Biology In Elementary Schools is a Saint Michael's College student project from a course that ran between 2007 and 2010 and fully described in this book chapter. The student-created resources have been preserved here for posterity. Link under 'toolbox' for printer-friendly versions of the exercises. Click on handouts to print full resolution versions. Please see Wikieducator's disclaimer, our safety statement, and the Creative Commons licensing in English and in legalese.
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Primary biological content area covered
Students will have the opportunity to construct a model of a neuron, understanding the jobs of the various parts and how a neuron helps brain function. Students will also learn components of experimental science, such as coming up with their own hypothesis' and explaining. Students developed hypothesis' by sharing their ideas of what a neuron is and what they think that it's function might be.
Materials for Teacher
- Diagram of Neuron
Materials for Each Student Group
- Diagram of Neuron
- Construction Paper
- Glue Bottles
Materials for Individual Student
- 4 Different Colors of Clay
- Piece of Construction Paper
- Students will be given a handout explaining the function of a neuron. This handout will include a diagram of a neuron with labeled parts as well as an explanation of each of the functions of these parts. The handout also contains a scenario to help students better understand the function of the neuron.
Description of activity
Students will begin by being given a mini-lesson on the neuron itself. Then, in the actual activity, students will discover a fun, hands-on project where they learn about the neuron, an essential part of the human body. Each student will be given a piece of clay with which they will be able to form their own neuron. After they have created a neuron, the teacher will guide the students in labeling the various parts of the neuron as well as teach about each individual function. If there is time left, one of the literature connections can be added into the lesson.
- Introduce students to neurons (their four basic parts) and their function in the brain, spinal cord, and body.
- Go over neuron diagram showing the parts that create a neuron and the function of each.
- Students will then create their own neuron model
- Each student will receive four different clay colored pieces for the dendrites, soma (cell body), axon, and axon terminal
- Using clay students will mold the four parts of the neuron and connect them
- Once constructed students will glue it onto the piece of construction paper and label the parts
The activity went well, but we were with a very small number of students. More potential pitfalls might occur with a larger group of students. Pitfalls can be prevented by making sure all materials are prepared beforehand (such as having the clay in smaller pieces and all of the handouts ready).
It might be useful for the instructor(s) to give a brief introduction to the nervous system and its function within the body to help students understand the function of a neuron as some students had difficulty understanding what they were creating. For example, we asked the students in the beginning of the process what they thought a neuron was and where it was located. This way, they were able to make some personalized connections to what exactly they do.
Here are some possible book selections to help explain the functions of the brain and nervous system to students,
- Funston, Sylvia,2005, "It's All in Your Head: A Guide to Your Brilliant Brain," Maple Tree Press.
- Martin, Paul D, 1984 "Messengers to the Brain: Our Fantastic Five Senses," National Geographic Society.
- Newquist, HP,2005, "The Great Brain Book: An Inside Look at the Inside of Your Head," Scholastic Nonfiction.
- Simon, Seymour,2006, "The Brain: Our Nervous System." Collins.
- Stille, Darlene R, 1998, "The Nervous System: A True Book." Children's Press.
These literature connections can be used to read to students and discuss further the functions of the brain, body, and more specifically, neurons.
Students are able to physically create neurons through manipulating several colors and different sizes of molding clay. Since the clay is harder than normal play dough it requires more manipulation and sculpting. They are being asked to artistically represent a neuron-something that is a rather abstract concept to understand. Through physically creating this important part of the body students are able to visualize what it looks like and how the various parts of a neuron work together to help their bodies function.
Connections to educational standards
Students demonstrate their understanding of SCIENTIFIC QUESTIONING by.... Identifying at least one variable that affects a system and using that variable to generate and experimental questions that includes a cause and effect relationship.
Students demonstrate their ability to CONDUCT EXPERIMENTS by...
Drawing scientifically: b. Labeling significant parts of a scientific diagram and includes a key if necessary.
An excellent web source to further students understanding of neurons and to visually see what a neuron does teachers can use the following website http://www.childrenshospital.org/research/Site2029/mainpageS2029P23sublevel51.html and click under the picture on the right side of the page "the neuron". This will prompt another window to pop up which actively shows how a neuron transmits messages within the brain and what how the parts function.
Another web source that could be used with students to demonstrate the brain and nervous system can be found at http://www.kidshealth.org/kid/htbw/htbw_main_page.html. By clicking on the red link with the movie reel to the left of the brain a mini-animated movie can be shown to students all about the functions of the nervous system.
While we didn't use glue when we conducted the activity some students had difficulty keeping the clay on their paper when they went to label the parts. Also, the neuron creations cannot be hung up or displayed because the neuron would fall off the paper. We suggest the neuron parts be glued to the paper thus they will be able to be displayed around the classroom.
The handout we photocopied was black and white, we suggest having color copies for students to better illustrate the parts of the neuron for students to reference as they are creating their neuron. If an instructor is unable to make color copies for students another possibility would be to have a teacher created model for students to reference and see the parts.