Jello Essay Outline

Review Outline and Processes

As you've figured out by now, there are many steps to writing a review:

  1. Craft a Research Question
  2. Locate and Read Literature
  3. Create Organized Notes (e.g., annotated bibliography)
  4. Synthesize Information using anOutline or Concept Map
  5. Draft Paper
  6. Get Feedback
  7. Revise Paper

We're at the "synthesize information" point now.  How do you put all this information together?  The most important technique for you is to pre-write -- that is, to have a strategy in place whereby you sketch out the parts of the paper as unambiguously as possible.  There are a couple of ways to do this.  First, and most obvious, it to use an outline.  Second, equally classic, is to create a concept map.


The traditional outline is hierarchically arranged -- the parts are ordered linearly from beginning to end and also ordered in terms of internal relationships (subordinating relationships).  The basic idea here is good, but not so useful for a Review Paper whose body is not often organized linearly.  Instead, Reviews are organized topically.  The outline then should reflect the parts of the review and their function rather than solely the order items.  Below is a template for the Introduction, any Body section, and the Conclusion.  These parts can be filled in with phrases or whole sentences.

(Option: HERE is an outline for you to copy/paste into the word processing program of your choosing)

Introduction -- remember that the introduction immediately orients the reader to the topic; no fluff here!  A working title is helpful for some people, detrimental for others.  If a title helps focus your writing, then make one up now.  If not, then skip it!

Body Sections -- the outline below is intended to help you organize your thoughts in a couple of different ways.  

  • First, of course, is figuring out the main points that need to be made.  

  • Second, since this is a Review paper, sources are equally important, so each section below also has room for writing in the associated literature.  The easiest way to do this is to ennumerate your annotated bibliography (use numbers or letters) and write the associated numbers/letters in the correct spot. 

  • Third, body sections tend to follow a general--> specific pattern.  The first paragraph or two deals with the biggest ideas in that section and usually contains the most diverse set of associated literature. Two things tend to happen next.  (see -- here -- for topic/author driven lesson)

    • One move is to exemplify the main ideas using individual studies.  Thus, the pattern is to discuss the study and some of its main points, meaning only 1 or 2 sources will be used in the paragraph. These discussions are often made using author-driven sentences, e.g. "McConnel et al. found that drunk rats took signficiantly longer to make their way through the maze than rats injected with saline or rats high on amphematines, concluding that alcohol has a more detrimental effect on gross motor executive functioning (McConnel et al., 2010)".

    • Alternatively, you can narrow from the main explanation into a discussion of different facets of the topic itself. This also results in the narrowing of the literature to only a couple of sources.  This kind of writing usually features topic-driven sentences, e.g. "Rats who had consumed the jello shots took significantly longer to navigate the maze than either their saline or amphetamine injected counterparts, suggesting alcohol has a more deleterious effect on gross motor executive functioning (McConnel et al., 2010)".

Exemplification and discussion can happen in either order; it depends on the paper.  Also, you may not need to use both strategies.  It could be that the way you're arranging the information only requires discussion OR exemplification. Please note that the "point 1" and "point 2" are just to get you started with the pattern -- you might have 3 main points, or 4.  The same goes for all other sections -- the template is a suggestion to help you organize, not a plan set in stone!


Conclusions -- here is where you bring the whole Review together for some final commentary. There are 3 parts to a Review conclusion.  

  • First, there should be a concise summary.  (Did I say concise?  I really meant that.)  Ideally, each section of the body gets a SINGLE sentence of summary.  Your task as the writer is to pull out the main, "take away" idea and write it one last time.  The reader can always go back to the text if they need to.  

  • Second, you should provide some evaluation or critique. This may be very mild (e.g. "There are still many unanswered questions in this area") or quite direct (e.g. "X treatment has a clear record of unacceptable toxicity and should be used only as a last resort, if used at all").  

  • Third, you should provide a final statement regarding the future of this topic -- What should come next? What sort of research should be done?  Is it time for application of some kind?  Again, this statement can vary from the very general (e.g. "More research is warranted") to more specific (e.g. "Clinical practitioners must be informed about the dangers of using treatment X, especially given its prevalent name in TV advertising.  Clearly, more research in alternatives Y and Z should be undertaken to safeguard the long-term health of patients with Condition A").  

