Nerve Cell Morphology in Action!

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Objective

Students will utilize and interpret data to identify the morphology of various neurons in animal models.

Big Idea

Science research practices can help us to better understand how morphology begets function and how function can imply morphology!

Introduction

Lesson Background & Justification:

     A Neuron is a nerve cell that is the basic building block of the nervous system. Neurons are similar to other cells in the human body in a number of ways, but are highly specialized to transmit information throughout the body in both chemical and electrical forms. There are also several different types of neurons responsible for different tasks in the human body. In this lesson, students utilize authentic physiology research data to infer structure of varying neuron groups and learn to describe its morphological nature as it relates to its ability to produce electrical responses to environmental stimuli. 

Lesson Preparations:

 In the effort to prepare for this lesson, I make certain that I have the following items in place: 

a) Lap top computers or comparable technological devices to access HHMI's Neurophysiology Lab.

b) Student lab books.

Common Core and NGSS Standards:

SP4- Analyzing and interpreting data.

SP2- Developing and Using Models.

HS-PS2-6: Communicate scientific and technical information about why the molecular-level structure is important in the functioning of designed materials. 

Standards Rationale:

        In the science classroom, students are regularly charged with tasks to collect and make sense of data from readings and investigations. What makes these science experiences powerful enough to retain however, is an instructor's ability to access, stimulate and develop students' higher order thinking capacities for cognitive growth and subsequently establishing sound learning practices. In this lesson, students learn to use virtual animal cell models and scientific data to build complexity of thought and to build a visual reference for the research process. To goal is to empower students not only use virtual research to apply their scientific process skills to, but to mature these habits of mind for long term practices in the classroom when using any type of model. 

Engage

10 minutes

Section Primer: 

             Neurophysiology is a branch of physiology and neuroscience that is concerned with the study of the functioning of the nervous system. Neuroanatomy is the study of the anatomy and stereotyped organization of nervous systems. Both areas highly are influential in the research community to build an understanding of how the nervous system works and how these areas of study can be use independent of one another when attempting to imply the unknown of one or the other. 

 Section Sequence:

           In this section of the lesson, my goal is to aid in students ability to distinguish between the areas of neurophysiology and neuroanatomy. The idea is to review the fundamentals of neuron structure and function (via video and q&a) before venturing into a virtual lab which produces data within the cell's physiology which helps them to imply the nature of the anatomy. This activity proceeds as follows:

a) Say: Today, we are going to delve into the area of neurophysiology. Our goal will be to understand how we can use this area of research to help us see the form of the cell that we are examining activity for. However, in order to understand the research itself, we need to comprehend the focus of this area. Let's see if we can differentiate between the terms neuroanatomy and neurophysiology. Open the class for discussion prior to showing the following clip to understand the distinctions. 

        

b) Pause the video (1 second) when the anatomy of the neuron is displayed and review the parts with students. Explain, that they just reviewed and described neuroanatomy of a typical neuron. Ask students to then come up with a definition for neuroanatomy.

c) Continue out on the rest of the video and share that what they just witnessed was the neurophysiology of the typical neuron. Ask students to develop a general definition for neurophysiology.

d) Instruct for students to verbally compare and contrast the two. Discuss. Finally, share that our goal for the day is to examine how understanding the neurophysiology of an unseen cell (perhaps still in the body) can help us to understand the shape of the cell that it emanates from.  

Note: The purpose of this exercise (steps a-d) is to develop students ability to utilize visual and auditory clues from the video to define complex terms. Within the context of the lesson, the idea is for students to progressively build a solid and/or formal definitions for these terms via the following sequence of activities: a) begin with a general definition, b) participate in a virtual experience to ground their understanding of their initial definitions and c) later learn to formally define these terms while formally pulling their engage (a) and exploration (b) exercises/experiences together.

Standards Covered:

SP2- Developing and Using Models.

