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Neuron Function

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Updated on Jan 13, 2014

Grade Level: 9th - 10th; Type: Neuroscience/Biology

To determine what neurons are, what they do and share this vital information with my cohorts and the public by producing an illustrated book entitled “Know Your Neurons and How They Work”.

  • What is the brain made of?
  • What is the function of the brain?
  • Do we have one or two brains?
  • Does our brain grow and change over time?
  • What is a neuron and what is its function?
  • How is the cell structure of a neuron similar to other cells in the body?
  • What are the specialized extensions of neurons?
  • What are the specific functions of dendrites and axons?
  • How do neurons communicate with each other?
  • What are neurotransmitters?
  • What is the Node of Ranvier?
  • What are Nissl Bodies?
  • What is the function of the endoplasmic reticulum?
  • Golgi apparatus? What purpose does it serve?
  • What are the functions of sensory neurons, motor neurons and interneurons?
  • Why is it accurate to describe the processes of neuron transmission as both electrical and chemical?
  • Are nerve cells (neurons) capable of regeneration?
  • What is a stroke?
  • What is axonal degeneration?
  • What is meant by the term dementia?
  • What are some common neurological disorders?
  • What are some common treatments for nervous disorders?
  • Does our life style, the way we live, the things we eat, the things we do impact on our brain? If so, how?
  • What does the most recent research tell us about the effect of exercise on the brain?

In this science fair project, you are entering the world of your imagination. In this imaginative world you have been contacted by a famous toy company, “Toy for Future Neuroscientists.”The company is offering you a contract to produce a pop up book, “Know Your Neurons and How They Work” which will include a model of a neuron “in action”. You have decided to accept the contract and are now starting to gather the essential information for this book.

You plan to define and describe a neuron which is another name for a nerve cell whose function is to carry messages to and from the brain to all parts of the body. The human brain is made up ofsome15000million neurons, a number most of us cannot even visualize. The processes by which the neurons operate are both electrical and chemical. Neurons have a large number of extensions called dendrites which look like branches or spikes extending from the cell body. One extension is called an axon whose purpose is to transmit an electro-chemical signal to other neurons. An axon can be as long as three feet. The axon is covered with a myelin sheath which serves as insulation. If you looked at an axon it looks like a necklace made of sausage shaped beads. The end of the axon takes the electrical message it is receiving and changes it into a chemical message which is then picked up by another neuron. Between the axon ending and the dendrite of another neuron is a tiny space, a gap .This gap is called a synapse. This is the juncture where the chemicals which are released serve to carry the electrical current across to the next neuron. This friend is just the beginning of the story which you plan to tell. You will find it helpful to use the terms, concepts and questions for background research as well as the bibliography of books and internet sources including movies of neurons in action.

  1. You have just completed your research on the basic information on the brain. Use the section on terms and concepts to introduce the basic terms and there meanings. Provide specific examples so that the reader develops a picture in their mind of what the words represent.
  2. Use the sequence of the research questions as an outline for your book introducing the functions of the various parts and how they work together to carry out the specific function.
  3. Draw diagrams to illustrate what is happening.
  4. You may want to use the diagrams to create the model that will accompany your book. Here you have a great opportunity to be creative. In the bibliography there is a listing of internet sources you will find a variety of ways and materials you can use to create a neuron and illustrate it at work, firing off a message to another neuron or groups of neurons.Some recommend using a combination of play dough, buttons and recyclables, others use food, still others recommend stringing beads, some use rope, some use string or pipe cleaners. Explore the various sites listed and make your own combinations.
  5. Make certain to label all parts. You may choose to use stick pins with cards which tells us the function of each part.
  6. During the process of making the model you may want to take pictures of the process as well as the finished product.
  7. Use your tape recorder, and explain how you made the model, why you chose the materials you did, and explain what the model demonstrates. Have a tape player available so that observers can listen to the tape.
  8. In addition, you may want to do “A book on tape “piece, by reading the book onto a tape or taking it off your computer and burning it onto a disc for distribution.
  9. Write up your report describing what you did in creating the book and the model and let the product s speak for themselves! Congratulations! You have gone and done it!

Terms/Concepts: Cell body; Soma; Nucleus; Nerve; Neuron; Sensory neurons; Motor neurons; Dendrites; Axon; Myelin sheath; Synapse; Ions; Action potential; Ion channels; Neurotransmitters; Receptor sites; Excitatory neurotransmitters; Inhibitory neurotransmitters; Ribosomes; Protein synthesis

References:

Dr. Muriel Gerhard (Ed.D.) is a retired educator with fifty seven years of experience in all aspects of public education. She has been a teacher, principal, administrator, college professor, researcher, grants writer, change agent and science editor. She is the author of several books on education used as college texts. These include the best selling Effective Teaching Strategies with the Behavioral Outcomes Approach and The Behavioral Outcomes Handbook for Teachers and Administrators. Presently she is a consultant in science education and curriculum development, a marriage and family therapist, a newspaper columnist and an author. Her latest book, recently published, is a memoir of sixty vignettes entitled "Now That I`m Dead, I Decided to Write this Book".

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