Using Concept Maps

There are many different programs for creating concept maps.  Mostly, I find the software intrusive because it's harder to use than a paper and pencil (always choose the technology that best matches your need!).  However, three programs have recently emerged as being easier to use.  And all have "freemium" versions where you can create a store your work online. Createlyis a program that allows you to easily generate a concept map.  My difficulty with most of these sorts of programs is that you have to know the structure of the map before you begin building it, which doesn't help much with the discovery process.  But Creately makes it easy, so if you like to draw up the image first, this is a terrific program to try.  Another program where the free version lets you build from the map is -- this is the one I've been using in class (here is an assignment page). Wisdomap has the additional advantage of a right side bar for notes and a media bar where you can add links, video, etc. Alternatively, if you have an outline in mind but are a text-oriented person, then Text 2 Map is for you.  Text2Map lets you build a hierarchical concept map using tabs and such, just as you would in any word processing program.  Hit a button, and the program generates the map.  If you change your mind or revise the map, then all you have to do is change the text to generate a fresh version.

Getting Feedback -- The Promise and Peril of Peer Review

Peer Review is the honored tradition of having a fellow expert evaluate your work for its contribution to science.  While Peer Review as a filtering process is controversial, peer review as an editing process is not!  In fact, it's a downright intelligent strategy. Ideally, you should have 2 kinds of peer reviewers in your writing arsenal: 1) a content-savvy reviewers; 2) a writing/reading-savvy reviewers.  The content-savvy reviewer has knowledge very near your own and can help you catch unintended mistakes or points of confusion with regard to ideas/evidence from the discipline's point of view.  The literacy-savvy reviewer, however, is someone with strong analytical reading/writing skills who can point out points of confusion due to style/writing choices.  These are rarely the same person!

In class, our process is as follows.  Read through the review once, without evaluating or commenting, to get a sense of the article's content and purpose. Then reread it again carefully, paying attention to the article's structure and organization, putting comments or queries next to strong or weak sections/sentences, and correcting mechanical errors where necessary. Now answer the questions below fully, offering suggestions where possible.


  1. Is the title appropriate, succinct, and interesting?
  2. Does the intro. convince you that this is a significant and worthwhile topic of study? Where?
  3. By the end of the introduction, are you clear about the purpose of the review and its direction ? Is there a "roadmap" that shows you where you are going as you read?


  1. Is the review arranged historically or topically? Does this seem appropriate?
  2. If the review is arranged topically, are subheadings used to introduce different groups of studies? Do these sections seem logically organized?
  3. Does the discussion seem comprehensive and thorough? Are the findings compared and contrasted, and the studies evaluated fairly?
  4. Are you clear about the direction you are going in as you are reading, and is the logic of development helpful and unified? Do you get lost anywhere, and if so, where?


  1. Does the reviewer integrate and address the various groups of research as a group as an overview? Does he/she evaluate the most and least promising directions of the studies?
  2. Does the review end with suggestions for future research, based on all the studies?


Course Links

Student Resources

Attribution Info

Pipe Cleaner Neuron

For grades 3-12

Get out those pipe cleaners and make a neuron! This neuron pipe cleaners of 5 different colors: one color each for the dendrites, cell body, axon, myelin sheath and synaptic terminal. Any colors will do.

1. Take one pipe cleaner and roll it into a ball. This is will be the cell body.

2.Take another pipe cleaner and attach it to the new "cell body" by pushing it through the ball so there are two halves sticking out. Take the two halves and twist them together into a single extension. This will be the axon.

3.Take other pipe cleaners and push them through the "cell body" on the side opposite the axon. These are dendrites. These can be shorter than your axon and you can twist more pipe cleaners to make more dendrites.
4.Wrap small individual pipe cleaners along the length of the axon. These will represent the myelin sheath.

5. Wrap another pipe cleaner on the end of the axon. This will be the synaptic terminal.

String Neuron

It's a parachute! It's a witch's broom! It's the Eiffel Tower! No, it's a NEURON!!!
If you have ever played any "string games," then this neuron model should be easy for you to make. Follow the steps on this page to make a neuron from string.


  • A loop of string or yarn (about 3 ft. in length).

Rope Neuron

This giant model of a neuron illustrates the properties of chemical transmission and the action potential. You must construct the neuron before you use it with a group of people. Cut two to three foot lengths of rope to use as dendrites. Another 10-15 foot piece of rope will be turned into the axon. The cell body and synaptic terminal of the neuron can be plastic containers. Drill holes in the plastic containers for the dendrites and axon. To secure the dendrites and axon in place, tie a knot in the ropes so they will not slip through the holes of the containers. The action potential is modeled with a pool float. Thread the pool float onto the axon before you secure the axon in place. Place small plastic balls or ping-pong balls in the synaptic terminal and your model is ready to go!

