Inside the Cranium: Neuropsychiatric Disorders


Julia Chillemi

High School for Environmental Studies, Manhattan


Summer Research Program for Science Teachers

Summer 2006


Course:  Living Environment (Biology)

Grade: 9th/ 10th

Units: Life functions and Body Systems [Regulation/ Nervous System]                           

Time: 2 class periods (3 if you enrich the discussion using comparative anatomy and


Aim:  How do I remember a phone number (without a cell phone)?

Objectives: 1) Students will understand that different regions of the brain are responsible for

                       different aspects of cognition, awareness, and regulation of the body’s processes

                   2) Students will be able to identify the major parts of the brain in both saggital and

                       coronal planes

                   3) Students will be able to define and describe working memory

                   4) Students will understand the importance of studying neuropsychiatric disorders on

                        various levels, from the genes involved, to the cells affected, and the overall

                        experiences of the organism


  Activity 1

  Activity 2


   Clay or Playdoh ™ (or follow recipe in teacher’s notes); 10 colors needed

   Student Guide Sheet I: Brain Morphology (available)

   Colored Pencils; 10 colors needed

   Several copies of a Brain Atlas [or pictures; gallery available at, or visit Google™ Images]

   A long knife (this should only be used inside the lab)

   Pointing devices (toothpicks work well) to identify structures

   Student Guide Sheet II: Memory Games (available)


   Computers with Internet access {optional}

   Brains from 2 or 3 different species [resource: BIO Corp., BRAIN COMPARATIVE DISSECTION KIT, $30.31/ set – sheep, pig, and cow in each]

   A long knife (this should only be used inside the lab)

   Trays (to hold brain specimens)

   Gloves (for handling specimens)

   Masks if the odor is strong

   Brain atlas

• Pointing devices (popsicle

      stick, probe, toothpick) to

      identify structures

   Vertebrate Cladogram [available from the Amer. Mus. of Nat. Hist. at]



9-12 Content Standard C- Organization of Living Systems

9-12 Content Standard C- Behavior of Organisms

Teaching Standard E- Facilitate collaboration and discussion

Teaching Standard C- Ongoing, multiple forms of assessment

Teacher Notes: for the construction of less-costly brain models:


Recipe (from the Pacific Science Center] and the Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, WA)

Ingredients :

   1.5 cups (360 ml) instant potato flakes

   2.5 cups (600 ml) hot water

   2 cups (480 ml) clean sand

   various colors of food coloring

   1-gallon Ziploc bag (smaller ones are useful to make custom colors)

 Combine all of the ingredients in the Ziploc bag and mix thoroughly. It should weigh about 3 lbs. (1.35 kg.) and have the consistency of a real brain.


Lesson Development

Activity 1:


Part I: Create a word-splash/ concept-map with elicited terms related to regulation (i.e. stimulus, receptor, impulse, CNS, PNS, sensory neuron, interneuron, motor neuron, etc.) to review the core content.


Part II: (Distribute Student Guide I: “Brain Morphology")


Instruct students to create a model of the brain by using clay or Playdoh ™. Student groups must work collaboratively to build and assemble components of a human brain (see Student Guide I). Emphasize the use of different colors to indicate different structures.


Compare and Discuss:

n   Identify areas of the brain. Cortex? Cerebellum?

n   If the word “cranium” refers to the skull, where would you expect to find the cranial nerves?

n   What are the noticeable differences in any particular parts of the brains?

n   Compare placement of the cerebellum and spinal cord.

n   Compare size and location of hippocampus and cerebral cortex.

n   Discuss cortical expansion in higher species.

n   Question 1) Based on your knowledge of nerves and the brain, would you expect the overall brain to contain mostly sensory neurons, interneurons, or motor neurons? Are there areas that may contain more than one type of neuron?

n   Question 2) a: Name of one of the regions of the brain  b: Based on what you’ve read, what effect on the organism might you expect to see if this region of the central nervous system (CNS) was impaired by an injury?



