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Brain PowerBrain-Power

  • Subject:
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  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. The brain is the organ of the body that performs the function of memory.
2. Short-term memory retains data recently learned, while long-term memory retains data from the past.
3. People who have excellent short-term memory are not necessarily more intelligent than others; they have trained their brains to be able to retain a lot of information, which is something that almost anyone can do.
4. A variety of strategies can be used to train the brain to hold more data in its short-term memory.


This activity requires materials that can be used to test students' abilities to retain series of numbers or words in their short-term memories. The materials listed here are examples of materials you might distribute to each group.
Deck of cards
Book of short poems
Telephone book


1. Divide your students into small groups, explaining that they will be testing the short-term memories of students in other groups and analyzing the strategies individual students use to improve their abilities to memorize.
2. Ask each group to use the materials you have provided or others they, themselves, may have on hand to create a 10-item quiz that will test their fellow students' short-term memories. Suggest a series of items such as playing cards, numbers, words, or simple facts. Make it clear that the quizzes should be challenging, yet not so difficult as to be impossible for the average student to achieve a reasonably high score.
3. When the quizzes have been created, invite each group to give its quiz to two or three other groups and then record the results.
4. When the testing is complete, bring the highest scorer on each quiz to the front of the room to be interviewed by the class about his or her memory strategies. Encourage each high scorer to explain any strategies she or he might use as memory aids. In the course of the interviews, students may come up with other possible strategies to aid short-term memory.
5. After the interviews, have students take a new group's quiz and attempt to use the memory strategies discussed.
6. Finally, lead a class discussion about which memorization techniques were the most effective for students, why they were effective, and whether they might be useful for everyone. If certain techniques prove more useful to some students than to others, what implications might that have concerning the ways different individuals memorize and learn?
7. As a follow-up, ask students to write down the memory techniques they discovered that they think will prove most useful to them in the future.

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Have students research and write brief reports on formal experiments with short-term memory that have been conducted by scientists. Alternatively, have each student write a paragraph evaluating the results and analyzing the significance of the activity in which they have just participated.

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Discussion Questions

1. Modern medical technology allows us to see which parts of the brain are working as we do different activities. How do you think this technology can help scientists research the brain? How can it help people with brain damage or disease?
2. Make as long a list as possible of the activities that humans do in their daily lives that are controlled by the cerebellum. Which routine activities do we "memorize" so well that we can perform them on "autopilot"? Why is it important that we can do these things easily and without thinking?
3. Why do you think that one-fourth of our brain is devoted to vision and to processing the things that we see? How would our lives be different if the same percentage of our brainpower was devoted to hearing? To touch? To smell? To taste?
4. What do you think human beings would be like today if we had never developed opposable thumbs? Would human society have ever developed? If so, what things would be different?
5. Speculate about why humans usually can't remember anything from the first moments—let alone the first few months and years—of their lives.
6. Human beings have more complicated social relationships than other animals. We also have more complex brains. How would these two factors be related? Why would we need more complex brains to help us deal with other people?

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You can evaluate groups on their performances using the following three-point rubric:
Three points: quiz neither too difficult nor too easy; quiz administered in an organized fashion; results accurately and neatly recorded
Two points: quiz either too difficult or too easy; quiz administered in a sufficiently organized fashion; results inaccurately or sloppily recorded
One point: quiz unreasonably difficult or ridiculously easy; quiz administered in a sufficiently organized fashion; results inaccurately and sloppily recorded
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining criteria for a reasonable and effective quiz.

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 How Our Brains React
Ask students to think of situations in which they reacted strongly to an experience, with anger, fear, sadness, or joy. Have them write brief descriptions of their situations and then explain how the following parts of their brains participated in the reaction: vision center, cerebellum, cortex, language center, social skills center. Then ask them to think and write about how "consciousness" participated in their reactions (define consciousness as "our ability to be aware of our own thoughts and feelings, allowing each person to have his or her own individual personality"). Ask each to write a few paragraphs imagining that he or she could go back to the time of the incident and swap personalities with a friend or family member whose personality is very different. How would the student have reacted differently, and why?