Set up the model:

  1. Get volunteers to hold each of the dendrites.
  2. Get one volunteer to hold the cell body and one to hold the synaptic terminal. Make sure the person holding the synaptic terminal keeps his or her hands AWAY from the place the axon attaches (more about this later).
  3. Get one volunteer who will hold more molecules of neurotransmitter (more plastic balls) near the people who are dendrites.
  4. Get one volunteer to hold the action potential.

Use the model:

  1. Have the person holding molecules of neurotransmitter TOSS the plastic balls to the people who are dendrites. The "dendrite people" try to catch the plastic balls. This models the release of neurotransmitters and the attachment (binding) of neurotransmitters to receptors on dendrites.
  2. When three plastic balls are caught by dendrites, the person holding the action potential can throw/slide the pool float down the axon. This simulates the depolarization of the neuron above its threshold value and the generation of an action potential.
  3. The action potential (pool float) should speed down the axon toward the synaptic terminal where it will slam into the container. This should cause the release of the neurotransmitters (plastic balls) that were being held there.
    CAUTION: The pool float will travel very fast! Make sure that the person holding the synaptic terminal keeps his or her fingers and hands AWAY from the pool float.

If the entire model is stretched tightly, the pool float should travel down to the terminal smoothly. This model can be used to reinforce the "ALL-OR-NONE" concept of the action potential:

  • Once the action potential starts, it continues without interruption.
  • The size of the action potential stays the same as it travels down the axon.

The Rope Neuron in Action


  • Rope (for dendrites and axon)
  • Plastic containers (for cell body and synaptic terminal)
  • Pool Float (or another object will slide along the rope; for the action potential)
  • Plastic balls (for neurotransmitters)
  • Volunteers!

Background information: The Action Potential | The Synapse | Neurotransmitters

CD Neuron

What can you do with those free CDs you receive in the mail? Make a neuron! Drill several holes in one side of the CD. Tie lengths of wire or string through these holes. These wires or string become the dendrites of your neuron. Attach a long wire or string to the center hole of the CD (or you can drill another hole in the CD for this long wire). This long wire or string becomes the axon. Make a hole in the center of a plastic container and thread the end of the axon through it. The container becomes the synaptic terminal.


  • Rope, string or wire (for dendrites and axon)
  • Plastic container (for synaptic terminal)
  • CD
  • Drill (to make holes in CD)

Neuron Costume

For grades K-12

Can't think of a costume for Halloween? Why not be a neuron? The idea sent in by Kate V.; you can see her is wearing her neuron costume in the photograph.)

Cut some pipe cleaners into short pieces. Wrap these short pieces around longer pipe cleaners to make dendrites. Wrap one end of each dendrite around a safety pin. Pin the dendrites to a pink short-sleeved shirt and hat. Put on your a neuron!


  • Pink short-sleeved shirt
  • Blue long sleeved shirt
  • Pink shorts
  • Blue tights
  • Blue hat
  • Safety pins
  • Blue pipe cleaners
More neuroscience inspired costumes from Adlai E. Stevenson High School: a BAG!

For grades 6-12

An edible neuron? Mix one box of Jell-O with water by following the directions on the Jell-O box. After the Jell-O has cooled to a warm temperature, pour it into small plastic bags. Add fruits (canned fruit cocktail works well) and candies to the Jell-O to represent the organelles you would find inside of a neuron. For example, mandarin orange slices could be mitochondria; a cherry half could be the nucleus; red and black string licorice could be microtubules and neurofilaments. The plastic bag can represent the cell membrane. Don't forget ribosomes, the golgi apparatus and endoplasmic reticulum. You should also make a "legend" of your cell so you remember which food represents which organelle. Write your legend on some card stock or index card. After all the "organelles" have been added, tie off the top of the bag with a twist tie and place the "cell" in the refrigerator. When the Jell-O gets firm, take it out, and compare your neuron to other neurons. Then, have a snack...a neuron snack.


  • Jell-O - any flavor
  • Plastic bags - sandwich size
  • Canned fruit
  • Candies
  • Twist ties
  • A picture or diagram of a neuron

See cells of the nervous system for more about the organelles found in neurons.

