Skip Discover Education Main Navigation
Skip Discover Education Main Navigation

9-12 > Human Body
Grade level: 9-12 Subject: Human Body Duration: Two class periods
Objectives | Materials | Procedures | Adaptations | Discussion Questions | Evaluation | Extensions | Suggested Readings | Links | Vocabulary | Academic Standards | Credit
print this lesson plan


lesson plan support

Find a video description, video clip, and discussion questions.
The Brain: Evolution

Students will understand the following:
1. Neuronsare the cells of nerve tissue.
2. A neuron consists of a main portion, which contains the nucleus, and cell extensions calledaxonsanddendrites.
3. Neurons communicate with each other by means of electrical and chemical signals, transmitted across asynapse, or gap, between the axon of one neuron and the dendrites of another.
4. Neurotransmittersare molecules that relay signals by moving from one neuron to the next.
5. Billions of neurons are packed into thecerebral cortex, the part of the brain that receives, processes, and stores memory of sensory information as well as originates ideas.
6. Many recent advances in understanding the brain are due to the development of techniques that allow scientists to see connections among neurons throughout the body.

For this lesson, you will need:
Research materials on the brain
Computer with Internet access

1. Review with your students what they have learned about the brain and the nervous system. If necessary, have them do research on the brain and nervous system to find definitions of the following terms:neuron, axon, dendrite, synapse, neurotransmitter, cerebral cortex.
2. In class discussion, make sure students have a basic understanding of how the nervous system transmits messages. Then tell them that many recent advances in understanding the brain are due to the development of techniques that allow scientists to actually view connections among neurons throughout the body.
3. Divide your class into groups to research some of those methods. Assign one method to each group: position emission tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, magnetic source imaging, and gene diagnosis. Students should find out what their particular method allows scientists and physicians to see and what neurological disorders can be diagnosed by the technology.
4. Instruct groups to present the results of their research in writing, illustrations, and diagrams. All facts should be documented.
5. Have groups present their reports to the class.
Back to Top

Younger students may need help devising a research plan and interpreting information they find on the Internet.
Back to Top
Discussion Questions

1. Dr. Ralph Solecki discovered nine Neanderthal skeletons between 1953 and 1960 at Shanidar cave in Iraq. Find articles about Neanderthals in journals and on the Internet. Explain the significance of this site in light of your findings and the information you obtained from viewing the video. Why is it thought to be evidence of a complex social structure? Why would the interpretation be disputed? Do you agree with Dr. Solecki's hypothesis?
2. Explain the chain of events necessary for a nerve impulse to travel through the body. Include in your explanation the relation between: neuron, synapse, neurotransmitter, sodium and potassium ions, and receptor sites.
3. What is the limbic system?
4. What is the relationship between genetics and the environment in the development of the brain and the formation of neural networks?
5. Why is it easier for a child to learn new skills such as playing the piano or learning a foreign language?
6. Explain the hypothesis put forth by Francis Crick about how visual awareness works.
Back to Top

You can evaluate your students on their research reports using the following three-point rubric:
Three points:clear; complete; well organized; error-free
Two points:clear; incomplete; sufficiently well organized; some errors
One point:unclear; incomplete; lacking in organization; numerous errors
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining an organizational plan for the report.
Back to Top

Neurotransmitter Bulletin Board
More than 60 years ago acetylcholine became the first neurotransmitter to be identified. Since then many more have been added to the list. Have your students create a bulletin board display of neurotransmitters and their effect on humans. How do neurotransmitters normally work, and what happens if there is an imbalance? Students should accompany their time line with descriptions of theories that link imbalances in neurotransmitters to Alzheimer’s disease; Parkinson’s disease; alcoholism; mental illness; and sleep, eating, and mood disorders.

Brain Development Time Line
The precise wiring of the brain is not in place when a baby is born. The brain has been compared to the hardware of a computer, ready to be loaded with software that will develop such intellectual capabilities as language, music, and mathematics. With your class, find out what the latest research says about learning and brain development. Have your students create a time line of activities for parents and teachers to follow from infancy through elementary school that would maximize learning experiences. For example, are there early-childhood activities that could facilitate the comprehension of complex mathematics later in life?

