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Endocrine & Nervous Systems and Healthy Living Lesson for Middle School Biology

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I am a Christian. I was an 8th-grade American History teacher. I am currently a freelance writer, public speaker, & homeschooling mom of 9.

Middle School Biology Lesson on the Endocrine & Nervous Systems and on Healthy Living

Middle School Biology Lesson on the Endocrine & Nervous Systems and on Healthy Living

This is the 8th lesson in a series of 32 hands-on lessons covering middle school biology. This lesson covers the endocrine & nervous systems and healthy living. We acted out neurons in action, compared food labels, took an endocrine trivia quiz, and more. I used this plan while teaching a 55 minute middle school biology class. Each lesson plan includes homework assignments and a variety of hands-on activities to make each lesson engaging & memorable. Use these fun lessons with your classroom, homeschool, after-school program, or co-op!

These lessons are written for a class that meets once a week. If your class meets 5 days a week, simply do this lesson one day a week and use the homework assignments (at the bottom of the page) for the work for the other days of the week.

Homework Review

1. Hand out extra credit tickets to anyone who did the extra credit. Go over the homework questions from the book. (I give out tickets for students who volunteer to answer the questions.)



2. Last week we learned a little bit about muscles while dissecting those chicken wings. There are many ways you can build your muscles.

  • Eating protein helps your body build muscles. What foods contain larger amounts of protein? It's important to eat protein with every single meal. Which proteins did you eat this week with your breakfast? your lunch? your dinner? snacks?
  • You can also build muscle by lifting weights. Give each group of students a set of dumbbell weights. Have one person do bicep curls, one person do dumbbell flies, & someone do squats. Which muscles are working?
  • Remember that muscles work as pairs. If you're building up your biceps with those curls, you should also work out which muscle? (triceps) Show me how to work out your triceps. (tricep kick-backs are one option)
  • People who want a 6-pack do lots of sit-ups & crunches, but what should they also be strengthening? (their back) What would work your back? (supermans)

You will need:

  • dumbbell weights (5 - 15 lbs. would be best) - One for each group of 3 students is ideal. If you don't have that many weights, just bring 1 set & have 1 volunteer come to the front to show the exercises.

3. Were those exercises aerobic or anaerobic? (anaerobic) Why? (They didn't get your heart rate up for a significant amount of time.) Both are important to building a healthy body.

Neuron model we used in class

Neuron model we used in class

Your Brain

4. Look at a picture of a brain in your book. What does it look like? What do you think it might feel like? What do you think it's made of mostly? Your brain is:

  • wrinkled with hills called gyri and valleys called sulci.
  • pink and red and full of blood vessels & capillaries when you are alive. It's gray & white when you are dead.
  • moist and soft like jello or a mushroom.
  • made of about 80% water, 10% fat, & 10% carbs, proteins, & salt

You will need:

  • a picture of your brain & neuron (such as the picture in the textbook)

5. When you're born, your brain already has 100 billion of neurons, which generate a little electricity like a battery. That electricity is one way messages are passed so quickly through your body.

  • You just touched a hot stove. The dendrites [point it out in the picture in the book] of your nerve cell are waiting to receive message from other cells.
  • By the way, your dendrites can actually stretch & grow if you stimulate them. How might you be able to stimulate your brain? Yes, by solving challenging problems & learning new things. That makes you smarter.
  • Those dendrites receive the message that your hand touched a hot stove. They send the message to the cell body (also called a soma) using electricity.
  • The message goes to the axon & the end of the axon terminal (also called the presynaptic terminal).
  • Now what happens? Your neurons don't touch, so how can the messages get from one neuron to the other? What ideas do you have? Yes, they use chemical signals. The electrical signals go to end of the terminal & that causes the chemicals to come out...which causes the electrical signal to pass through to next side...and the chain continues. Basically, you can remember that inside a cell, the neuron uses electricity. Between the neurons, they use chemicals.
  • Finally (yet very quickly) the message is passed through your neurons, and a message is delivered for you to lift your hand off the stove.

6. Let's act how neurons transmit messages between 3 nerve cells. Watch the video clip below to see how it's done. Quickly speak through what will happen & then do it.

