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  Teaching Guide
Activity 1: Grades 5-8
Mind Mapping

Phrenology, an 18th century pseudoscience, offered one of the earliest schemes for explaining brain function. Although based incorrectly on skull bumps and shapes, phrenology did attempt to organize and assign different purposes to different parts of the brain - the cornerstone of modern brain science.

In this activity, you'll have the chance to create your own "live" model comparing a phrenology chart to our modern understanding of brain function and anatomy. Rather than typical paper and pen illustrations, you will use a bathing cap as your canvas!

Image of brain map

Print version (PDF)
Main Menu


This activity page will offer:

  • Construction of a unique phrenology map.
  • Construction of a map that shows brain regions according to modern research.
  • An opportunity to compare and contrast brain models.


  • White inexpensive bathing cap (cleaned)
  • Wax pencils or non-toxic permanent markers that will write on bathing cap material

Work in groups of two. Review the phrenology chart shown below. Although 37 mental and moral areas are defined on more elaborate phrenology charts, we've based our drawing on a chart that simplified and combined these "organs" into larger, composite regions. If you wish to view a more detailed phrenology chart, click here (

Phrenology chart

  1. Have one member of your team assume the role of subject. The other becomes the artist.
  2. Have your subject put on the bathing cap and adjust it for comfort.
  3. As the artist, draw the regions as illustrated on the phrenology chart onto one side bathing cap. Use different colors to distinguish each region.
  4. Remove the bathing cap.
    Note: When removing and handling the cap, be careful not to smear the ink.
  5. Check out this illustration showing the major regions of the brain. Can you and your partner identify the name and function of the six regions highlighted here? Use both Web and hard copy resources to conduct your research. Cerebrum -larger section of brain that is responsible for higher thinking and voluntary muscle control
    Frontal lobe - higher thought functions
    Temporal lobe - memory, sound processing
    Occipital lobe - processes visual information
    Parietal lobes - sensation and judgment, visual/spatial processing, language (left side)
    Cerebellum - muscle coordination and balance
    Brain stem - breathing, digestion, heart beat and other automatic functions)

    Brain diagram

  6. Have the new "subject" put on the bathing cap. Using the information you uncovered, draw an illustration on the opposite and blank side of the bathing cap that shows these brain regions.
  7. When you are finished, thoroughly clean both your hands and workstations. Remove any unwanted marker stains.


  1. How is the phrenology chart similar to our modern day chart of the brain? Do any of its assigned areas match the correct functions of the brain?
  2. How is the phrenology chart different from out modern day brain chart?
  3. What were phrenology charts based upon?
  4. What is our modern day understanding of brain anatomy based upon?

Critical Analysis
What are the advantages in using a bathing cap for creating this model?
What are the disadvantages?



Animated Model
Can you animate a flipbook "trip" through the brain? Think about the cross-section images of the brain taken by the MRI scanner in the program. Use online resources to help create a better idea of what this series of views might look like (see the Web Connection below). Then sketch each cross section onto a separate scrap of paper. When all the frames have been drawn, use a large clip to fasten the stack together and flip through the frames. At the right flipping speed, it will appear as if you are moving through the brain, section-by-section!

Critical Thinking and the Web
There is no insurance that Web sites are fair and unbiased in their presentation of material. The pseudoscience of phrenology offers an excellent arena for exploring and critically analyzing information that is presented on the Internet. For example, the following Web site states that its primary goal is to be an "advocate for a positive approach to scientific Phrenology." Under your instructor's guidance, examine this site and then discuss the subject of accurate information on the Web with your classmates. The URL is

Intelligent Elevator
How might the footstep profiles captured by an "intelligent floor" be used to improve elevator service? Should this intelligent floor be placed inside or outside of the elevator, or both? Explain the benefits of each approach. Could it address pranksters who might press all of the floor buttons? If so, how? How might the floor address a car that was overloaded?

Freedom of Movement
The ability to track individuals on a floor might be interpreted as a challenge to a person's right to anonymity. Do you think this violates a person's rights as guaranteed by the constitution? Should a person need to sign a release in order for his/her footstep profile to be recorded? Suppose you were a lawyer who challenged the legality of this process? How would you present your case?


The Whole Brain Atlas
This interactive atlas that shows brain sections and structure.


The activities in this guide were contributed by Michael DiSpezio, a Massachusetts-based science writer and author of "Critical Thinking Puzzles" and "Awesome Experiments in Light & Sound" (Sterling Publishing Co., NY).

Academic Advisors for this Guide:
Corrine Lowen, Science Department, Wayland Public Schools, Wayland, MA
Suzanne Panico, Science Teacher Mentor, Cambridge Public Schools, Cambridge, MA
Anne E. Jones, Science Department, Wayland Middle School, Wayland, MA

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