Monday, October 1, 2012

Learning About the Brain

About this post
So I'm up to bat again for teaching at the beloved Co-Op (or 'coop' in our shorthand emails;^)). I chose Science- well, really, it chose me because I began to get all these random ideas of what I could excitedly teach the kids so I went with it. Never look an inspiration gift-horse in the mouth. Or re-invent the wheel...I'm happily recycling these LP's for our homeschool classroom, too. Even though Babygirl is in my coop class this time around, I think she can bear to hear it all again for the sake of her sister's learning.

So for the next six weeks or six posts, I will be sharing my lesson plans and class happenings with you in a slightly different format than the norm. Also, my target age range is 4-7 year olds. Bear with me. 


Yesterday we talked about the Brain. I covered some big words with the kids but they weren't all intimidated by them, Maasha'Allah. I told them not to worry so much about memorizing the words, but to just listen and have fun. 

I explained that without the nervous system, we couldn't do anything at all. It's made up of the brain, spinal cord and lots of tiny nerves that run all throughout the whole body. Together, they are like a very fancy computer. There are about 45 mi of nerves throughout the whole body!! An adult brain is very lightweight, weighing about 3 pounds.

Because they're so young, I simplified the main parts of any brain to only one or a few of their primary functions: 
  • Cerebrum- thinking and deciding to do or not do something (Qur'an 96, 15-16, I just paraphrased this a bit by saying Allah tells us that we use the front part of our brain when we decide between doing right and wrong and of course that, many years later, science has confirmed this to be true). It is also used in actively deciding to make movements with your body, not for your heart or to shiver, for example, which you don't have much control over.
  • Cerebellum- controls balance and movement. They had fun hopping around on one foot!
  • Stem- connects the brain to the spinal cord. Controls reflexes and helps your body remember to breathe, to circulate your blood and digest your food. It also sorts messages passing from the brain to the body and vice-versa. I unexpectedly dropped a box at the back of the room to startle them, then surveyed them to see what their reaction was. I explained that this was their body getting ready to defend or run to protect itself (wide eyes, jumping to their feet, turning to look immediately) and that they didn't even have to think about doing any of this. We also looked in each other's eyes in the dark with a flashlight to see the pupil get smaller. They were amazed at how quickly this happened and that it happened at all. Again it's to protect your eyes from damage via too much light.
  • Pituitary gland- controls basic desires/needs, we talked about this gland reminding the body to eat and also sending out chemicals to tell the body to grow. 
  • Hypothalamus- maintains your body temperature by telling your body to shiver and sweat.

We did a bunch of brain games and activities (to be included in a follow-up post later this week) so they could put their brains to the test and see them working- always fun and funny! They split into two teams and competed in the The Stroop test (where you try to tell the color of the word you see and not read the word. Hard to do because your brain wants to read the word.), memory trays (where you try to remember objects you saw briefly on a tray, we did 7), memory games (where you try to remember a series of 5-10 words recited quickly and one time to you; can be done with pictures, too)

Without telling them what I was testing, we then tested handedness, footedness, earedness & sightedness, which would explain the R,L I wrote in marker on their hands.  I had them throw an object to me one-handed, step on a post-it stuck to the floor, lean in for a secret and sight images through a tube.  The letter on their hands corresponds to which side they favored, right or left. Some kids were one or the other, and some were both. At the end of the test, I told them what the writing on their hands meant. 

I had them make a construction paper "card" about the size of an index card on which they glued a strip of paper to do a test at home to find the blind spot in their retinas. This is the special spot reserved for the optic nerve to pass through instead of light receptors being present in that spot. Instructions for using this will be in my next post.

Last but most fun, we hit the lights again, except for a black light, and they stuck their hands into Feel Boxes to see what their brains were telling them they were feeling. They could make noise but were not allowed to talk, for fear they'd tell the others what they'd guessed and ruin the surprises. 

I used:
  • a Ziploc full of warm water
  • a large, smooth rock
  • sandpaper
  • a knitted scarf
  • a Koosh ball 
  • cooked spaghetti on a small plate inside the boxes. This freaked some of them out and I had to assure them that nothing was moving or alive. 
I did a big reveal at the end so they could see if they were right. I used shoeboxes turned upside down with an arch cut into them large enough for their hands to fit. I used masking tape to tape the boxes to the table because just as I had suspected, they got excited and some of the boxes shifted a bit. They would have ended up on the floor had it not been for the tape, I'm certain of it. I also had to cover the boxes with a large scarf to keep them from peeking in before we hit the lights.

Stay tuned for my follow-up post containing suggestions, details and links for activities we did or that I thought were cool enough to mention.

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