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Observations from 10/21/09

elovejoy's picture

Observations from 10/21/09

Emily Lovejoy

Teacher A's classroom started a new unit on Brain and Behavior!  During my observations today, they broke into groups to learn about the central nervous system anatomy and the related terminology.  The students did this by exploring a website ( and building a model.  This lesson was more discovery based than other lessons in the past.  The students were to build teams to accomplish the goal of building a successful model.  Teacher A reminded the students that the last time they were able to choose their partners for a group, some of the work did not get done.  They reviewed how it is important to choose partners with varying qualities.  The students needed to think about who they would work best with, and who had the different strengths that a good team would need (a person who is good at verbal, organizational, writing, artistic, and visual tasks).  Almost half of the students said that they were best at building things.  But, the students agreed that it would not be best to have a group made up of exclusively builders.  So, the students wrote down their top three model choices from the following:

nervous system kid, beady neuron, baked brains, baked neurons, thinking cap, and pipe cleaner neuron.

Three to four students were placed in each group.  They were instructed to first explore the website to learn basic information and the related vocabulary that went along with it.  Once the students felt that they had an understanding of the material, they could move on to building their CNS model. 

Thinking Cap Group

In this group, the students were to display the brain on a "thinking cap" made of paper mache.  The group knew that their first task was to make a fake head for the "thinking cap" to go on.  They made this out of newspaper balls, tin foil, and plastic wrap.  They then went on to make the "thinking cap" for the head out of newspaper strips dipped in the paper mache solution.  This group was very driven and focused on completing their goal.  They worked well together in building the fake head.  One student prepared the materials for the paper mache, while the other two made the newspaper balls and wrapped them in the plastic wrap and tin foil. They seemed to have a concrete idea of what needed to be done and how it would get done to complete their model.


Pipe Cleaner Neuron

This group's task was to make a neuron out of a pipe cleaner.  This was to help them learn where the dendrites, cell body, axon, myelin sheath, and synaptic terminal are on a neuron.  The group initially worked independently and thought it would be easier if they each worked on their own project.  Then, after a few minutes they decided that it would be more beneficial to work together to make one pipe cleaner neuron so that they could bounce ideas off of each other and so that each member could help to build each part.  Afterward, they made their own individual neurons. Once they planned out what they were going to do, the group worked quickly and effectively at building the pipe cleaner neurons.


Baked Brain

The group of students in the baked brain group were to make a brain out of the clay material provided to them.  Their group started at the computer station, learning about the central nervous system anatomy.  It was interesting to see that this group decided to test each other on the material.  One student would sit at the computer and ask his or her partner the definition of different lobes.  When working on their model, they first composed a larger to scale model of the brain, but then decided it would be easier to distinguish and label the different lobes using a flatter model of the brain.  Two of the students worked on making the brainstem, while the other two students worked on forming the rest of the brain.  This group was able to use applicable brain vocabulary when talking about specific parts of their model.  They were one of the most detail-oriented groups that I observed: they used a ruler to make distinctions between the different lobes and it looked like they were also using a pencil to draw in the fissures.


Baked Neurons

The students in the baked neurons group were to make a neuron out of clay.  They started their discovery of the central nervous system by exporing the website and looking at the different types of neurons.  They used an interactive tool on the site that helped them put together different parts of the neuron.  This was a good practice model for them to work with before building neurons out of clay.  Initially, each team member wanted to work on their own neuron.  They did not discuss much with each other.  Once one of the members finished, he/she realized that it would be more beneficial if they each constructed a different type of neuron.  So, one group member made a bipolar neuron, one made a pseudounipolar neuron, and the other made a multipolar neuron.

The Nervous System Kid

The students in the nervous system kid group were to draw a lifesize version of the nervous system.  They included the brain stem and the various lobes of the brain.


Student thoughts on the lesson:

It seemed like the general consensus was that the students liked this discovery better than the bubbleology lesson.  Some student comments:

  • "This is more exciting."
  • "This is more artistic. I like playing with clay and building models."
  • "I will be more excited later on when were learn about psychology and diseases."
  • "In bubbleology, we did the same thing over and over again.  In this lesson, everyone has separate projects and we all are learning things we haven't thought about before."
  • "The brain is something new and exciting."

Teacher A felt that the students had a jaded view of things that they had played with before (i.e. bubbles).  Teacher A also said that students prefer the instant gratification of new lessons.  Additionally, they do not enjoy learning the vocabulary and background information before moving on to the "interesting" stuff.  The students initially had a hard time describing parts of the brain using the correct terminology, but as the teacher went around, he/she made the students use the proper vocabulary.  If they could not remember what a specific location of the brain or neuron was called, he/she encouraged them to use the computer to look up the information.  It was great to see students interacting with their models to learn vocabulary, instead of the traditional method of memorization.