I am a Christian. I was an 8th-grade American History teacher. I am currently a freelance writer, public speaker, & homeschooling mom of 9.
This is part 3 of a 7 part hands-on unit study on anatomy of the human body. Create a clay model of the brain, create an edible neuron, dissect a sheep brain, race in a synaptic relay activity, and more! These lessons are geared toward 4th-5th grade level children and their siblings. We meet each week for 2 1/2 hours and have 33 children between the ages of 1-13. Use these fun lessons with your classroom, family, after school program, camp, or co-op!
Love God with Your Mind, Review, and Introduction to the Nervous System
1. Pray. Read and discuss Luke 10:27 and Proverbs 18:15.
2. Quickly review what we learned last week.
3. Read a book about the nervous system. We read most of The Brain: All about Our Nervous System and More! by Seymour Simon. If you are teaching younger children, Think, Think, Think: Learning About Your Brain by Pamela Hill Nettleton would probably be the best option.
YOU WILL NEED: a book about the nervous system
Best Read Aloud Option for Older Children
Best Read Aloud Option for Younger Children
Central and Peripheral Nervous Systems and the Brain
4. Quickly introduce the central nervous system (like a main highway) and peripheral nervous system (like smaller roads that go off the main highway). Ask children to describe what they think a brain looks and feels like and then give a general introduction about it.
-It weighs about 3 pounds. Allow children to pass around a 3 pound weight to feel how heavy their brains are.
- It is wrinkled with hills called gyri and valleys called sulci. It is pink and red and full of blood vessels and capillaries when you are alive and gray and white when you are dead. It is moist and soft like jello or a mushroom)
YOU WILL NEED: a 3 pound weight or something that weighs about 3 pounds & a book that shows the central nervous system and peripherial nervous system and the parts of the brain
Play-Doh Model of Parts of the Brain
5. Use clay or play-dough to make a model of the brain. As the children mold each part, explain what that section of the brain controls. *To see the script of what I said and did during this section and the next section, please see Appendix A toward the bottom of this lesson.*
-Lead the children in making play-dough models of their brain parts. While the children model the play-dough parts, also point out the parts in a book and discuss what each part does. Using different colors of play-dough, the children will mold the cerebrum, the cerebellum and the medulla. They will then cover the cerebrum with a cerebral cortex and pinch it around so it has the gyri and sulci (hills and valleys).
YOU WILL NEED: wax paper or other material to use as a mat, Play-dough (preferably 4-5 colors), a rolling pin for play-dough (optional), and a book that shows the parts of the brain
Lobes of the Brain
6. Lead the children in adding lobes to their play-dough models of their brain parts. After mentioning each lobe, lead the children in selecting 1 color of play-dough, dividing it into 2 small pieces, and placing each piece in the correct location on their brain model. Also point out the parts in a book that shows the brain lobes and discuss what each part does in relation to your body functions. Then have the children touch that part on their heads as they say the lobe name. *To see the script of what I said and did during this section and the next section, please see Appendix B toward the bottom of this lesson.*
i. Frontal Lobe (above your eyebrows) = controls your thinking and learning. It is in charge of your impulses, judgment, language, problem solving, emotions, socialization
ii. Parietal Lobe (on top of your head) = interprets your senses, interprets numbers, letters, and words
iii. Temporal Lobe (over your ears) = interprets what you hear and some of your memory
iv. Occipital Lobe (behind the head) = vision/seeing
YOU WILL NEED: 4 different colors of play-dough or clay
7. Review the location and functions of the 4 lobes of the brain. After each lobe is mentioned, have the children touch that lobe on their clay model and then on their own heads.
a. Temporal Lobe: Tell the children to think of one thing they have learned about the brain so far. Then have them share this one thing with the person sitting to their right.
