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BBI 2007 Session 5

Paul Grobstein's picture


Neurons and Nervous System Architecture:

Autonomy, Variability, Feedback, and Exploration


Review (and completion)


Nervous System

  • Emily Dickinson
    • "I also thought Emily Dickenson provided a wonderful "summary of osbservations" for future generations to test. Who knew she was a brilliant scientist in addition to an eloquent poet!" ... Mingh
    • "We really are brain surgeons, and the scary thing is that I think many educators out there are unaware of that fact or unwilling to consider such a story or explanation from that perspective." ... Graham
  • Outputs without inputs


Helps with
  • Harvard Law of Animal Behavior
  • Outputs with no inputs
Raises new questions
  • What are outputs, inputs, boxes?
  • How get outputs with no inputs?
  • How have inputs with no outputs?
  • Where is choice? sky, self, consciousness, science, story telling?

Beginning to get some answers to new questions

  • Boxes inside boxes .... neurons, themselves input/output boxes
  • Sensory neurons the only way in, motor neurons the only way out, mostly interneurons
  • Similar but different in different organisms, different in same organism at different times
  • All neurons, differences in behavior are differences in organization of neurons ("architecture")
  • change organization of neurons, change behavior
  • Neurons have some degree of autonomy, so therefore does nervous system, can view as output/input box as appropriately as input/output box
  • The architecture of the brain begins to give it the characteristics of an explorer

The Signals

  • Action potentials (more this afternoon), receptor potentials, synaptic potentials
  • Takes time
  • Importance of inhibition as well as excitation
  • Chemical sensitivity
  • Equivilence of signals in all cables, problem of interpretation
Your thoughts about the relevance of what we're covered yesterday/today for thinking about students, classrooms/education? Does it matter that neurons can generate action potentials themselves? that inhibition is as much of a part of the workings of the nervous system as excitation? What does the picture of the nervous system we have so far help one to think about, not help one to think about?


Judith Lucas-Odom's picture

Brain matters

I enjoyed the morning session on the neuron and how the brain reacts. Each person becomes unique because of the way they are put together. This means that everyone in the world is significant and necessary to make life special. I was really impressed by the fact that there are more interneurons than sensory and motor neurons together. The action potentials of an individual is fascinating to me because in the afternoon session Peter really made these action potentials come alive. Pain receptors and drug interactions were especially significant in how we over diagnosis are children for everything. We need to re-look at what and how the brain really works. Science is still developing this story. Some of my thoughts about reaction times have changed as a result of today.  As people age, we tend to think that reaction times are going to slow down but according this  story of action potentials this won't happen or will it?
Cheryl Brown's picture


It was interesting learning about the different types of neurons and how they interact with each other. Some of the terms Paul used were familiar but now I feel I have a better understanding of the story of the nervous system, neurons, and action potentials.
Geneva Tolliferreo's picture

Action Potentials

It is increasingly evident that God has wired all of our internal and external workings to be interdependent. Such is the case with the nucleus of our neurons, of our cells, of our membranes, ex cetera. God in His omnipresent genius, continues to amaze me when I realize the infinity of His greatness, which manifests itself in the intelligence of man to continually seek how we work physically, mentally, and emotionally. Scientists more often than not opt not to delve into the Spiritual nature of our existence, because in many cases they reach the unexplainable and render failed attempts to explain it. Hummmmmm, wonder why? The boxes, inside the boxes, inside the a great demonstration of how we are hard wired, in the physical. This presentation does a good job in creating an understanding we are able to wrap our brain around.
Tammi Jordan's picture

The Nervous System

The session today was affective in that we learned how the neurons work and we made some sense of the boxes. However the story is still unfolding. The action potential that effects the neurons are unspecific in emotional action potential. I am interested in knowing more about the interneurons' affect on our emotions which will help me to be a more effective Emotional Support teacher.
Dalia Gorham's picture


I found it interesting to learn that the dfferences among people are not in the building blocks but rather the structures themselves. I think Paul told a good story today.
Robert McCormick's picture

Brain surgeons and action potentials

I will reflect on connecting yesterday’s comment concerning teachers being brain surgeons and this morning presentation on action potentials of students’ sensory neurons.

Now that I know that all neurons’ action potentials have a threshold for action, which it is all or nothing, I must consider the sensory inputs that students in my class are receiving from me in my classroom. Am I giving enough sensory input to penetrate “the feeble dullness in the eyes” of the average child? Why I am not overcoming the minimal action potentials necessary for activation? What can I, as a skilled brain surgeon, do to alter the sensory inputs, which are obviously not being effective processed by the bored or acting out child? Is the bored or acting child behaving due to the sensory inputs s/he is receiving from me or is it a situation beyond my control that is causing this behavior? Should I shift my delivery to include others senses? What should a skilled brain surgeon do?

