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Teaching Guide
Understanding Braille
Increasing Brainpower
Nerve Cell Infomercials
Image of Television

In "Monastery of The Mind", Alan Alda and Gerry Edelman study the behavior of Darwin, a robot who has learned that blocks with stripes taste good, and blocks with blobs taste bad. Darwin's brain is modeled on a mammal's brain, with a visual cortex to receive the camera image, and a second specialized area to interpret what it sees. In Darwin's computer, simulated neurons form a network with a quarter of a million connections. In our own bodies, we have many millions of neurons, far more than Darwin, all with the potential to transmit signals through our nervous system so that we may sense, respond, and learn.



Imagine for a moment that you turned on the television, and found that commercials had changed. Instead of promoting cars, skin care products, and financial services, they advertised human tissues, organ systems and metabolic processes.

"I breathe with my LUNGS!"

"You'll fall down without a SKELETON!"

"Ask Jane, and she'll tell you, BLOOD flows through HER arteries!"

In this activity you will work in groups to build nerve cell models and "advertise" the nervous system in nerve cell "infomercials."
By articulating the structure and function of nerve cells, they will learn about this unique organ system, and teach one another specific elements of human physiology.

This activity page will offer:

  • A greater understanding of the nervous system
  • Experience making presentations with visual aids


Neuron With Impulse to Muscle cellMATERIALS
These are suggestions only; you can add to the list of permitted materials by brainstorming as a group. However, if money is spent, in no case should a group spend more than $10 total. All finished projects should be more than 50% recyclable.

  • String
  • Clay
  • Various types of pasta
  • 3-6 volt batteries
  • Wires
  • 3-6 volt Bulbs
  • Poster board
  • Glue
  • Black electric tape


  1. Work in groups of three or four.
  2. Work together over three 45-minute class periods for preparation and presentation, over one week.
  3. In the first class, research the structure and function of the nervous system. What are the parts of a nerve cell? How are nervous signals transmitted? Under what conditions do they "fire"? How are nerve cells in the body organized in systems? At the conclusion of this class, your teacher will assign each group with a specific aspect of the nervous system, which you will study in the interim and present next class.
  4. In the second class, prepare a model or representation of neural transmission, and plan and practice your infomercial. Give special attention to what information you want to convey.
  5. Present your model to the class. You have 2-3 minutes to give you infomercial, and clarity and creativity are important. Presentations should be entertaining, engaging, and informative. The use of poetry, music, dance, and other forms of tasteful expression are encouraged.
  6. In the third class, each group takes turns presenting its infomercial.


  1. Create a judging system to rate the effectiveness of the infomercials.
  2. Have students complete a self-evaluation of their props and skit, based upon the reaction they received from their audience.
  3. Study the visual portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, and how the eye accepts light and triggers visual images in the brain.
  4. Compare the somatic and autonomic nervous systems.
  5. Design a consciousness experiment in which students test each other's ability to recall details about the interior of a room.



This activity was contributed by Marc Rosner, AV Coordinator and Tech. Support Specialist at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York and Educational Consultant to Scientific American magazine.

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