Simple Neuron Model

For grades K-12

Here's the most simple model of a neuron I can think of...and you don't need any supplies. It's your hand! Hold out your arm and spread your fingers. Your hand represents the "cell body" (also called the "soma"); your fingers represent "dendrites" bringing information to the cell body; your arm represents the "axon" taking information away from the cell body.

Materials: NONE

Model a Brain

For grades K-12

Create a model of the brain by using clay, playdough, styrofoam, recyclables, food, etc. Create a whole brain or use a brain atlas and create cross-sections of the brain at different levels. Use different colors to indicate different structures.


  • Clay or Playdough or Styrofoam or Recyclables (bottle caps, cups, buttons, etc) OR Food (fruit, jelly beans)
  • A picture or diagram of the brain

Here are two recipes for the construction of a model brain:

Recipe 1 (from the Pacific Science Center and the Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, WA)

  • 1.5 cups (360 ml) instant potato flakes
  • 2.5 cup (600 ml) hot water
  • 2 cups (480 ml) clean sand
  • 1 gallon ziplock bag
Combine all of the ingredients in the ziplock bag and mix thoroughly. It should weigh about 3 lbs. (1.35 kg.) and have the consistency of a real brain.

Recipe 2 (from BrainLink)

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • One quarter cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup salt
  • Red food coloring
Mix the water, salt, flour and cream of tartar in a large bowl or blender until the lumps disappear. Then mix in the vegetable oil. Put the entire mixture into a sauce pan and "cook" it over low heat until it gets lumpy. Pour the mixture out and let it cool. Then knead and shape it into the form of a brain. Don't forget to add wrinkles (gyri) to your brain. Squirt in red food coloring for blood vessels.

Thinking Cap

For grades 3-12

Display your brain on a "Thinking Cap." Thinking Caps are created from papier (or paper) mache.

Create the Form: First, create the brain form for the cap. You can create a form from wire (e.g., chicken wire) or a balloon or use a bowl to build your cap around. You could even ball up some newspaper and cover it will masking tape. The form should have the approximate size and shape of your head so you can wear it.

Create the Structure: Cut strips of newspaper and glue them to the form using papier mache paste. Pastes can be made from:

  • White glue and water (about 2 parts glue to 1 part water)
  • White flour, salt and water (about 1 part flour to 1 part water with a few tablespoons of salt)
  • Liquid starch
Coat the newspaper strips with the paste, and place them on the form. Let each newspaper layer dry before you add a new layer. Add enough layers to give you a strong structure. When the structure is dry, remove the underlying form. You may have to cut the edges of the structure and repair the sides for a good fit on your head.

Decorate the Thinking Cap: you can paint the Thinking Cap with the lobes of the brain (see photo) or with the different areas of the cerebral cortex.

The Thinking Cap

A Brain Hemisphere Hat you can make from paper.

Do You Know Your Brain?

Grades 1-12

Alexandra Colón Rodriguez, a PhD student in Comparative Medicine and the Integrative Biology Program, Environmental and Toxicological Sciences Program at Michigan State University, has created a great hands-on activity learn about the brain.

Know Your Brain Activity

Make a Cat and Rabbit Brain

Grades 4-12

Make brains again and again. BrainLink has developed cat and rabbit brain molds that you can buy from the Carolina Biological Supply Company (CBS) for $16.95 each (Catalog #MF-95-2849A) . Coat each side of the rubber mold with liquid hand soap. Mix up FAST set dental plaster (also available from CBS) with water to the consistency of toothpaste. Pour the dental plaster into each side of the mold. Sandwich the mold together and wait about 15-20 minutes. Tap the mold a few times to get out all the air bubbles. It can get a bit messy. When the plaster has set and is hard, peel back one side of the mold and remove the brain. You can add food coloring to the plaster while you are mixing the plaster if you want a brain with a bit of color or you can paint the different parts of the brain with different colors.


  • Brain Molds
  • Fast set dental plaster (call a local dental supply company - it is fairly cheap - about $15 for 25 pounds - enough for many brains). Patterson Dental Supply, Inc. also has the plaster (catalog #48512). Their phone number is 1-800-626-5141 or 1-502-459-7444.
  • Food coloring and paint (if you want to color the brains)
  • Water - to mix up the plaster

...or purchase models that have already been made.