-Ask the children which lobe they just used. They have just used their temporal lobe which is in charge of auditory stimuli (hearing) and memory (hippocampus).
b. Occipital Lobe: Ask, “What color was your temporal lobe on your clay model?” Ask them which lobe they just used. They just used their occipital lobe which is in charge of your vision.
c. Parietal Lobe: Have the children to rub their fingers over their clay models. Ask, “What did it feel like? Was it rough or smooth? Warm or Cool? Does it hurt to touch it?” Ask them which lobe they just used. They just used their parietal lobe which is in charge of your perception of stimuli related to touch, pressure, temperature and pain.
d. Frontal Lobe: Ask, “Are you enjoying this?” and “What do you think I’ll have you do next?” Ask them which lobe they just used. They just used their frontal lobe which is in charge of your emotions, reasoning, and problem-solving.
The 6 parts of the brain are the cerebrum, diencephalon, midbrain, pons, medulla oblongata, and cerebellum. The 3 major groups are the forebrain (the most visible part), brain stem (3 parts piled on top of the spinal cord in the center of the brain), and cerebellum hanging off the back. (http://www.valuemd.com/physiology.php)
Brain Hemisphere Hats
8. If you are not limited by time, have children cut out, color, tape together, and wear the Brain Hemisphere hats, which can be printed free at the below link. (To save some time, you can have families cut these out ahead of time.)
YOU WILL NEED: crayons or markers, scissors, and Brain Hemisphere hats printed from http://www.ellenjmchenry.com/homeschool-freedownloads/lifesciences-games/brainhemishpere.php
Dissect a Sheep Brain
9. Dissect an mammal's brain such as a sheep brain.
What to do: We covered the table with a plastic, disposable table cover and placed the brain on a hard plastic, disposable plate. I used a paring knife from the Dollar Tree for cutting. I watched the below YouTube videos to help me prepare what to say.
How to get one: The first year we got a deer brain from a hunter. You can also check with a local butcher (which is where we get our cow eyeballs for dissection). The second year we did this, we purchased a sheep's brain from http://www.hometrainingtools.com/brain-sheep/p/PM-BRAINSH/ for about $12. For a better deal you can buy a set of animal organs (brain, eye, heart, and kidney) for about $28 at http://www.hometrainingtools.com/mammal-organs-dissection-kit/p/DE-ORGANS/. I have purchased items from hometrainingtools.com before and have always been very pleased with their fast shipping and quality of their specimens (which do not smell).
(Tip: Don't freeze the brain. We froze ours once and it came out mushy. We were still able to dissect it and identify many parts of the brain, but it did disintegrate before all the children had a chance to handle it. All the other parts of the deer we used for dissection (eyeball, lungs, & heart) defrosted perfectly.)
* Squeamish about doing a dissection yourself? My oldest son said watching the YouTube video was just as good as watching the dissection in real life.*
YOU WILL NEED: a brain such as a sheep brain, something to cover the table (newspapers or plastic tablecloth), hard plastic disposable plate, sharp cutting tool (like a paring knife from the Dollar Tree), & disposable gloves
Sheep Brain Dissection Edited for YouTube
This is an excellent video of a sheep brain dissection and was the main one I used to determine what to say as I did the dissection with my class. I love that the instructor includes easy ways to remember things such as comparing the 3 layers of maters to a knight's armor, chain mail, and cotton undershirt and comparing the cerebellum to a mansion with many rooms for storing information that looks out on a "pond" (as the pons is across from it). This is Part 1. Part 2 can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VcpeqrCmvHk. Part 2 starts with about 6 1/2 minutes that repeat from the Part 1 video and then it goes into new material.
Sheep Brain Dissection
This is a 4 part series on dissecting a sheep brain. Each segment is short (1-3 minutes in length). The instructor does point out a few things that the instructor in the first video that I posted above did not mention, such as the Hippocampus, which decides what to store as memories. She said you can remember that because if you would certainly remember it if you saw a hippo on a college campus. I used what I learned from this video to add in a few extra tidbits to what the first dissection videos mentioned.