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9-12 > Human Body
Grade level: 9-12 Subject: Human Body Duration: Two class periods
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Understanding: The Amazing Brain

Students will understand the following:
1. The structure and function of various parts of the brain
2. The differences between the functioning of the teenage brain and the functioning of an adult brain
3. The impact that damage to the brain can have on normal human functions
4. The impact that drugs and alcohol can have on the brain

For this lesson, you will need:
A simple circuit with a light bulb or bell (battery, wires, a light bulb)
Resource materials on the brain

1. Set up the simple circuit where all students can see it. Do not connect the final wire—that is, do not allow the light to shine (or bell to ring).
2. Have students watch as you connect the last wire to make the light shine or bell ring. Ask them to explain what is happening. Explain that electrical impulses are traveling through the wires.
3. Ask students to compare this action with the workings of the human brain. Lead them to understand that electrical impulses travel through neural pathways, resulting in a thought or action.
4. Have students research more about how the brain works, the different parts of the brain, the function of each, and how the different parts interrelate and communicate. Direct them to helpful resources on the human brain.
5. After they have completed their research, instruct students to make a diagram of the human brain, labeling the different parts, and then write a short report summarizing the function and interactions between the parts. Provide students with a list of key terms to include in their report:
  1. Cerebrum
  2. Cerebellum
  3. Frontal lobe
  4. Parietal lobe
  5. Temporal lobe
  6. Occipital lobe
  7. Central or insular lobe
  8. Limbic lobe
  9. Cerebral hemispheres of the brain
  10. Amygdala
  11. Neurons
  12. Neural transmitters
6. Allow students time to share their information and discuss the implications behind their findings.
7. Explain to students that teenagers tend to use more of their amygdala, whereas adults tend to use more of their frontal lobe. Ask students to think about how that might affect the perceptions, behaviors, and reactions of the two groups.
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Using an overhead projector, explain the parts of a brain and the basic function of each part. To review, hand out a simple diagram of the brain and have students label important parts. Next, brainstorm different types of injuries that might affect the brain, such as bicycle falls or sports injuries. Discuss problems that might arise if people get a head injury, depending on what part of the brain is damaged. Have students design safety posters promoting the use of helmets when playing sports, skateboarding, or riding bikes.
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Discussion Questions

1. Explain what occurs when significant injury occurs in the left cortex. What effects does this have on the body’s motor skills?
2. Case studies have shown that when a certain part of the brain is removed due to injury or illness, patients sometimes regain their abilities for which that part was responsible. Explain how this is possible.
3. Although genetics dictates the basic structure of the brain, personal experiences help reinforce the development of the brain, from certain senses to the ability to learn and imagine. It is believed that the capacity to learn is highest in young children. What impact should this have on the way we educate the young?
4. What effect do you think lack of sleep has on the brain? Some believe the circadian rhythms of teens’ brains lead them to need to sleep longer in the morning. Debate whether high schools should start their school days later in the day rather than earlier in the morning.
5. Brain injuries due to accidents can result in tragedy for the person and his or her family and friends. Hypothesize, based on what you have learned about the brain, how injuries in different regions might affect a person’s functioning capacity. Debate the role that government should take in mandating safety devices such as motorcycle helmets for motorcyclists, hard hats for construction sites, and so on.
6. The use of psychiatric drugs to treat some forms of mental illness is becoming more prevalent. For instance, Prozac is used to treat depression in some patients, and lithium is used to treat manic-depressive patients. Some people are reluctant to use these drugs because they feel such use interferes with their true personality. Others are against this method of treatment because they think that these people should “just get themselves together.” Hypothesize, based on what you have learned, how these drugs might affect the functioning of the brain. Discuss whether you think people should take medicines for emotional problems.
7. Compare the adult brain, which has a high level of frontal lobe activity, with the teenage brain, which has more activity in the amygdala. Hypothesize how this might affect behavior and perceptions in both teenagers and adults. Might this be a contributing factor to the generation gap? What other environmental or psychological factors might account for the differences?
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Hand out a blank diagram of the brain and a list of five human functions or activities—such as the heart beating, balancing a checkbook, or hearing a car siren. Have students determine what part or parts of the brain are responsible for each activity. Then have them label those parts of the brain on their diagram. Under each label, they should write a brief description of the part’s function, as well as the listed activity or activities requiring this part of the brain. On a separate piece of paper, ask them to choose one part of the brain and hypothesize the effects if that part were injured.
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On the Spot: Improvisations on Life
Using several pairs of 3” x 5” cards, write a few scenario starters for student improvisations. For example, one card could read, “Sixteen-year-old who wants to drive the car to school for the first time.” Its companion card could read, “Fifty-year-old parent who has just finished a newspaper article about teenage-driving accident rates.” Pick two students and give them each a card. Based on what they have learned about the brain, have them act out what they think will happen. After each scene discuss with the class what they saw and why they think it happened.

