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October 7, 2013

Neuroscience basics through puzzles and dance – Lesson Plan

This lesson plan celebrates the recent Nobel Prize for Medicine award winners for their work on how cells move molecular “cargo”. Students will be introduced to the specialized brain cell – the neuron – and how neurotransmission occurs between neurons. Included is a PDF (to be used like a powerpoint), a giant puzzle of a neuron, and a “dance party” activity to help reinforce the concept of neurotransmission.

By Katie Gould, Teacher Resource Producer for the PBS NewsHour


Biology, neuroscience

Estimated Time

One 90 minute class period

Grade Level

High School

Warm Up Activity

Neuron Basics
  1. Have students read the PBS NewsHour Article about the Nobel Prize Award for Medicine.
  2. Tell students the following:Your brain is an organ and follows the same pattern of “cells, tissue, and organ” and we are going to start with the specialized cells of the brain which are called neurons.
  3. Show them the first 6 slides of the “Neurons and Neurotransmission” PDF (which can be used like a power point) going over each slide verbally.

Main Activities

Create a Giant Neuron in Groups
  1. Put students into small groups and give them their “Giant Neuron Puzzle”.  Have students put the puzzle together (tape or staples work) and then label their neuron with the words on slide 6 and using the image to help them.  Once you have checked to make sure all the parts are labeled correctly have students come up with a fun name that shows off the personality of their neuron.   The class will be sharing their neurons with the other students and using them in a game.
  2. Return to the “Neurons and Neurotransmission” PDF and go over slides 7-13 which explains the process of neurotransmission.  On slide 13 there to two very good short video clips on the full process.
Play Telephone with the Giant Neurons
  1. Have students standup in their groups with their Giant Neurons and have the entire class form a circle with neurons almost touching.  They must line their neurons up in the same direction from dendrites (right) to terminal buttons (left) throughout the entire circle.
  2. Check to make sure students are lined up correctly and that there is SPACE between each neuron (synaptic gap).
  3. Have each group introduce their neuron to the class. Explain to the class that you are now going to attempt neurotransmission and you will do this by playing the game of telephone.

Here are the rules:

  • The teacher picks the phrase- make it fun!
  • You may only say the phrase to the person next to you once- no repeating!
  • The last person to go will whisper the answer to the teacher and the teacher will announce the phrase to the class.

A few suggestions on this exercise– You want to have neurotransmission take place as quickly as possible so encourage the kids to speed up. If any bad words are used the game ends immediately. The kids will most likely botch up the phrase, but try to explain that if their neurons in their brain did that they would have a pretty terrible life. Play several rounds and have fun.

Neurotransmission Dance Party
  1. Go through slides 13-19 on the “Neurons and Neurotransmission” to both review and teach information about several common neurotransmitters taking notes to use in a later activity.
  2. Follow the directions and diagram below or download it in the materials section to the right and have your own Neurotransmitter Dance Party

Materials: tennis balls (or other objects to throw), 2 buckets, duct tape, and music

Neuroscience Dance Party 630

Assessment – “Neurons Quiz” Hand out quiz to students and give them 10 minutes to take it.

Optional Resource – Now that students have some basic understanding on how the neuron transmits information,  watch the winners explanation about his research.

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