Part III:


Direct the half of the class to make a mid-saggital cut (a cut right down the middle, the long way from front to back) to split the brain in half to see internal structures. Direct the other half of the class to make a mid-coronal cut (across the center of the brain, from left to right).


Students should then continue to make either saggital (or coronal) sections to see other brain structures not visible along the midline. Instruct students to consult the atlases to identify and compare what they see. Student groups should change seats/ share with others to view the other type of brain sections.

Discussion Points:

n   What are some things that could alter what you do or do not see?

n   Why is it important to describe the type and location of the section?

n   Ask students to attempt to answer the aim (elicit pathway from stimulus to reaction or memory).




Activity II: (Distribute Student Guide Sheet II: “Memory Games”)


Part I:

Facilitate the “Grocery Game” and ask for student volunteers to read the text on the first 2 pages of the handout.


Discussion Points:


n    How many events should I be able to remember?

n    What are some other tests of working memory?

n    What happens when working memory doesn’t work?

n    Answer the aim (in more detail that yesterday).

n    How do you think this can this be tested in mice?                                                                 


Part II:

Provide 15-20 minutes for students to work independently on the CHALLENGE questions. Host a discussion for students to share their responses.


Part III: (Optional)

(Discretionary: If time allows and the class environment permits, and students will be completing the suggested homework) View a clip of the film (comedy) “50 First Dates” and try to explain, based on your observations of the character, what area of the brain has been affected and discuss how the family/friends have worked to help care for and support the individual. Use this to introduce H.M.



Suggested Homework Assignment:


Read the online article “The Day His World Stood Still” [from the Brain Connection website:] and write a reflective summary of your day through the eyes of H.M. How would he perceive your commute, the conversations you had, and so on? It may be written (1 page) or typed (1/2 page).



Extension: Comparative Analysis of Vertebrate Brains


Obtain various specimens and demonstrate careful examination of morphology to students. Distribute copies of a cladogram to students and cross-reference demonstration with the evolutionary history of vertebrates.


Compare and Discuss: 

1)  What are the similarities and differences between the brains?

     2)         What are their relative sizes?

     3)         Identify areas of the brain. Cortex? Cerebellum? Cranial nerves?

     4)         Are their noticeable differences in any particular parts of the brains?

     5)         Is the cortex smooth or rough?

     6)         Compare placement of the cerebellum and spinal cord.

     7)         Compare size of olfactory bulb.

     8)         Compare size of cerebral cortex.

     9)         Discuss brain weight vs. body weight issues.

     10)       Discuss brain size and intelligence.

     11)       Discuss language and brain size.

     12)       Discuss cortical expansion in higher species.


Monitor student use of a long knife (must be for lab use only) to make a midsaggital cut (a cut right down the middle, the long way from front to back) to split the brain in half to see internal structures. Identify and compare internal brain structures using the brain atlases. Some areas of the brain that should be easy to identify are the:


              corpus callosum                                  



              inferior and superior colliculus

              cingulate cortex                                  




Students should try making some sections of the brain; model safe practices. These can be coronal (frontal) sections (across the brain, side to side) to see other brain structures not visible along the midline. Identify and compare what is seen with the use of the brain atlas.


Discussion Points:

n    How closely related are each of these organisms to humans?

·   What evolutionary traits are shared?

·   What are some important differences?

n    Do you think these organisms may be useful as models in scientific study? Why or why not?





Chudler, Eric H. (2006) Modeling the Nervous System. Retrieved August 18, 2006 from Neuroscience for Kids website:


Miller, G.A. 1956. The magical number seven, plus or minus two: some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review 63: 81-97. Reprinted with commentary in 1994, Psychological Review 101: 343-352. [Available at]


Narayanan, Kumar (2006) The Neurological Scratchpad: Looking Into Working Memory. Retrieved August 18, 2006 from Brain Connection website:


Ranpura, Ashish (2006) Navigating Space: How Your Brain Knows Where You Are. Retrieved August 18, 2006 from Brain Connection website:


Schaffhausen, Joanna (2006) The Day His World Stood Still. Retrieved August 18, 2006 from Brain Connection website: