frontal lobe which is in charge of your emotions, reasoning, and problem-solving. Have them touch the frontal lobe on their clay models. Have them cover their foreheads with their hands. Their hands are over their frontal lobes.
Appendix C: Script for Edible Neuron Model
10. To help learn the various parts of the neuron, lead the children in making an edible neuron model.
*Prep: Ahead of time lay out a plate for each child with the following items on it: sugar cookies, spoon with a generous spoonful of frosting on it, 1 spherical candy (such as a Skittle or M&M), 3 strings of pull-apart red string licorice (not separated), 2 individual strings of pull-apart red string licorice, 3 mini-marshmallows, & 1 plastic bag.
*Key: sugar cookies = cell body, frosting = cytoplasm, skittle = nucleus, string licorice = dendrites and axons, mini-marshmallows = myelin*
-Sanitize children’s hands.
- The brain is made up of about 100 billion nerve cells, also called “neurons.” A neuron has 4 basic parts: dendrites, cell body/soma, axon, and synaptic terminal.
a. Begin with the cell body (the cookie), putting it on a plate. The cell body is also called the soma. The outside edge is the cell membrane, which carries an electrical charge.
b. Frost the cookie to represent the cytoplasm. Cytoplasm, consisting of water, ions, and sugar, has a jelly-like consistency. The organelles "float" within the cytoplasm.
c. The nucleus (the Skittle or M&M) is the place where the directions to make stuff for the cell resides. (It is where deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, is located). Through DNA, genetic directions for protein synthesis are relayed to other cell organelles where the protein will be constructed. Over the course of a lifetime (and some neurons can be around as long as one hundred years because they live as long as a person lives) the neuron will need to replace worn out organelles and membrane. Some protein chains (peptides) act as neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, in the nervous system. The nucleus gives the "go signal" for the cell to make proteins.
d. Neurons, or nerve cells, have all the other parts of a cell that we learned about such as the endoplasmic reticulum that package up proteins, Golgi apparatus that transports proteins, and mitochondria that provided the power. In fact, they have lots of mitochondria because they use lots of energy. We are not going to add those to our model, though.
e. Have the children break the two single strands of licorice each into about 4 short pieces, placing the end of each into the cytoplasm (frosting) at the top of the cookie to make it look like the neuron is having a bad hair day. These are the dendrites, which are extensions from the neuron cell body that receive information and take it to the cell body. Dendrites can actually stretch and grow if you stimulate them by solving challenging problems and learning new things. That makes you smarter!
f. Place the piece of 3 licorice strands intertwined at the bottom of the cookie with one end in the cytoplasm (frosting) and the other extending off the plate. It is the axon, which is the extension from the neuron cell body that takes information away from the cell body.
g. Separate the bottom part of the licorice about 1/5 of the way up. This the Synaptic or Axon Terminal, which is the end part of an axon that makes a synaptic contact with another cell.
h. Tell the children to think of a phone. The earpiece that you listen through (the receiving end) is just like the dendrites, which receive information. The mouthpiece of the phone that you speak into (the sending end) is just like the axon, which delivers messages. Instead of the terminal end of the axon connecting directly to the next neuron, the two cells are connected indirectly by a synapse. A synapse is a tiny gap between neurons. In order for information from one neuron to get to the next neuron, chemicals called neurotransmitters are released. Neurotransmitters leave the terminal of the axon and travel across the synapse to the dendrite of the next neuron. Not all neurotransmitters are accepted by the dendrite, just the ones carrying the necessary information at the time.
i. Dip each of the marshmallows in the frosting and attach them to the licorice strand axon. These represent the myelin, which is made from fat/lipids that is wrapped around the axon and causes messages to travel faster. It is good to have more myelin because it can help you become smarter. Omega 3 Fatty Acids, found in fish or fish oil, walnuts, flaxseed, and some other food items, can provide your body with the materials it needs to produce more myelin.
j. Remember that neurons send messages to other neurons, but they don’t touch other neurons. The send it through synapses, or chemical neurotransmitters, that are sprayed from the axon/synaptic terminal in one neuron to the dendrites of another neuron. Tell the children to make a simple circuit by connecting their axon to the dendrite of a neighboring student's cookie. Tell them to make sure to leave a gap between the axon and the dendrite, representing the synaptic space.
k. Neurons use oxygen and glucose/sugar for fuel. The more challenging the brain's task, the more fuel it consumes. Snacks in moderate proportions can boost neuron function. Carbohydrates enhance the entry of tryptophan into our brain, elevating your mood. This can happen after you eat your neuron cookie at home. Place the neuron cookie in your bag and save it to enjoy at home.
(Some of this script and some of the ideas came from http://www.brainsrule.org/teachers/lesson_plans/neuron_cookie/handson.htm .)
School House Rock on the Nervous System - Also look for Bill Nye on the Nervous System - He does such a great job explaining the nervous system in a memorable m
Fun song on the parts of the brain
Ode to the Brain
The first video clip has beautiful music and footage describing how the brain works. Unfortunately it mentions that the brain is a result of evolution rather than an amazing creation formed by God. If you can ignore that part, it's definitely worth watching! The second video clip explains how the brain works.
Joke: What street does the hippocampus live on?
Ready for the next lesson?
Create edible DNA models, made models of the insides of bones, dissect deer organs, create a working model of the respiratory system, play immune system freeze tag, and more in this fun 7-8 lesson unit on human anatomy! (An optional lesson on genetics and DNA is included.)
- Cells and DNA Lesson - This is part 1 of a 7 part hands-on unit study on anatomy of the human body. Create edible models of human cells and DNA, look at cheek cells under a microscope, and more!
- Genetics Lesson – This is an optional but very worthwhile lesson for the Human Anatomy Unit Study. Use M&M's to determine genetic traits, extract DNA from a strawberry using normal household materials, create edible DNA strands using marshmallows and licorice, design dog breeds as you select alleles, and more in this fun lesson on Genetics!
- Skeletal and Muscular Systems Lesson - This is part 2 of a 7 part hands-on unit study on anatomy of the human body. Create models of bone parts, use stickers to label the bones on your body, dissect soup bones, measure the range of motion of your joints, and more!
- Nervous System Lesson - This is part 3 of a 7 part hands-on unit study on anatomy of the human body. Create a clay model of the brain, twist together a pipe cleaner neuron, train your reflexes, dissect a deer brain and a cow eyeball (optional), and more!
- Digestive System Lesson - This is part 4 of a 7 part hands-on unit study on anatomy of the human body. Demonstrate how each part of the digestive system works using crackers, pantyhose, create teeth molds, prepare and eat a salad while discussing healthy eating habits, and more!
- Circulatory System Lesson - This is part 5 of a 7 part hands-on unit study on anatomy of the human body. Walk through your circulatory system, create a blood model and fake movie blood, measure your heart rate, dissect a heart, and more!
- Respiratory System Lesson - This is part 6 of a 7 part hands-on unit study on anatomy of the human body. Create a lung model, measure lung capacity, dissect a lung, play a respiratory relay race, and more!
- Immune System Lesson - This is part 7 of a 7 part hands-on unit study on anatomy of the human body. Play immune system freeze tag, watch how germs spread, observe bacteria under a microscope, and more! These lessons are geared toward 4th-5th grade level children and their.
- Human Body Unit Study Presentations and Field Trip Ideas - This is the culminating activity for the 7 part hands-on unit study on anatomy of the human body. Children presented game show themed games related to the human body or other creative presentations, and we had a systems-of-the-human-body-themed meal. Recipes are included! Also included are the field trips we attended during this unit.
Would you like to teach this way every day?
I use Konos Curriculum as a springboard from which to plan my lessons. It's a wonderful Christian curriculum and was created by moms with active children!
If you're new to homeschooling or in need of some fresh guidance, I highly recommend Konos' HomeSchoolMentor.com program! Watch videos on-line of what to do each day and how to teach it in this great hands-on format!
© 2012 Shannon