Jello Brain

Grades K-12

Get jello molds in the shape of the brain at Archie McPhee. For about $12 (plus shipping) you get either a gelatin mold of the top half of the brain or a side (lateral) view of the brain. Make brains over and over again. You can also model the meninges (coverings) of the brain by using layers of plastic wrap on top of your jello brain. Make sure everyone gets a taste. Now that's what I call brain food!

Here is the recipe for the top view jello brain:

  • 3 large (6 oz) boxes of jello (peach or watermelon recommended)
  • 1 can (12 oz) evaporated skimmed/fat-free milk
  • A few drops of green food coloring (to change the color to gray)
  • 3.5 cups of water (2.5 cups boiled; 1 cup cold)
  1. Coat mold with vegetable oil or spray
  2. Add 2.5 cups of boiling water into jello. Stir and dissolve jello.
  3. Stir in 1 cup of cold water.
  4. Stir in skimmed milk (~2 minutes)
  5. Add a few drops of green food coloring
  6. Pour entire mixture into jello mold
  7. Place mold into refrigerator overnight.

Make the Bones of the Spinal Column (Vertebrae)

For grades K-12

The human spinal cord is protected by the bony spinal column shown. There are 31 segments of the spinal cord and 33 bones (vertebrae) that surround these segments. There are 7 cervical vertebrae, 12 thoracic, 5 lumbar, 5 sacral and 4 coccygeal vertebrae in the human body. To model these bones, get 33 empty spools of thread (buttons may also work or slices of paper towel holders). Run a string or thread through the middle of one of the spools or buttons. Tie off one end of the string and put the remaining spools or buttons on the string. Each spool (or button) will represent one vertebra. When your model is finished, notice how it can bend. In a real spinal column, the vertebrae are held together by ligaments.


  • Empty thread spools or buttons
  • String

Read more about the spinal column.

Cap Head...No, it's your Brain!

For grades K-12

A great way to introduce the brain. Get a white swimming cap - you know, the kind that pulls on tight over your head. Draw an outline of the brain on the cap with a black marker. To introduce the brain to your class, wear the cap!! It is a great way to start a discussion. You could also draw the lobes of the brain or different areas of the cerebral cortex on your cap with different color markers.


Connect the Dots

For grades K-6

This exercise is to illustrate the complexity of the connections of the brain. Draw 10 dots on one side of a piece of paper and 10 dots on the other side of the paper. Assume these dots represent neurons, and assume that each neuron makes connections with the 10 dots on the other side of the paper. Then connect each dot on one side with the 10 dots on the other side. As you can see from the diagram below, it gets very complicated after a while. I have only connected 4 of the "neurons".

Remember that this is quite a simplification. Each neuron (dot) may actually make thousands of connections with other neurons. If you tried this your paper would be really messy!!


  • Pencil, pens, markers
  • Paper

Compare and Contrast

For grades K-12

What better model of the brain than a REAL BRAIN!! Try to get "loaner" brains (human and animal) from your local university (try medical schools, Departments of Biology, Zoology, Psychology). Some animal supply companies also sell brains (see the Resource Page). You may be able to find cow or pig brains at the supermarket or local butcher.

Try to get a "Brain Atlas" or look at some pictures of the brains here at Neuroscience for Kids or visit the Mammalian Brain Collection at the University of Wisconsin. This will aid the identification of brain structures.

Make sure you wear gloves when handling any specimens. Also be aware that some brains may be perserved with formaldehyde solutions which have an unpleasant odor and also should be handled with care.

After you have collected all the specimens:

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.
Use a long knife (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 if you want to see internal structures (and if the brains belong to you). 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
  • thalamus
  • pons
  • inferior and superior colliculus
  • cingulate cortex
  • medulla
  • cerebellum
Try making some sections of the brain. 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 you see.


  • A brain
  • 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

Model a Retinal Image

Grades 4-12

The brain has a tough job. It is works all the time and the eye has to make things difficult. The convex nature of the lens of the eye turns an image upside down on the retina. The brain must make sense of this and turn it "right-side up". To model what a convex lens does to an image, get a magnifying glass. Find a white wall or tape a white piece of paper to a wall that faces a window. Hold the magnifying glass close (3 in; 10 cm) to the white wall or paper. You should see an inverted image of whatever is outside of the window. This is what is projected onto your retina.


  • Magnifying glass
  • White Wall or Paper and tape

Read more about the retina.

Message Transmission

Grades 3-12

Messages can travel in neurons at speeds up to 268 miles/hr! These signals are transmitted from neuron (nerve cell) to neuron across "synapses."

