The nervous system is complex and involves unfamiliar vocabulary, from the parts of the brain to the cranial nerves. The nervous system is made up of two subsystems: the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system.
The central nervous system includes the brain and spinal cord, and it’s in charge of managing the body’s essential functions.
The peripheral nervous system consists of nerves extending from the central nervous system, and its job is to transmit signals between the brain, spinal cord, and the rest of the body.
It’s an old adage that our nervous system is like a computer. Our central nervous system is like the CPU, receiving, processing, storing, and transferring electrical signals. Our peripheral nervous system is like the collection of input and output devices connected to the CPU: the keyboard, mouse, touch pad, external drive, printer, and gaming controls. How does all the input, processing, and storage work?
Take a look at this infographic on the nervous system. It explains the differences between the central and peripheral nervous systems and introduces the structure of neurons with accompanying biochemistry.
Download: Human Body: Nervous System Infographic
Understanding how a nerve pulse is generated and transferred requires a command of chemistry and physics, not to mention biology. Visuals and hands-on activities can bridge the gap between microscale processes and observable behavior to help make learning more relevant to students.
To drive home the difference between the way the central and peripheral nervous systems process inputs, have your students complete an investigation comparing reflexes and reactions using Carolina® Reflexes and Reactions Kit.
A great extension to learning about our body’s information processing system is the addition of learning about how we learn. The free lesson “Reaction Time and Practice” gets students thinking about how learning requires sensory input, neural processing, and practice. For you, this is also a good bridge for a discussion on study skills and what it takes to pass exams.
Resources for Teaching the Nervous System
You have limited planning time, limited teaching time, and a limited budget. You know well-designed lab activities positively impact student learning. So where can you go for a solution? Take a look at the resources Carolina has to offer for teaching the nervous system.
Students can engage in a range of activities to visualize the structures of the nervous system and collect data to analyze its functions. Pair models with dissections to reinforce nervous system structures. For example:
After getting a macroscopic view of the nervous system, let students take a microscopic view of nerve tissue types with Discovering Nerve Tissue Types Self-Study Unit, then tie structure and function together with an investigation of the human senses using the lab kit Exploring Human Senses. A complete nervous system unit is at your very sensitive fingertips!
The result of well-designed, student-centered activities is less stress for everyone–you save time and are a more efficient instructor. See? There’s no reason at all to be nervous about teaching the nervous system.