Deidre Bennett's picture

Okay so now we know we have

Okay so now we know we have a better scientific understanding of how the brain works. I can't wait to discover how all of this affects behavior.
Donna Morris's picture


very interesting to someone who knows very little on the subject, I now have a new story to tell.
Bruce Williamson's picture


The neurons must be the source of thinking, skill development and learning. So during instruction the hope is that student’s neurons are working as expected without too much competing action in neurons concerned with other ideas. But self firing neurons will be inserting thoughts about the big game, a coming social activity, and countless other distractions. I need to learn ways to help students deal with such off focus ideas effectively while they are trying to learn. This might be where inhibition is helpful. Can inhibition be effectively encouraged?Regards,
William Sgrillo's picture

session 5

W. Keith Sgrillo I feel that it is extremely important to recognize the idea that the majority of action potentials exist from within. This is exciting because of all the implications this implies. It suggests to me that people are capable of interacting within their environment more than they realize and in fact may be doing it without realizing it. This also has extremely profound implications for me as a teacher in terms of how i approach behaviors in my classroom (the students as well as mine). This whole concept of reality has extremely important and controversial implications. The movie "The Matrix" means more to me now than it did 5 years ago.
Angela Bryant's picture


It is interesting to know how our nervous system works. I do not know how much truth Paul story is ,but I had a better understanding in his teaching of how the nervous system works. It is to my understanding that neurons can generate action protentials. I also enjoyed learning about the different signals that travels through our bodies.
Victoria Brown's picture

Wednesday - morning/afternoon session

 I thought that Paul did an exceptional job of covering the neurological system. This was extremely relevant to my students, and I now understand better why they behave as they do. This was a coplex system that was explained in a simplified manner that could be understood. I now know that everyones brain is different and that is why some students dont get along with others. This is really valuable information that I can take with me into the classroom and it will aid me in better understanding my students behavior. It does matter that neurons can generate action potentials. Signals along an axon is an action potential, and of course there are many different signals. All neurons give excitatory and inhibitory responses, therefore they are of equal importantance.
Graham Phillips's picture

On the tips of our toes

What we are learning today really demonstrates how complicated the process of generating and repressing signals is.  Some inputs produce an output, others produce none and still other outputs are generated with no inputs at all. 

What will become important now is to understand how the brain remembers materials that we have learned and employs them for recall.  If we understand how and where our students are processing the information, and, more specifically, what their nervous systems are doing with the stories we provide them (or expect them to remember, at any rate), we may better understand how to more efficiently and effectively reach our students. 


Also for myself, it will prove interesting as I try to understand the connection between my nervous system and my body and how that helps me to remember movement.  This in turn will (I hope) help me to become a better dancer...

Benjamin Zerante's picture

Neurons Reflection

I think the material we have been working on today is extremely interesting. I really enjoyed learning about a new way to think about the function of the nervous system. As we progress, the more we learn about the brain and the nervous system, the more the big picture is starting to come into focus. I was really struck by the comment that the way Paul presented the material was interesting and completely different from the lecture/take notes/memorize style of learning. It was a great model to think about how to engage students and promote a classroom environment of active learners.
Teresa Albers's picture


The nervous system is so complex in its capacity and yet rather simple in its activity in terms of mechanics. Seeing how easily the nervous system generates action potentials makes understanding individual personalities a complex phenomenon. Isn't it a wonder that we have a common perspective or capacity for cohesion at all given how differently we interact with the external world, our internal environs, and the stories we tell about what is perceived?
Mingh Whitfield's picture

neurons and more

I thought Paul did a great job of making the complex neurological system understandable to those of us who have not dedicated our lives to studying it. The technique used exemplifies the qualities of a great teacher that really cares about distributing knowledge. He really knows his material, and then uses a variety of methods and common examples to illustrate points. This shows an awareness about our learning in different ways, and a willingness to take that into account during instruction. From what I've learned about the brain today, his teaching style must be related to what he knows about brain functioning. I'm excited at the prospect of learning more about the brain. I think it will help give me a deeper understanding about my students, which will only enhance my ability to teach them.

I like how Peter was unwilling to elaborate on specifics that he did not feel he was an expert on.  It somehow coaborated Paul's idea about getting our stories "less wrong".  It also caused me to reflect about assumptions I make while teaching.  When I think a child is "shutting down", is that something he or she is purposfully doing?  Is it a case of leaky neurons or the processing speed of the central nervous system?  Can I alter my way of transmitting information to help?  Does part of my job involve helping children with metacognition-to give them more control over these things?  This discussion about the brain is helping me find my way to those answers, and allowing me to create my own teaching story.     

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