Let's make a chain of neurons...have everyone stand up and form a line. Each person in the line is a neuron. As shown in the figure on the right, your left hand are the dendrites of a neuron; your body is the cell body; your right arm is an axon and your right hand is the synaptic terminal. Your right hand should have a small vial of liquid or some other item, such as a button or pebble, to represent neurotransmitters.

Each person should be about arms length away from the next person. When the leader says "GO," have the person at the beginning of the line start the signal transmission by placing his or her "neurotransmitter" into the hand of the adjacent person. Once this message is received, this second neuron places its neurotransmitter into the dendrite of the next neuron. The third neuron then places its neurotransmitter into the dendrites of the next neuron and the "signal" travels to the end of the line. The transmission is complete when the "signal" goes all the way to the end of the line.

Remember that each "neuron" will pass its own transmitter to the next neuron in line. Each neuron HAS ITS OWN neurotransmitter.

Let's review

  • What are the parts of a neuron? The hand that receives the neurotransmitter is the "dendrite." The middle part of your body is the "soma" or "cell body." The arm that passes the neurotransmitter to the next person is the "axon" and the hand that gives the slap is the "synaptic terminal". In between the hands of two people is the "synaptic gap". For more about the parts of a neuron, see cells of the nervous system and the synapse.
  • Measure how long it takes the message to get from the first neuron to the last. Also, measure the distance from the first to the last neuron. Now calculate the speed. How fast did the message travel from first to last neuron? Why do you think the speed of transmission of the model is so slow?
  • Stopwatch
  • Vials for neurotransmitters

Saltatory Conduction

Grades 3-12

Saltatory conduction is a way that myelinated axons transmit action potentials. Action potentials jump from node to node. To model this, have everyone stand up and form a straight line. Each person should be at arms length of the next person. Give the last person in line a small object like a ball or an eraser. This time, each person does NOT make up an individual neuron. This time, everyone together is a SINGLE neuron and each person is a "myelinated section" of an axon. The space between each person is a node of Ranvier. To start the axon potential, someone should say "go". The first person will slap the hand of the neighboring person, then that person will slap the hand of the next person etc., etc. Remember, in this model, the line of people is just one neuron.

When the action potential gets to the last person holding the object, have this person toss the object into the air. This represents the neurotransmitter (the object) floating out into the synaptic cleft (the air).

You can also measure the time it takes the signal to move down the axon using a stopwatch. Measure the approximate distance the signal must travel (the total distance of the all the people). If you then divide the distance by the time, you will get the speed (conduction velocity) of the signal. The conduction velocity of this model neuron will most likely be much slower than in the fastest of real neurons (about 268 miles/hr).

Don't forget to read more about saltatory conduction



Action Potential Game

Grades 4-12
Game designed by Jessica Koch

Objective: Race to raise the resting potential above threshold to fire an action potential.

Background: When neurotransmitters cross a synapse, they can bind with receptors on dendrites. This binding can result in a change in the electrical potential of a neuron. An excitatory postsynaptic potential occurs with the neuron becomes depolarized, raising the electrical potential from its baseline of about -70 mV and bringing it closer to threshold and increasing the chance that an action potential will fire. An inhibitory postsynaptic potential occurs when the electrical potential is lowered, making it less likely an action potential will be generated. If the electrical potential is raised so that it reaches the threshold, an action potential will fire down the axon of a neuron.

How to Play: Players should be divided into two teams: the Excitatory Postsynaptic Potential (EPSP) Team and the Inhibitory Postsynaptic Potential (IPSP) Team. The teams will race to see who can get the greatest signal to their team's cell body in 30 seconds. Each team lines up to act like a dendrite. A signal, (a small ball), is passed from person to person much like how an electrical signal travels down a dendrite toward the cell body. Each EPSP team signal successfully transferred to the cell body is worth +5 or +10 mV (millivolts); each IPSP Team signal is worth -5 or -10 mV. The signals are passed down the dendrites until they reach the end and are tossed into the cell body container. Only one signal ball can be passed at a time meaning that a dendrite must drop the ball (signal) into the cell body container before the first person in the dendrite can pass the next ball (signal).

To Win: The typical resting potential of a neuron is -70 mV. To cause an action potential the membrane potential must reach -55 mV. Therefore at the end of 30 seconds the signals are summed from the cell body container. The total amount of millivolts is added to -70 mV to see if an action potential is fired. If an action potential is fired the EPSP team wins! If not then the IPSP team wins!


