The Neurotransmitter Blitz Challenge: Curing the Common Zombie!

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Objective

Students will utilize their knowledge of neurotransmitter activity in the brain to develop a plan aiming to reinstate the homeostatic activity of a "zombie".

Big Idea

Physically altered brain states can be reversed and reestablished with the right concoction of neuron agonist and antagonists.

Introduction

Lesson Background & Justification:

    Neurotransmitters are endogenous chemicals that transmit signals across a synapse from one neuron to another or target neuron. Once released from the presynaptic neuron, these chemicals execute a conservative set of cyclic activities which include: a) the induction of a response in the receiving cell, b) re-absorption into the dispensing cell and/or c) processing by specialized proteins to ascertain adequate levels of the neurotransmitter for subsequent potentials. The overall goal being to reset the neurotransmission system for continuous and collective homeostatic actions in the human body.

     Zombies are technically defined as a person who moves very slowly and is not aware of what is happening especially because of being very tired. In pop culture, the word is synonymous with a voodoo belief that zombies are corpses that have been reanimated (the brain stem is the only reanimated portion or there will be an imbalance of neurotransmitters because of the parts of the brain being used), especially by means of a supernatural power or spell and subsist on the living. Pop culture's portrayal of a zombie is consistent with a person who displays actions consistent with unbalanced neurotransmitters in the brain or lacking homeostatic control. 

     In this lesson, students explore by deduction, the type and degree of neurotransmitters that are lacking from a zombie's brain and body. Armed with this knowledge, students will then capitalize on this information to pose as a pharmaceutical specialist who's task is to design specific concoctions of neurotransmitters to remedy a zombie's condition. 

Prerequisite Knowledge: It is recommended that students be familiar with the structure and function of a neuron and the action potential mechanism. Students also should have a functional command of the jobs of the following neurotransmitters: Acetylcholine, Serotonin, Adrenaline, Dopamine, GABA and Glutamate. 

Lesson Preparations:

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

 a) A class set of the activity Create a Cure for the Zombie Epidemic

b) Two large bags of skittles.

c) Medicine Vials from local pharmacy if possible. If not 5 oz dixie cups. 

d) Adhesive labels.

Common Core and NGSS Standards:

MP1- Make sense out of problems and persevere in problem solving. 

HS-LS1-3. Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence that feedback mechanisms maintain homeostasis.

Standards Rationale:

        Problem-solving skills are necessary in all areas of life, and classroom problem solving activities can be a great way to get students prepped and ready to solve real problems in real life scenarios. Whether in school, work or in their social relationships, the ability to critically analyze a problem, map out all its elements and then prepare a workable solution is one of the most valuable skills one can acquire in life.When students develop solutions to posed problems in the classroom, the grow in meaningful forms of scientific practices. They work to make sense of scientific phenomena rather than working to replicate the understandings communicated by a textbook or other authority. Collectively, engaging in this type of discourse can alleviate the pressure of teachers feeling fully responsible for attaching meaning to information presented in the classroom. In this lesson problem solving is used in concert with other science practices like deductive thinking in the classroom to promote students’ reasoning and understanding of core science idea presented (Trouble shooting neurotransmitter defiencies).

Engage

5 minutes

Section Sequence:

           In this section of the lesson, my goal is to get students to discuss their ideas of what constitutes a zombie and to think about a neuroscientist's role may be in diagnosing and/or treating them. The idea is to get students to access their knowledge bases on the subject matter at hand and connect a wildly popularized fictional to the neuroscience context. This activity proceeds as follows:

a) Slide 1: Ask and discuss the questions listed on the slide. Probe students specifically on the relationship between zombies and neuroscience. Ask reflective questions such as "do you think that this has anything to do with the brain?", etc. to encourage students to progressively make the connection in the conversation. 

Standards Covered:

MP1- Make sense out of problems and persevere in problem solving. 

Explore

15 minutes

Section Primer:

       The Basal Ganglia (movement and behavior), Cerebellum/Motor Cortex (motor movements), hypothalamus (appetite) Amygdala (aggression), Hippocampus (memory), and the Front Lobe (Intelligence) are all areas of the brain that seem to be compromised in the body of a zombie. Said problems are a result of deficiencies that generally lie in an anatomical problem or chemical problem such an imbalance of neurotransmitters. Though fictional, students can use the characteristics of a zombie to deduce lost of function in certain parts of the brain. In this section, students, using deductive reasoning attempt to diagnose the physical problems of a zombie via their behaviors (as observed in a video clip). 

Section Sequence:

a) Slide 2: Distribute a copy of the brain outline half sheet to students. Read and address the top section of the slide and then show the following clip:

 b) Read and guide students through the task prescribed on the slide. Guide students in the task 1 discussion to ascertain that the class's list reflects or is synonymous to the following:

Mental and Physical Traits of a Zombie:

Aggression in the Brain

Not Good Problem Solvers

Veracious appetites  

Lacks Emotion

Staggers when walking

Forgetful (No Long Term Memory)

c) Read and instruct students to complete task 2 as stated on the slide. Once students have completed the task, allow for students to briefly share out on their connections to the class. 

Standards Covered:

HS-LS1-3. Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence that feedback mechanisms maintain homeostasis.

Explain

10 minutes

Section Sequence: 

    In this sections my goals are a) to share factual information with students about what's scientifically possible with zombies and b) to provide them with an opportunity to correct any brain parts not identified or misidentified in the previous section, as this information will be used to illustrate good science in their mini projects for this lesson. This activity proceeds as follows:

a) Slide 3: Read and guide students through the corresponding tasks listed on the slide. Recap the main ideas of the videos after each is played and edify any misunderstandings  of the actual science presented in the video. 

Clip 1: By viewing this video students should be able to differentiate between the scientific explanation versus pop culture's depiction of a zombie at the cellular level. Specifically, they should know that any real world version of a zombie is rooted in viral infections that impact specific neurons of the brain.  

 Clip 2: By viewing this video, students should develop a stronger appreciation of behaviors that zombies exhibit when specific areas of the brain are highly active or inactive (loss of function). This should help them to bridge an understanding between viral activity at the cellular level and how that leads to outward behaviors cause by activity at the tissue and organ level of the brain. 

Standards Covered: 

HS-LS1-3. Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence that feedback mechanisms maintain homeostasis.

Extend/Evaluate

60 minutes

Section Sequence:

     In this section of the lesson, my goal is develop problem solvers in the classroom. As their extension and evaluation task, students design a fictional drug/drug concoction to remedy the physical problems of zombies. The idea is to get them to interact with their notes in a productive manner and to consider the possibilities of potential jobs in the field of neuroscience. This section proceeds as follows:

a) Slide 4: Distribute Zombie Cure Project Guideline sheet to each student and read through the expectations with the class. 

b) Direct students students through the tasks projected and grant them 60 minutes to complete the project. 

c) Grading of their assignments should be based on accuracy of neurotransmitter selection to remedy and match the problem that it targets and to match the specific brain part that it is synthesized in. Creativity should constitute at least 10% of their grade. (See student poster examples that received a B or better on the assignment)

Standards Covered:

MP1- Make sense out of problems and persevere in problem solving. 

HS-LS1-3. Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence that feedback mechanisms maintain homeostasis.