Back to Top
Suggested Readings

It's All in Your Head: A Guide to Understanding Your Brain and Boosting Your Brain Power
Susan L. Barrett, Free Spirit Publishers, 1992
Susan Barrett offers activities that will help you exploit your brain's ever-evolving intellectual and creative abilities. (Teacher's guide also available.)

Back to Top

The Whole Brain Atlas
Designed as a learning tool for medical school students, this fascinating atlas offers images of healthy and diseased human brains.

Brain Briefings Home Page
This home page from the Society for Neuroscience lists the titles from their series of two-page newsletters explaining how basic neuroscience discoveries lead to clinical applications.

Paleontology project - human origins
This site, from The Natural History Museum, London, gives some background and includes pictures of some of the more recent archaeological findings.

Foreign Language Instructional Technology Interest Group
Produced by the University of Virginia, this site includes numerous resources for teaching foreign languages including professional networking resources.

Human Evolution Education Network
Lists resources for evolution and biology education, online and in the "real world".

Homo sapiens neandertalensis: Brain size and physical appearance
An excellent resource for students to find additional information supporting “The Brain: Evolution.” Divided into three major topics: Overview of Human Evolution, Hominid Species Timeline and Human Physical Characteristics.

A Gallery of Mammalian Brains
This is a great site for students of all ages to visit and view brain structure, with great graphics.

Society for Neuroscience
Home page for The Society for Neuroscience, the world's largest organization of scientists and physicians dedicated to understanding the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nervous system.

Selective Brain Cooling in Early Hominids: phylogeneticand evolutionary implications

Without Miracles

Brain Evolution & Perception

Welcome to the University of California Museum of Paleontology

Back to Top

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

speaker    limbic system
Definition:A system, dispersed throughout the forebrain, composed of the thalamus, hypothalamus, amygdala, hippocampus, and parts of the cortex. It influences emotion and memory.
Context:The limbic system, brain stem and basal ganglia date back to the mastodons, dinosaurs and first amphibians.

speaker    neurons
Definition:Any of the cells of nerve tissue consisting of a main portion containing the nucleus and cytoplasmic extensions, the cell body, the dendrites, and axons.
Context:Each neuron has a job to communicate to other neurons.

speaker    synapse
Definition:The point at which a nerve impulse is transmitted from an axon of one neuron to the dendrite of another.
Context:A tiny gap called a synapse separates their branches.

speaker    neurotransmitters
Definition:Molecules that relay signals by moving from one neuron to the next.
Context:The molecules that move from one neuron to the next are called neurotransmitters.

speaker    cognitive
Definition:Pertaining to the mental process or faculty of knowing.
Context:Professor Kirkland is a cognitive scientist.

Back to Top

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 function of cells in living organisms.
Knows that multicellular organisms have nervous systems to generate behavior; nervous systems are formed from specialized cells that conduct signals rapidly through the long cell extensions that make up nerves, and the nerve cells communicate with each other by secreting specific excitatory and inhibitory molecules.

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:life science
Understands the basic concepts of the evolution of species.
Knows that heritable characteristics, which can be biochemical and anatomical, largely determine what capabilities an organism will have, how it will behave and, hence, how likely it is to survive and reproduce.

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:technology
Understands the nature of scientific knowledge.
Knows that from time to time, major shifts occur in the scientific view of how the world works, but usually the changes that take place in the body of scientific knowledge are small modifications of prior knowledge; change and continuity are persistent features of science.

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:technology
Understands the nature of scientific inquiry.
Knows that scientists usually base their investigations on existence questions or causal-functional questions; causal-functional questions lead to investigations of how physical, living, or designed systems function.

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:technology
Understands the interactions of science, technology, and society.
Knows that science often advances with the introduction of new technologies and solving technological problems often results in new scientific knowledge; new technologies often extend the current levels of scientific understanding and introduce new arenas of research.

Back to Top

Lisa Lyle Wu, biology teacher, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Virginia.
Back to Top