Whose Brain is THAT?!

(adapted from lesson created by Orriana Sill, Cornell University)


Channa Comer

Urban Assembly Academy of History & Citizenship for Young Men, Bronx

Summer Research Program for Science Teachers

August 2010




This lesson plan is designed to be an introductory activity to engage students and allow them to explore, compare and contrast the brains of different animals. The notes at the end of the lesson can be used to for discussion, questions, and/or to create assessments. This lesson calls for actual brains preserved in jars of formaldehyde. I have also included resources for alternatives to real brains. If you’d like to give feedback on the lesson, please email mscomer36@yahoo.com.



·         Making observations about gross brain structures in three dimensions.

·         Comparing and contrasting the human brain with the brains of other animals.



1.      Does a bigger brain make an organism more intelligent? Why or why not?

2.      Which do you think has the larger brain, herbivores or carnivores? Why?



·         Brains fixed in formaldehyde and stored in jars. Use multiple sets if you are able to get them to make facilitating the activity with groups more efficient. The following brains are available for sale online, but they do not come in jars. I purchased jars separately and had them fixed at Columbia (Sam Silverstein’s lab). If you are unable to have the brains fixed, you would only be able to use them for one lesson.

*Cow, pig and sheep brains can be purchased here: Bio Corporation; Mouse, rat and guinea pig can be purchased here:

Hilltop Lab Animals, Inc.

Hilltop Drive
PO BOX 183
Scottdale, PA 15683
Phone: 1-800-245-6921
FAX: 1-724-887-3582

·         Human brain model (I was not able to get a preserved human brain).


If using real brains, not in jars:

·         Gloves (for handling brains)

·         Trays (to hold brains)

·         Masks (if preservative odor is strong)


*As an alternative to using a human model and real animal brains, you can access an excellent interactive 3D animation of the brain at American 3B Scientific. (Go directly to the animation: 3D Brain Animation), and excellent photos of various species of mammalian brains at the University of Wisconsin website Mammalian Brain Collection.



1.      Pass brains around one by one to each group. The brains should be numbered, without indication of what type of brain it is.

2.      Students should record their observations and questions about each brain using the data table below, or as an alternative, have students brainstorm what information they should record and design their own data tables in their notebook.







































































(Have students record what animal they believe each brain came from in their notebooks)

Description: http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/quest1.gifCompare and Discuss:


After students have shared out their observations and guesses about animal, reveal the animal that each brain came from and discuss:

·         Brain size and intelligence

·         Brain size of omnivore vs. carnivore

·         Gross brain structure and function



Brain Notes

New York State Standards: 

NYS Intermediate Level Science Core Curriculum

Standard 4, Key Idea 1, Major Understanding 1.1g, 1.2a, 1.2h

NYS Living Environment Core Curriculum

Standard 4, Key Idea 1, Performance Indicator 1.2b, 1.2d, 1.2e