The Spinal Cord and Neurons - Flipped

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SWBAT identify the structures of a neuron and their function in sending and receiving electrochemical impulses.

Big Idea

This lesson provides students with numerous opportunities to explore how neurons function.


5 minutes

As the students enter the room, they take out their journals and respond to the prompt:

Draw and label a neuron.  

This prompt poses some difficulty for the students because the flipped notes do not include a diagram of a neuron.  Several students reach for textbooks or look at the neuron example on the bulletin board.  At this point in the school year, I expect the students to seek out information on their own without me telling them to find the information.  

While the students work, I circulate through the room to review their responses.  When I see a student who is struggling, for instance a student who has drawn a picture of a circle, I ask him/her where he/she might find the information and wait until he/she has located an information source and begun adding to the drawing.


25 minutes

This is the video students view prior to this lesson and the notes review they are expected to complete.

Once we have reviewed the journal, I show the notes presentation on the SMARTBoard.  I briefly review the information about the spinal cord with the students.  This information is straightforward, so the students do not have difficulty understanding the information.  Sometimes the students have questions about spinal cord injuries, and I address their questions if I know the answers or I record the questions to answer later.

We then review the various structures of neurons. I do this by pointing out the various structures, beginning with the dendrites, and moving through the structures of the neuron and the manner in which signals travel through it.  I do this to help set a foundation for remembering how signals travel through neurons.  

After reviewing the structures, I specifically discuss the manner in which signals travel from neuron to neuron.  This information is abstract and difficult for students to understand, so I share student created videos with them.  The videos I share were created by students from previous classes as part of their capstone project.  By using videos from previous classes, I am able to show students examples of my expectations for the projects and provide current students with additional ways to review the information, as discussed by their peers.

After viewing the student created videos, I lead the students in another review of the structures of a neuron.  For this review, I use a working model and I have student volunteers represent different structures.  Once we have named all of the structures, the students try to demonstrate how impulses travel through a neuron.  Some students do well with this part and some classes struggle a bit.  This video demonstrates how the students use the model.

Understanding how neurons function is important in developing an understanding of how sensory information travels to the brain (NGSS MS-LS1-8).  The various models used in this activity address NGSS SP2 and the Cross Cutting Concepts Structure and Function as well as Systems and System Models as students learn about the various structures of the neuron and how they contribute to the neuron's function.


10 minutes

After we review the structures of the neuron, I have the students open the Neurons activity with me.  I work through the different tabs of the online activity, beginning with the introduction.  I ask the students to describe each part of the neuron and then I select that section of the neuron and review the information with the students. This video demonstrates how I use the website with my students.


I have the students go through the other tabs on their own and then complete a brief assignment on the last tab.  The students also need to complete a Claims-Evidence-Reasoning (CER) statement.

While the students work on this activity, I circulate through the room to check for understanding and to help students who are having difficulty.  This student work sample demonstrates that the student was able to successfully complete the circuit and complete the CER.  While the student demonstrates her understanding that neurons are important and necessary to survival, her explanation that people may become sick without them shows that I need to review the functions of neurons again in an upcoming lesson. 

Wrap up

5 minutes

Near the end of class, I ask the students to shut down their Chromebooks and to look at a drawing of a neuron.  As I point to different parts of the neuron, I ask for volunteers to name the structure.  Once we have named all of the structures, I ask for a volunteer to simulate an impulse and to use the drawing to show us how the impulse travels through the neuron.  I explain to the students that the intent of reviewing the structures and the path of an impulse using different models and movies is to help strengthen their neural pathway and better remember the information about the neuron.