  • Student # 1 is the axon terminal Neuron A. He will throwing the chemical messages [ping pong balls] across the space to...
  • Students #2, 3, & 4 who are the dendrites of Neuron B with cell bodies, axon, axon terminal (neuron transmitters inside). Students #2, #3, & #4 will catch the "chemicals" & bond them to your dendrites, which will cause an electrical signal to go through the dendrites, to the cell body.
  • Have Student #5 be the cell body, who will shove a toy ring down the jump rope line to act as the cell body generating an electrical signal that travels very quickly down the axon to the axon terminal.
  • By the way, this jump rope axon has these red & white beads. What do you think they represent? Yes, the myelin sheaths, which act as insulators & help the message to travel faster. During your teenage years your neurons are getting A LOT more myelin sheaths, which mean messages travel faster through your nerves. To help you develop more myelin sheaths, you need to get lots of Omega 3 Fatty Acids. Who knows of a food high in Omega 3's? (walnuts, salmon, flax & chia seeds, canola oil, & more)
  • Student #6 will be holding the axon terminal (an oatmeal container full of ping pong balls). Once the chemical signal gets to the axon terminal, it will cause an explosion of chemical signals to be released. [Have Student #5 slam the bottom of the oatmeal container with the toy ring.]
  • Student #7 will be the dendrite of Neuron C will have to catch as many chemical signals as he can.
  • He didn't catch them all did he? Your dendrites only catch the signals they need. Your sensory organs are always taking in so much information. Your dendrites help filter out what is unnecessary, so that you don't have to constantly notice the a/c running on the sensation of the hard table under your arms.
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You will need:

  • ping pong balls
  • at least 3 jump ropes with 2 fold in half & tied to the end of 1 jump rope
  • a toy ring or pool noodle
  • a container (such as an empty oatmeal container

7. During your toddler years, your brain goes through a massive growth spurt. Did you know that right now during your teen years, your brain is going through another massive growth spurt & development? One of the major changes is that your teen brain is going through a process called Synaptic Pruning to become more effective. It's kind of a "use it or lose it" mentality. Other connections are strengthened That means that if you learned algebra a few years ago but haven't looked at it since, your brain is going to toss it out...but if you're spending hours a day playing Fortnite, your brain will hold on to that information. Is that want you want to remember for the rest of your life? It's so important that during your teen years you engage your brain.

This chart is from .

This chart is from .

Endocrine System

8. The reason your brain & body start changing so much during your teen years has quite a bit to do with your endocrine system. What's something that your endocrine system does? [Pass out the chart above that goes through some of the main glands.] Quickly discuss some of the major glands & what they do:

  • Hypothalamus - underline "links the nervous system & endocrine system" & "controls the pituitary gland" - It's found in your brain.
  • Pituitary Gland- underline "regulates growth" - Who is taller than your mom right now? You can thank your pituitary glands. It's what helps you grow. One of our friends is really short for his age & people keep thinking he's 9 even though he's 14. He's considered trying a medical treatment that would stimulate his pituitary glands to produce more hormones to have him grow taller.
  • Thyroid Glands- underline "release of energy from food." One of my college roommates had an issue with her thyroids. If she didn't eat regularly enough or take her medicine, she'd get very tired. Sometimes she was almost in a coma-like state & would barely wake up & we had to call the school nurse to help.
  • Parathyroid Glands- underline "regulate the calcium" - How does calcium help us? (strong bones, muscle contractions) What foods are high in calcium? (milk products, dark, leafy vegetables) What are some of the foods you ate or drank this week that are high in calcium?
  • Adrenal Glands- [Shriek or yell, "boo" really loudly to startle everyone] - underline "helps the body respond to emergencies" - What just happened to your body? Is your heart beating faster? Are you breathing harder? You might have just started sweating. Your body just gave the "fight or flight" response thanks to your adrenal glands. They help your body get ready really fast just in case you're going to need to fight for your life or run for your life.
  • Pancreas- underline "digestion" & "control the level of sugars in the blood" - Have you ever heard of someone having diabetes? That means their body isn't regulating their sugar correctly. Sugar, in the form of glucose, is very important for your body to function. Your brain uses lots of glucose. If the glucose isn't spreading through your body in the right amounts, it can be really serious. One of the men at our church as diabetes. If he eats too much sugar, he gets really tired & can't think clearly. He has to give himself insulin-shots since his body isn't producing enough insulin, which is what the pancreas uses to regulate your sugar.

You will need:

  • the above chart, hole punched with 3 hole punch, & with the below quiz printed on the back (The above chart is from .)

