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How to Teach the Brain & Biology Unit for Psychology

When I was a new Psychology teacher, the biology unit covering the brain, neurons, neurotransmitters, and our various systems intimidated me as it had been years since I had covered that information in a college or even a high school course! Now that I have taught the brain unit for years, I think it is a fantastic, and eye-opening unit for students. If you are new to psychology or looking for ways to integrate new materials, read on!

Here is how I approach the unit on a daily schedule!

Day 1: Survey the students to see who has had elective courses that spent time on the brain like anatomy. I find it helpful to know this going in as some students FLY through this unit if they have learned it before while others crawl with the names and parts of the brain.

Following that, I play this video and ask students to write down what parts of the brain they have heard of before and then I see if they knew what they did.

Next, I introduce the brain project that students will work on for the duration of the unit. My students love this project every year! I made a Pinterest page to show the students what they could make. The project allows the students to create a model of the brain however they want to as long as they are showing all of the required parts. I have had styrofoam brains, great artistic diagrams, computer models, plenty of play-doh models, a jello one that worked in 1st hour but didn't make it to the end of the day, and other creations! I always allow students to walk around and look at each other's projects. Half of the class walks around while the other half explains their project and then they switch!

After explaining the project, I cover slides 1-10 from the PowerPoint presentation.

Finally, students work on one of the exit slips that correlates with slides 1-10 (there are two to pick from).

If you have extra time due to a block day, you can either do more slides or show some great clips from SciShow on YouTube. If you type in "SciShow Brain" there are many 5-10 minute videos that make for great discussions. You can do the same with brain games ( I never show whole episodes unless a sub is there, just clips as it works great for discussions.

Day 2: If you have a block day, then you can use the Crash Course Neuron video to start class to get the terms and vocab out. I then use the KIM vocabulary form and have the students fill-out a few terms as an activity. Click on this blog to see how you can use KIM Vocabulary in the classroom!

Next, I do a lecture on neurons (Slides 11-22).

The main activity of the day is I have students build candy neurons. If bringing in candy and doing that is not possible (especially due to Covid-19), you can hit a supply closet. You most likely have the items there for students to build their own neurons. I have had students use plastic sporks and paper clips and other items to create their neurons as well in class. Traditionally this activity was done in groups, but I do not know how your school is operating with 6 ft or 3 ft separations.

After that an exit slip on neurons.

Day 3: I start this day with my Neurotransmitters Lecture (Slides 23-38), I have the students then do the reading, chart, and if time, the skits on neurotransmitters. This usually takes up the entire time or more than one day (depending on if it is a block day or a 50 minute class period).

Day 4: The Brain Episode 1 (I stop it a lot while playing to discuss items from the video, like did anyone have a moment where time slowed down).

Day 5: I start out this day with this video clip and have the students hold out their hands and do it with the video:

Next is a lecture on the brain (Slides 40-52).

Following that, I have the students read, Reading "Miracle Mike" that is in the bundle so they will always remember the brain stem. Then they can watch this if you have time or interest. My students really want to learn more about Mike the Chicken, which is why I show it.

Day 6: I start with this SciShow

Finish the slides with the final lecture on the brain and its functions (Slides 53-63).

At this point, I give some in-class work time on the brain project or do the KIM vocabulary sheet (sometimes I use these as bell ringers as well on various days of the unit).

Day 7: I start this class with this. We read about him later in the memory unit, but I like that students first see it here:

The divided brain and brain scans lecture happens next (Slides 63-69) - midway through I show this clip:

Work time on Brain Project - again, if you are not doing this and you do not have a chapter assignment, then you can show one of the other documentaries that were on page 41 of the slides. I also hand out the study guide on this day.

Day 8: The Brain Episode 2 (on Amazon Prime and PBS)

Day 9: The Brain Project Presentations: I usually have students go around and look at other projects. They ask questions and fill out a quick sheet showing where they visited. We then finish Episode 2 of the brain and review for the test.

Day 10: Test

Hope you have a nice time teaching this unit.

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