THINK OR SINK
Grades 6 - 8
Students will see how the brain and central nervous system relate
to their everyday lives. They will also learn that they employ four types
of memory to carry out various tasks. In addition, students will learn how
to measure their reaction times and get a chance to practice this skill.
Bill Nye, The Science Guy: The Brain
Students will be able to:
- understand how the spinal cord allows nerve impulses to travel to
the rest of the body
- recognize the four types of memory: short-term, long-term, ancestral,
- understand how reaction times can be measured
- one sheet of unlined paper
- one pack of crayons or markers
- one sheet of notebook paper
- one metric ruler
- one sheet graph paper
Teacher: "Students, I want you to raise your left hands."
(students raise hands)
Teacher: "Now I'd like you to put your hands down and stand up right
beside your chairs." (students stand up)
Teacher: "Have a seat, please. Raise your hand if you can tell me who
the president of the United States is." (solicit Bill Clinton as a
Teacher: "I've just asked you to do three different activities. How
were you able to do all of those things?" (by using our brains)
Teacher: "We're going to see a video segment on the brain.
As we watch, look for information on how the brain sends electrical signals
through the body. When you hear the answer, write it on your piece of notebook
BEGIN video when Bill Nye says, "The brain is a
group of special cells..." (about 2 to three minutes into the video)
PAUSE video when Bill says, "That's what happens whenever you
move or think."
Teacher: "How does the brain send electrical signals through the body?"
(through the central nervous system) Write central nervous system on the
Explain that: The central nervous system is composed of the brain and spinal
cord. -The brain processes information sent through the spinal cord. -The
brain also sends out responses through the spinal cord.
Teacher: "On your sheet of unlined paper, draw a picture of a tree."
(allow time for students to draw their pictures using the crayons or markers
Teacher: "Now you're going to watch Bill Nye draw a picture of a tree.
On the back of your picture, write down the steps that he goes through as
he draws the tree."
RESUME video where Bill says, "So let's say that you ask me
to paint a picture of a tree." (do not fast forward.)
PAUSE video when Bill Nye says, "It's wild!" the second
time and the painting falls.
Teacher: "What steps did Bill have to go through to paint a picture
of a tree?" (understand he was being asked to paint a tree, remember
what a tree looks like, and his brain used the central nervous system to
make his hand paint a tree)
Teacher: "What steps did you go through to draw a picture of a tree?"
(repeat same steps)
Teacher: "You have four types of memory. Listen during the next video
segment for the four types. Write them down on your sheet of notebook paper."
FAST FORWARD video until the car crashes.
RESUME video when Bill says, "There was something I was going
PAUSE video after Bill says, "Can you remember all of that?"
Teacher: "What are the four types of memory?" (short-term, long-term,
ancestral, and eidetic) Record answers on board as students identify them.
You may wish to review what each type of memory is used for: (1) short-term:
remembering information for just a short length of time (2) long-term: storing
pieces of information for a long time (3) ancestral: instinctual behavior
(4) eidetic: visual, "photographic" memory
Teacher: "Some people seem to have better memories than others. Also,
some people react faster than others. Watch the next segment to see how
your brain's reaction time can be measured."
REWIND video to the beginning of "Nifty Home Entertainment"
section with the girl and boy.
STOP video after the girl says, "Stop. Never Mind."
Teacher: "How did the two students measure their reaction
times?" (by dropping a ruler between their fingers and measuring the
distance the ruler traveled before they could catch it)
Teacher: "Now you will get a chance to measure your own reaction times.
Each of you should have a ruler at your desk. Choose a partner, and take
a few minutes to practice the technique you just saw on the video."
(allow students time to practice.)
Teacher: "Each person needs to have three "real" trials at
catching the ruler. Take turns dropping and catching it. Record your measurements
on your notebook paper. Average your three trials to get one reaction time
measurement." (again, allow time for students to do this.)
Teacher: "Now, average your reaction time with your partner's."
Collect group measurements and post them on the board. Direct the class
to make a graph of the data using the graph paper provided. Either do this
as a class, in pairs, or individually (depending on their ability level.)
NOTES: (1) Depending on the number of students in the class, it may
not be necessary to average each student's reaction time with a partner's.
(2) "Reaction time" is a term used in the video by Bill Nye. However,
the measurements being taken are in units of length--not time. You may wish
to discuss this with your students.
Teacher: Review the function of the spinal cord and the four types of memory
(short-term, long-term, ancestral, and eidetic) with your students.
- Option 1: Have students draw and label a diagram that shows the various
parts and functions of the brain.
- Option 2: Ask a neurologist to visit the class and talk about his
or her career.
- Option 3: Ask students to design other methods of observing or measuring
a person's reaction time.
Have students do a creative writing assignment of what it would be like
to have a "super" brain that was faster than anyone else's.
Research the beliefs of various cultures regarding the brain. Give oral
or written reports.
Have students measure their reaction times (using the ruler method) at various
times during the day. Take three readings at each time, and average the
trails. Graph the results.
Research a scientist who did work on the brain and write a report.
Master Teacher: Susan Dixon
Lesson Plan Database
Thirteen Ed Online