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An Electrical Chemical Machine

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Author: Muriel Gerhard

Grade Level: 10th - 12th; Type: Neurosciences/Biology/Psychology

Objective:

To demonstrate that the brain is an electrical and chemical machine.

Research Questions:

  • What are neurons?
  • What are the various parts of a neuron?
  • What is the function of an axon, a dendrite?
  • What is a synapse?
  • What are the different types of synapses?
  • How does an electrical synapse differ from a chemical synapse?
  • What are synaptic vesicles?
  • What are neurotransmitters and how do they work?
  • What are endorphins and enkephalins?
  • How do we produce endorphins and enkephalins?
  • What are some of our recent advances in technology that are non- invasive and can and do provide us with more accurate information on the functioning of the neurons
  • What are some of the ways we can keep the nervous system healthy?

Would it surprise you to discover that we are in reality electrical and chemical organisms and that without these two sources of energy, we would not survive. In this project, the student will acquire the basic knowledge as to how the neurons in our nervous system work cooperatively and communicate on an internal level as well as on an external level keeping us totally informed of both of the worlds in which we live. The student will be introduced to the chemistry and physics of the brain.

In this project, the student is asked to engage in an interesting scenario by not only conducting arm chair research but by taking on the role of a teacher and preparing a lesson plan and actually instructing his/her classmates in the topic of Communication Between Neurons. This requires real involvement. In addition, the student will welcome feedback from his /her peers as well as new questions being raised and suggestions for future research in this field. The student is free to follow the suggested Illustrative Procedure provided below as well as amend it. The resultant product is an illustrated report on The Teach- In of “Neurons in Action” .The student is encouraged to be as creative as he /she wishes adding photos of the preparation as well as the class in action. This can be an exciting project for all involved. Good Luck!  Keep those neurons working!

Materials:

  • Articles
  • Research studies
  • Access to a computer
  • Internet sources
  • Camera
  • Three sectional display board
  • Pen
  • Magic markers

Experimental Procedure:

  1. Consult the bibliography provided below. Review all the terms and concepts listed. Respond to all of the research questions in writing. Review some of the internet sites proving videos of the neurons in action. Contact the local hospital and find some staff members in this field who might wish to be a guest speaker or invite the class to view some of their new equipment in this field.
  2. Contact local neurologists and welcome any resources or contacts they might suggest as well as patients who wish to share their stories.
  3. GO tofaculty.washington.edu/chudler/chmodel.html –  and make a simple model of a neuron
  4. For use in the presentation
  5. Start on your lesson plan. Use the sequence of research questions as the outline for content coverage.
  6. As an introduction and as a motivational device you may wish to begin with a diagram of a neuron, its parts, axon and dendrites and follow this with a demonstration and a simulation of a neural network and how the impulses are conducted. This was originated by psychologists, Paul Rozin and John Jonides. Here goes. Explain that this is a simulation of neural transmission. Arrange the students so that each person can place his or her right hand on the right shoulder of the person in front of them. Note that students in every other row will have to face backwards in order to form a snaking chain so that all students playing the role of individual neurons are connected to each other. Explain to the student that their task as a neural network is to send a neural impulse from one end of the room to the other. Explain that their arms are going to be the axons, their fingers are axon terminals and their shoulders are dendrites. The first student in the chain will squeeze the shoulder of the next person who upon receiving this message will (“fire”) deliver a squeeze to the next person`s shoulder and so on and so on until the last person in the class receives the message. Take photos of the human neural transmission process. Have a student place labels and arrows on his/her shoulder and arm identifying the fictional axon and dendrites showing the route of the simulation.
  7. To demonstrate and simulate the speed of the conduction of impulses, you may start the timer on a stop watch and start a message going timing it by having the last person shouting “stop” when the message has arrived.
  8. At this point you may provide student s with diagrams showing the detailed transmission process.
  9. Now, introduce the triggers that release the neurotransmitters. Focus on the different types of synapses.
  10. And finally, focus on the important neurotransmitters and their specific functions. This  normally fascinate the listeners.
  11. Reinforce the two- fold process of the release of chemicals and the movement of the electrons as transmitters of the messages. This is the key concept you are trying to get across.
  12. Ask students to draw a diagram illustrating the transmission of a message.
  13. Now, introduce the new advances in technology such as Meg, magneto encephalography and how this instrument has enhanced our abilities to learn more about the brain. Show pictures of this instrument taken off the internet. If your local hospital has the equipment, get a photo of it and a brief description of how it works.
  14. And finally, based on what your classmates now know, ask them what would they like to know about the brain? What would they suggest as areas for future research as it pertains to the nervous system?
  15. On your display board, first and foremost, state the objective of your project, the materials used, the method such as preparation of the lesson plan, and the questions students provided for future research.  Display a copy of your lesson plan.  Display the actual model of a neuron which  you made. List all the resources you were able to gather. Show photos of the student simulation of the firing of neurons. Display any materials you gathered from the local hospital or from a neurologist. Make copies of your bibliography for interested students.

Terms/Concepts: Nerve impulse; Nerve; Neuron; Network; Axon; Dendrite; Synapse; Electrical synapse; Chemical synapse; Neurotransmitters; Dopamine; Serotonin; Acetylcholine; Noradrenalin; glutamate; Endorphins; Encephalin

References:

 

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