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Suggested Readings

The Brain
Jim Barmeier, Lucent Books, 1996.
The author of this book tells all about how the brain works, what memory is, how and why we sleep and dream, and what can happen when the brain is damaged. Illustrations and photographs help explain the brain’s structure and the history of brain research.

Star Trek on the Brain: Alien Minds, Human Minds
Robert Sekuler and Randolph Blake, W.H. Freeman, 1998.
Why can Spock cry, but not Data? When Captain Kirk’s personality is split between two identical bodies by a transporter error, why is one of them so aggressive and the other so meek? These questions and many more are answered in this book that uses the humans and aliens of Star Trek to explain the most recent research into how and why the human brain functions as it does.

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Billing itself as brain science in plain English, this site offers information about how the brain works and how people learn.

Neuroscience for Kids
This site offers information, experiments, and resources to students, teachers and parents interested in investigating the brain and the nervous system.

Brain Briefings
This site features short articles on a large number of brain-related topics: memory, nervous system disorders, drugs, eating disorders, exercise, brain mechanisms, sleep and the senses.

The Human Brain: A Mystery to Itself
This is an award-winning Think Quest site designed by students from Deep River, CT, and Singapore. It is available in both English and Spanish.

The Human Brain: Dissections of the Real Brain
Want to see what the brain and all its components look like? Visit Virtual Hospital to understand the organization and functions of the human nervous system.

Mind and Machine Module
Use this site to take a brief tour of the brain, investigate artificial intelligence and locate more information on neural networks.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    cerebellum
Definition:The section of the brain behind and below the cerebrum; this section coordinates muscular movement.
Context:Damage to the cerebellum could result in a loss of coordination.

speaker    cerebrum
Definition:The part of the brain containing the right and left hemispheres.
Context:Because the animal was a vertebrate, it had a cerebrum.

speaker    frontal lobe
Definition:The part of the cerebrum covered by the frontal bone, which is involved in cognitive functions.
Context:The frontal lobe is a complex area of the brain.

speaker    neuron
Definition:The structural and functional unit of the nervous system consisting of the nerve cell body and all its processes.
Context:Neurons can be destroyed by the use of some drugs.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level:9-12
Subject area:Life science
Knows the general structure and functions of cells in organisms.
Understands the structure and functions of nervous systems in multicellular animals (e.g., nervous systems are formed from specialized cells that conduct signals rapidly through the long cell extensions that make up nerves; nerve cells communicate with each other by secreting specific excitatory and inhibitory molecules).

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:Behavioral studies
Understands that interactions among learning, inheritance, and physical development affect human behavior.
Understands that expectations, moods, and prior experiences of human beings can affect how they interpret new perceptions or ideas.
Benchmark:Understands that differences in the behavior of individuals arise from the interaction of heredity and experience.

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Joyce Bailey, master science teacher and freelance writer.
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