Grades 9–12 Activities
Explore Brains & Neurons: The Teenage Brain
• Grades 9–12 Student Worksheet and Answer Key (PDF)
NYS Science Core Curriculum
LE 5.3a: Dynamic equilibrium results from detection of and response to stimuli. Organisms detect and respond to change in a variety of ways both at the cellular level and at the organismal level.
Students will investigate how the brain works by exploring the characteristics of neurons, how neurons communicate, and the plasticity of the brain. Students will also explore what we know about the teenage brain and how substances such as drugs (e.g. caffeine, alcohol) affect our brain and its functions.
BACKGROUND FOR EDUCATOR
Our brain has sensing, emotional, thinking, and memory functions. All these functions ultimately depend on how neurons work. During adolescence neurons branch and form new connections. The more we use certain neuronal paths, the stronger they become. And unused connections weaken and fade away. The adolescent brain is still strengthening connections between its reasoning and emotion-related regions. In addition, the reward center of the brain is more active during adolescence than in adulthood. These findings would explain why teenagers have weak cognitive control over high-risk behaviors such as drug and alcohol use, and why their brains are affected differently than adult brains.
Plan how your students will explore Brain: The Inside Story using the four different student worksheets.
Jigsaw is a collaborative learning strategy that includes "home groups" and "expert groups". Before coming to the Museum, set up the jigsaw by forming home groups (groups of four students). Within each home group, each student chooses to become an expert in one of four areas: "1: Your Sensing Brain", "2: Your Emotional Brain", "3: Your Thinking Brain", and "4: Your Changing Brain". Distribute the corresponding worksheets to the expert groups. You may want to review the worksheets and the map of the exhibition with them to make sure they understand what they are to do.
BEFORE YOUR VISIT
Class Discussion: Explore Our Brain
Use the following true/false statements to surface misconceptions and to stimulate a class discussion. Ask students what surprised them. Refer to the last page for more information on why these statements are false.
Your brain stops developing once you've reached adulthood.
New neurons can't be created.
Touching the brain would hurt.
When we're asleep our brains are at rest.
People with larger brains are smarter than people with smaller brains.
Thinking is separate from emotions.
Memories are stored in the brain like a computer.
Things like language and memory reside in specific targeted areas of the brain.
Write on the board: "Your Sensing Brain", "Your Emotional Brain", "Your Thinking Brain", and "Your Changing Brain". Divide students into groups of 3 and have each group come up with examples of how they use each of these "parts" of their brain.
(Sample answer: When I meet with my friend, I use my thinking brain to decide what transportation I'll take; my sensing brain when I use my vision to look at my friend and my hearing when I listen to what he/she says; my emotional brain when I'm afraid he/she will be mad at me because I'm late; and my changing brain when the experience of seeing my friend again strengthens the neural connections in my brain.)
Have each group come up with three to five questions that they have about the brain. You may wish to have them look for answers to these questions as they explore the Brain exhibition.
DURING YOUR VISIT
Brain: The Inside Story Exhibition
3rd floor (45 minutes)
Have the four expert groups investigate the exhibition using the corresponding student worksheets: "1: Your Sensing Brain", "2: Your Emotional Brain", "3: Your Thinking Brain", and "4: Your Changing Brain". While all students will explore how neurons work and communicate in the Your Sensing Brain section, each expert group will investigate in-depth a specific section of the exhibition. You may wish to have students work in pairs to keep the exploration manageable and focused.
Spitzer Hall of Human Origins
BACK IN THE CLASSROOM
1st floor (20 minutes)
Have students explore the third section of the exhibit "What Makes Us Human?" and take notes of the different abilities that seem to be unique to humans. Using the information gathered during the visit to the Brain exhibit, have students identify the regions of the brain that would be more related to those abilities that seem unique to humans.
Activity: Our Sensing, Emotional, Thinking, and Changing Brain
To complete the jigsaw, have experts return to their home groups to share what they learned about their in-depth section. Encourage them to help each other develop a deeper understanding of the brain and how it works.
Activity: The Teenage Brain
Inside the Teenage Brain:
Have students explore this Human Bulletins Snapshot, which shows how neuroscientists' findings on the development of the brain in adolescence would explain the weak cognitive control over high-risk behaviors in adolescence. Divide students in groups and have them compare this Human Bulletin with their student worksheets. Ask students to review what they learned about functions and regions of the brain in the exhibition and apply this knowledge by completing the chart below.
Science Bulletins (Human Bulletins)
Nature Neuroscience: A Unique Adolescent Response to Reward Prediction Errors
Discovery News: Teen Brain Wired to Take Risks
PBS Frontline: Inside the Teenage Brain
SNF Brain Briefings: Adolescent Brain
BRAIN QUIZ ANSWERS
Your brain stops developing once you've reached adulthood. (False)
Your brain began forming before you were born, building the intricate network of neurons that help you survive in the world.
Once developed, the basic structures for sensing, feeling and thinking last for a lifetime-yet your brain continues to change.
The neural connections keep making adjustments with every experience and everything that you learn.
New neurons can't be created. (False)
Scientists once assumed that after early childhood, the number of neurons in the brain was fixed, and no new ones could ever form.
But recent research has shown that new neurons form throughout life in at least two areas of the brain: the hippocampus, which helps memories form, and the olfactory bulb, which processes smell.
Touching the brain would hurt. (False)
The brain doesn't have pain receptors, thus it can't hurt. When we have headaches, the pain is caused by disturbance of the pain-sensitive structures around the brain. Several areas of the head
and neck have these pain-sensitive structures: (a) within the cranium (e.g. blood vessels, meninges, and cranial nerves) and (b) outside the cranium (the periosteum of the skull, muscles, nerves, arteries and veins, subcutaneous tissues, eyes, ears, sinuses and mucous membranes).
When we're asleep our brains are at rest. (False)
Sleep can be described by reduced or lack of consciousness, relatively suspended sensory and non-motor activity, and inactivity of nearly all voluntary muscles. However, the brain is far from being
at rest when we sleep. Scientists described the sleep cycle having five stages through the night: 1, 2, 3, 5 and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
People with larger brains are smarter than people with smaller brains. (False)
Although this was a belief commonly held and debated in the 19th and early 29th centuries, brain size among individuals does not vary significantly. The brains of people who were widely considered
to be smarter than most, turned out to be average-sized.
Thinking is separate from emotions. (False)
Emotions tell you how important things are to you, whether your needs are being met and what you want to do about it. Your rational brain this input is "crippled". In the same way, your thinking
brain or cognitive part works regulating your emotional responses and impulses.
Memories are stored in the brain like a computer. (False)
Although the computer analogy is useful to visualize the interconnectedness of the neuronal network in the brain, ,memory in the brain is much more complex. While computers work based on bits
of information, it seems that the brain stores information by enhancing neuronal connections, therefore, enhancing the synthesis of proteins for the formation of new dendrites and neurotransmitters,
which will be involved in the connecitons and transmission of information. In addition, our brains have an emotional memory, which helps (and some hinders) our behaviors.
Things like language and memory reside in specific targeted areas of the brain. (False)
Although we can identify specific areas related to language (language cortex) and memory (hippocampus for long-term memory; basal ganglia for procedural memory; amygdala for emotional memory;
and prefrontal cortex, for short-term memory), they never work in isolation.