I initially designed this first week as a series of dense biology lectures aimed to give students the basic knowledge to appreciate the vast complexity of memory. If you decide to include this neurology unit in your class, I would suggest that you focus more on student discoveries rather than covering a breadth of content. Perhaps this means expanding the neuroscience unit from 3 lessons into two weeks, having students study cells through a microscope and learning about neurology through studying the nervous systems of simple insects, then bridging that to humans. Perhaps this means keeping the unit short but focusing on telling a narrative about how memory works rather than building up a scientific model (i.e. going for awe rather than concrete understanding). Whatever you decide, I would recommend being very deliberate about what you want your students to walk away with from this unit!
Day 1: Welcome
First day of class! This lesson is designed around introducing students to each other and the material.
Goals: to start building a classroom community and introduce our first unit on neuroscience!
Check out the guide and resources below:
- I started off the class by pretending that I had just woke up and had amnesia and the students had to help me remember who I was. It was really fun and they leaned into the playfulness of it, but you should feel empowered to begin the class however you feel would best engage your students.
- I would strongly suggest that if this is a new class, you create a list of values (not rules or norms) with your students. I’ve found that my most successful classes give students total control over what is written on this document – I would start with a totally blank document and just write what people say as they say it. I wouldn’t even make suggestions about things like “respect” and “treating classmates as people” unless they seem like they need a hint. I’ve also found in my experience that class environments are happiest and healthiest when we regularly return to these co-created values, adding them and changing them as we go. Because of this, I would recommend visiting them at the beginning of each week.
- Finally, I would suggest swapping out the memory exercise (“What reminds you of the past?”) for another day. Instead, bring in a name game or a community-building activity. Through making this mistake last time, I discovered that for the first week especially, it’s really important to focus on developing trust and relationships within the classroom. Even if it means that you have to move a bit slower through the material, it will make the classroom a kinder, friendlier place. As an added bonus, it will really help the quality of student engagement, learning, and participation in the class!
Please comment below with any ideas and comments to help other educators!
Day 2: Introduction to Neurobiology
Lesson #2 focuses on introducing students to cells and neurons, laying the foundation for the following lesson on the biological basis of memory.
Goals: to start exploring the world of cells and neurons.
Guide and resources below:
- I would recommend that you open class with a team-/community-building activity rather than the TedTalk discussion to try to develop trust and relationships early on.
- The fMRI video is a bit long, so feel free to cut it or off your own, more concise explanation about what MRIs measure – brain activity.
- If you plan on teaching this lesson and the following lesson, I would urge you to think critically about the capabilities of your students and what you want them to take away from the lessons. Do you want them to walk about with a conceptual understanding of how reflex arcs work or do you just want your students to develop a curiosity in neuroscience? Last note: from my experience, 9th and 10th graders can probably understand most components of depolarization and reflex arcs if you go slowly; 8th graders and younger seem to really struggle with this depth of information.
- Feel free to use the vocabulary sheet organizer attached here if you think it would be beneficial for your students (and feel free to customize it!).
Comment with your thoughts and questions below.
Day 3: The Biology of Memories
Here is the wrap-up to our whirlwind tour of neurobiology. Based on the capabilities of the students, this lesson explores depolarization, reflex arcs, and memory circuits. We then end on neuroplasiticity, the new frontier of neurology research.
Goals: to build a basic understanding of how memory works on a biological level.
Important note: this lesson can be taught on a spectrum between scientifically rigorous and more narrative/interpretive. Depending on your own comfort levels and the abilities of your students, please choose an appropriate level of depth. Especially if you are planning on going into more depth, you may also choose to cover this material over the course of two days. If that is the case, you may also consider introducing an additional activity such as having students create metaphors for how neurons work, something that they could use to explain it to their younger siblings.
- I would recommend trying to include a more engaging opening activity, preferably one that involves small groups.
- Again, consider your goals for this lesson and how deep you want to go into the material.
As a reminder, your comments and questions are always appreciated!