The Nervous System: Your Body’s Information Highway

The nervous system is one of the body’s organ systems. It consists of the central nervous system (which includes the brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system, which consists of sensory and motor neurons that connect the rest of the body to the central nervous system. This block focuses on the human nervous system, but does include information on other animal nervous systems as reference. 

There are two videos to choose from to learn about the nervous system.

The first one is better for younger kids, the second one will appeal to older kids. Feel free to watch one, or both!

You may see a number of other videos that are a deeper dive into things you might be interested in. Feel free to watch as many of those as you like. Then choose some activities and/or a project. 

High school students or any student who wants to dig deeper, continue your study with one of the advanced learning projects in the Projects section. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the page to test your understanding by taking the quiz.

Take A Deeper Dive!

Nervous Systems in Animals

What is a reflex arc?

How can invertebrates THINK without a central brain? A look at different nervous system organizations in other animals.

Activities

Make a Model of a Neuron

A neuron is the cell in the nervous system that transmits electrical impulses. 

Watch the video to learn the parts of a neuron. You can make a model neuron using supplies in your own home! 

Watch this video to get some ideas of what materials you could use to make your neuron model.

You could use clay, beads, pipe cleaners, felt, or even crochet your neuron. The possibilities are endless!

Now collect your supplies and build your neuron model. Be sure to label the different parts. 

Save a picture of your model to your portfolio.

Make a Play Clay Model of the Human Brain

Models are a great way to learn about 3D structures. Follow along with this video to make your own human brain out of play clay (or something similar). You will need four colours of clay and toothpicks for this project. 

Save a picture of your clay brain model to your portfolio.

Draw Your Nervous System

To draw your nervous system, you will need a piece of paper, a pencil, and markers. 

A variation of this activity is to draw a life size drawing of your nervous system! To do this, you will need a large piece of paper, big enough to trace your whole body. You will also need a pencil, markers, and a partner to do the tracing. Follow the instructions from the American Museum of Natural History Ology Home , including downloading and printing their reference drawing. 

You could even do this outside using sidewalk chalk!

Whichever variation you choose, save a picture of your work to your portfolio.

Project

Watch Your Pupils Contract

Reflexes are responses controlled by the nervous system that don’t involve the brain. They are faster and involuntary. 

In this experiment, you can observe the pupillary reflex in your own eye. 

For this lab, you will need the following items:

  • A flashlight
  • A magnifying lens (at least 1 in. or 2.5 cm in diameter)
  • A mirror

Place the magnifying lens on the surface of the mirror and hold them both up in front of your face, adjusting the distance until you have a sharp focus picture of your enlarged eye. Now, shine your flashlight into that eye (around the edge of your mirror or bounce off the mirror). Observe what happens to your pupil. What happens when you remove the light?

For more variations on this and to learn what is happening in your eye, visit the Exploratorium Science Snack on the Pupil

Don’t forget to include a written or verbal description of your findings in your portfolio!

Advanced Project(s)

Choose at least one.

For more in-depth information on the nervous system, Crash Course has an Anatomy & Physiology course with 8 videos on the topic.

 

Learn How a Neuron Transmits an Electrical Signal

After watching the video, you can try this simulation  (from PhET Interactive Simulations, University of Colorado Boulder, https://phet.colorado.edu) to explore what happens in a neuron when an action potential depolarizes it, triggering a nervous impulse. The simulation shows you a cross-section of a neuron as the action potential passes over that spot. 

Play around with the simulation by checking and unchecking boxes and observing what happens. 

While exploring the simulation, observe which membrane channels are open and what the concentrations of sodium and potassium ions are inside and outside the neuron. You may notice that this simulation does not model the sodium-potassium pump. How would it be affecting the scenario? 

Record your observations in your science notebook and save them to your portfolio.

Explore the Density of Sensory Neurons on Your Skin

Sensory neurons are the neurons that respond to stimuli (like heat, pressure, or smell) and convert that into an electrical impulse that our nervous system transmits to the brain or spinal cord. Sensory receptors are the dendrites of those neurons.

Do you think that there is the same number of sensory receptors everywhere in or on your body? This experiment will guide you to form and test your hypothesis. 

Download and print these instructions and worksheet for this experiment, from askabiologist.asu.edu . 

You will also need a paperclip, a metric ruler, and a pencil. 

Record your results and notes in your science notebook and save them to your portfolio.

Books

Read Aloud Book(s)

The Brain is Kind of a Big Deal Read Aloud

Your Fantastic Elastic Brain Read Aloud

NOw Let’s Have some fun!