Explore

35 minutes

Section Sequence:

           In this section of the lesson, my goal is to give students an opportunity to experience the world of neurophysiology in action. The intent is to help students to understand, how do we know what we know about neurons and to entertain the possibility of in depth research without the execution of living entities. This activity proceeds as follows:

a) Provide students with lap top computers or comparable technological devices to access HHMI's Neurophysiology Lab. This is a lab which introduces students to the anatomy of a ganglion cell in a leech through electrophysiological probing and then dying these cells based on the feedback from the electrode (specifies form). It mirrors the techniques utilized by neuroscientists which locates and defines the morphology of the cells in the nervous system using the aforementioned process.  

b) Instruct students to access and complete the "Explore the electric equipment" section first. Discuss the significance of this equipment to studying neurophysiology post viewing (iterate terminology taught in previous lessons involving transmission of signals in neurons).

c) Instruct for students to explore & to complete the remaining steps of the lab. For record keeping, request that students produce and record summaries of their experiences from each section in their lab books. Students should produce distinct headings that clearly mark the sections that they are summarizing (eg. Section 1 or Anesthetize and Dissect the Leech).  

d) Post lab, allow for students to share their summaries in groups (2-4 students each) and clarify any ambiguities. Further discuss as a class the ethics of performing this type of research and the pros and cons of its implementation using model organisms such as the leech. 

Standards Covered:

SP4- Analyzing and interpreting data.

SP2- Developing and Using Models.

HS-PS2-6: Communicate scientific and technical information about why the molecular-level structure is important in the functioning of designed materials. 

Explain

20 minutes

Section Sequence:

           In this section of the lesson, my goal is to give students an opportunity to put their virtual lab experiences into practice by having them to explain the suggested form of the space between two neurons or synaptic gap based on the physiology of the cells that create them. This activity proceeds as follows:

a) Provide students with a copy of a generic image of two neurons synapsing onto one another. Instruct for them to use their summaries from their simulation procedures (exploration activity) as a reference to explain how a neuroscientist could determine the anatomical parts of the cells (including the synapse) on their handouts based on physiology tests. Illustrative and verbal annotations should be encouraged in this activity so that students can better explain their products to others. 

b) Instruct students to explain their explanations to one another in pairs. 

Standards Covered:

SP2- Developing and Using Models.

HS-PS2-6: Communicate scientific and technical information about why the molecular-level structure is important in the functioning of designed materials.

Extend

10 minutes

Section Sequence:

           In this section of the lesson, my goal is to give students an opportunity to extend their experiences in the lab and apply their knowledge scientific equipment and interpreting its data to explain how we know that toxins or drugs may interfere with neural physiology.  This activity proceeds as follows:

 a) Share with students that you want them to think about how we can apply the technology just used in the virtual experience to determine where along the neuron toxins interfere with (form) and the exact process that it interrupts (physiology). Tell them that the video will visualize for us what we already know about the impact of the snail's venom on the fish's neural capacities, but that they should consider one of the possible routes taken to discover these problems using information from their virtual lab experiences. 

            

b) Discuss any student revelations or problem solving suggestions. Consider asking students if a different tool(s) outside of those introduced in their lab (oscilloscope, micromanipulator, etc.) might be needed to assess the muscle's response to the neurotransmitters released at the neuromuscular junction.  

Standards Covered:

SP4- Analyzing and interpreting data.

SP2- Developing and Using Models.

HS-PS2-6: Communicate scientific and technical information about why the molecular-level structure is important in the functioning of designed materials. 

Evaluate

10 minutes

Section Sequence:

           In this section of the lesson, my goal is evaluate student's understanding of the lab experience, how it relies on us understanding physiology of cells and more specifically the implications of the technology for future treatments of neurological disorders. I proceed as follows:


a) Using specific terminology from lessons 1-5 in this unit, instruct students to record and address the following questions based on their experiences from the day: 

1) What is the difference between the neuroanatomy and neurophysiology? Look up the formal definitions for neuroanatomy and neurophysiology. How does it compare and contrast to yours? Was the information specific to the virutal experiences applicable to both sets of definitions? Explain.  

2) How are we able to determine form or morphology of unseen neurons in the laboratory setting?

3) In the science community, the concept of form equals function is a prominent idea. Explain how your experience from today applies to this large scale idea?

4) Do you think that the technologies in the lab experience are only limited to ascertaining the morphology of neurons? Why or why not?

5) How can the technologies employed in the virtual be applied to understanding and treating neurological disorders in the future?

Standards Covered:

HS-PS2-6: Communicate scientific and technical information about why the molecular-level structure is important in the functioning of designed materials.