  • 3 large containers or tupperware
  • About 32 ping pong balls, labeled with black marker -5, +5, -10, +10 (8 of each). Each ball should also be labeled with the team name: EPSP or IPSP.
  • Game Set-up

Nervous System Kid

Grades K-6

It's a bird, it's a it's "Nervous System Kid" (also known as "Brain Boy" or "Gyri Girl")! Get a large piece of butcher paper - large enough for a student to lie down on. Have a student lie down on this paper and outline his or her body. Now fill-in and color this outline with parts of the nervous system or use the pictures of the organs supplied below. The brain and spinal cord should be easy. Don't forget the sense organs (eyes, ears, mouth, nose, skin). Follow a diagram of the peripheral nerves to add more features to your drawing. Also, label the structures that are drawn.


  • Butcher paper
  • Markers (to outline and color the picture)
  • Pens and pencils (to label the structures)
  • Pictures of internal and sense organs - cut out, paste on your body outline and color (use the "back" button of your browser to bring you back to this page):

Mr. Egghead - The Cerebrospinal Fluid

Grades 3-12

The cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) has several functions. One of these functions is to protect the brain from sudden impacts. To demonstrate how this works, we need to bring in "Mr. Egghead." Mr. Egghead is a raw egg with drawn-on face. The inside of the egg represents the brain and the egg shell represents the pia mater (the inner most layer of the meninges or coverings of the brain).

Put Mr. Egghead in a container (tupperwear works fine) that is a bit larger than the egg. The container represents the skull. Now put a tight top on the container and shake it. You should observe that shaking the "brain" (the egg) in this situation results in "damage" (a broken egg).

Now repeat this experiment with a new Mr. Egghead, except this time, fill the container with water. The water represents the cerebrospinal fluid. Note that shaking the container does not cause the "brain damage" as before because the fluid has cushioned the brain from injury.

You could make this into a science fair project: test the hypothesis that "The cerebrospinal fluid and skull protect the brain from impact injury." Drop Mr. Egghead from a standard height (or heights) in different conditions: 1) with fluid in the container, 2) without fluid in the container, 3) with different fluids or materials (sand, rocks) or 4) in different shaped containers, etc. Make sure you keep notes to record your observations!


  • Eggs (at least 2)
  • Markers to draw on a face (waterproof)
  • Plastic container with top.
  • Water (to fill the container)

Slice and Dice - Learning Directions and Planes of Section

Grades 3-12

One way to learn the planes of sections and anatomical directions is to model the brain with fruit. That's right, fruit....the bigger the better...a melon (honey dew or cantaloupe) works nicely. Make eyes, a nose, ears and a mouth out of cork and stick them on the melon head with toothpicks. Or better yet, get a set of "Mr. Potato Head" body parts and stick them into the melon. The eyes, nose, ear and mouth give a sense of "which way is the front" to the round melon. Now make your sections with a large knife...a coronal (frontal) section first, then a horizontal section, then a sagittal section. See the "slice page" for the correct directions and planes.


  • A melon - a honey dew or cantaloupe work
  • Cork or Mr. Potato Head body pieces
  • Knife - to cut melon

Brain Comparisons

Grades 3-12

How is your brain similar to other objects? For example, how is your brain like a bowl of Jell-O? How is it different? Are they both soft? Do they have layers? Can they store information? Do they use electricity? Do they contain chemicals? Give each person a different object. Each person must make a list of similarities and differences between their object and a brain.


  • Suggested objects: Jell-O, tape recorder, balloon, apple, camera, computer, telephone, book, ball.

Brain Charades

Grades 3-6

Although it's not too difficult to describe what the brain does, it's not too easy to act it out. Try to describe the functions of the brain and nervous system with this game of "Brain Charades."

Write down words that describe brain functions on small pieces of paper. This table of words will help you get started:

EmotionsMovementMemorySpeechHeart Rate

BreathingThinkingPlanningProblem SolvingReadingControl HormonesSleepBalanceEatingDrinking

Mix the papers in a bowl, bag or a hat. A player should pick a paper out of the bowl then act out the function. Everyone else should try to guess what the player is acting out. Actors must remain silent. When someone guesses the action, write the word on the board. Another player should select a new word and act it out. Repeat the game until all of the words have been identified correctly.


  • Paper
  • Pen or pencil
  • Container for words

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