Endocrine Quiz

9. Have students flip over their chart to the back of the page that has the above quiz. Give them 3 minutes to fill answer as many questions as they can. It's okay to guess & okay if they don't finish. We won't be grading this.

You will need:

  • the above endocrine quiz printed for each student + the answer key (These are from .)

10. Go over the quiz. Have each student take a turn reading the statement. Have students raise their hands on if they answered true or false. Tell them the correct answer.

Reading labels for healthy eating

Reading labels for healthy eating

Reading Labels for Healthy Eating

11. Have everyone select a food item from the table. They don't get to eat it.

  • If we want to know what's in the food, where do we look? (food nutrition label) Even the romaine lettuce has a nutrition label!
  • Your body needs lots of nutrients to function at its best.
  • Who has an item with lots of carbohydrates per serving? [Hold it up.] How many? Who has the most? [Have the student with the item with the most carbs read the section from the chart on the function of carbohydrates. - We used the chart from the A Beka textbook on p. 109.]
  • Continue this same process for fiber, protein, fats, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, B-complex vitamins, calcium, potassium, & iron.
  • It's best to get all your nutrients from foods, but it doesn't hurt to also take a daily multi-vitamin.

You will need:

  • a variety of different foods that have nutrition labels (oatmeal, tuna package, celery or lettuce, yogurt [empty], bread (whole wheat & white), cheese sticks, salad dressing, cereal, candy, etc.)

12. There are so many suggestions on how to eat. Here are 5 general rules:

  • Cut back on or eliminate added sugars. Your body needs sugar to function, but the best way for it to get that sugar is through fruits, not that box of candy.
  • Cut back on simple starches. Even though the white bread has all those vitamins, they're added in. Whole grains have more vitamins & fiber to keep you full & keep your digestive system working smoothly.
  • Eat more produce. You really can't eat too much produce, fruits & vegetables. Most contain few calories, little starch, & belly-filling fiber.
  • Eat protein with every meal. That's something I didn't realize until I was an adult. That's how your body builds & repairs its cells.
  • Don’t be afraid of healthy fats. Fats are filling & add flavor. Stick with the natural kind you find in nuts, avocados, & olive oil rather than the ones in that bag of potato chips.

13. In addition to the nutrients, what else does your body need to function at its best? (at least 6 cups of water, at least 8 hours of sleep, exercise, proper hygiene (like brushing your teeth & flossing, taking showers at least every few days, & washing your hands & face), & spiritual food such as prayer & reading the Bible) This week you're going to keep a food & health journal again. Try to make a healthier choice each day whether it's adding in a vegetable at lunch or spending 20 minutes playing tag with your little brother instead of watching TV. Circle your healthier choice each day.

Looking for More Depth: What We're Reading at Home

A Beka's Science: Order & Design

A Beka's Science: Order & Design


Page numbers refer to the pages in A Beka's Science: Order & Design.

  • Friday: Complete your Food Journal for at least 4 days. Make at least 1 healthier improvement each day. Circle what that is. (I printed . Instead of the "Effects" section, I had them record how many hours of sleep they got that night and how many times they brushed their teeth.)
  • Monday: Introducing Diseases: Read pp. 119-121 & answer 4 questions of your choice on p.121.
  • Tuesday: (Note: We are skipping section 4.4.) Emotional & Spiritual Health: Read pp. 127-131 & answer the questions on p.131.
  • Wednesday: Becoming You: Read pp. 98-104 & answer 4 questions of your choice on p. 104.
  • Extra Credit: The Story of Me:
  1. Ask your parents to see an ultrasound picture of you before you were born & sketch a picture of it. (If they don’t have one, find one from a sibling or just find one online.)
  2. Under the sketch write how many weeks you were in the photo. Using your textbook or the internet, write some of your main developments at the time the ultrasound was taken.
  3. Ask to see a photo of your mom when she was pregnant with you and a photo of you on the day you were born (or one of the first photos taken of you). What did you look like?
  4. Ask your parents some or all of these questions: How did your mom tell your dad she was pregnant with you? Is there anything special they can remember from when your mom was pregnant with you? What did they notice the first moment they saw you? What part of you looks most like your mom? Your dad?
  5. Write 1-5 sentences about what you found out about after talking with your parents.

© 2018 Shannon

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