Chimp Fiction
Ask your students to research chimpanzee intelligence and make a chart listing the similarities and differences between what a chimp brain and a human brain can do. Then ask them to write a science-fiction story about a chimpanzee living in the wild, but with a human brain. In what ways would the chimp behave differently from an ordinary chimp? Considering the limitations of its body structure, such as its inability to speak or its inability to walk without using its hands, in what ways would the chimp behave like an ordinary chimp? How might the chimp try to alter its world? Have each student share his or her story with the class; then lead a discussion about whether the brain or the body was more important in the development of human civilization. If our bodies were different, how differently might the world we live in today have evolved?

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Suggested Readings

The Science Times Book of the Brain
Edited by Nicholas Wade. Lyons Press, 1998.
For all its seeming structural simplicity, the brain is a mysterious and complicated organ. This fascinating collection of 45 articles from the New York Times highlights the newest research into everything from the nature of dreams and consciousness to the making of memories in the brain. It contains superb chapters on senses, emotions, mood, language, medicine, and much more.

Creating Mind: How the Brain Works
John E. Dowling. W.W. Norton & Co., 1998.
What's going on inside your head? This is one of the fundamental questions in science and one of the toughest to answer. This compelling book is a lucid introduction to the study of the brain, describing the mechanisms underlying memory, vision, language, and many other more-or-less well-understood phenomena. We learn that the cells and chemicals that make up our brains have been studied extensively, yet we are still mystified by the simplest fact of all: We are conscious.

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Neuroscience for Kids
This home page has been created for all students and teachers who would like to learn more about the nervous system. Enjoy the activities and experiments on your way to learning more about the brain and spinal cord.

The Whole Brain Atlas
Designed as a learning tool for medical school students, this fascinating atlas offers images of healthy and diseased human brains.

Brain Backgrounders
These two pages from the Society for Neuroscience provide an on-line series of articles that answer basic neuroscience questions and explains how basic neuroscience discoveries have led to clinical applications.

Serendip: Brain and Behavior
Serendip examines some of the latest research related to Brain and Behavior. This site contains interactive exhibits, articles, and links to other resources.

The Joy of Visual Perception: A Web Book
This web book uses graphics supplemented with text to stimulate interest in the sense of vision.

About Brain Injury: A Guide to Brain Anatomy
Offers a map of the brain with descriptions of functions and results of injury. Part of a site all about dealing with brain injury.

Exploratorium: The Memory Exhibition
This site has information and fun online experiments to test and improve your memory.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    cerebellum
Definition: A large dorsally projecting part of the brain concerned especially with the coordination of muscles and the maintenance of bodily equilibrium.
Context: The cerebellum is a part of the brain that's common to most animals.

speaker    consciousness
Definition: The quality or state of being aware, especially of something within oneself.
Context: Our consciousness allows us to be aware of our thoughts and feelings so that we can have our own unique personalities.

speaker    cortex
Definition: The outer layer of gray matter of the cerebrum and cerebellum.
Context: Our long-term memory is stored in our brain's cortex.

speaker    dexterity
Definition: Mental skill or quickness; readiness and grace in physical activity; skill and ease in using the hands.
Context: Our opposable thumbs and our complex brains give us a good deal of dexterity.

speaker    neuron
Definition: A grayish or reddish granular cell with specialized processes that is the fundamental functional unit of nervous tissue.
Context: Brain cells, which are called neurons, communicate with each other via electrical impulses.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: life science
Knows the general structure and functions of cells in organisms.
Benchmark 6-8:
Knows that multicellular organisms have a variety of specialized cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems that perform specialized functions (e.g., digestion, respiration, reproduction, circulation, excretion, movement, control and coordination, protection from disease).

Benchmark 9-12:
Understands the structure and functions of nervous systems in multicellular animals (e.g., nervous systems are formed from specialized cells that conduct signals rapidly through the long cell extensions that make up nerves; nerve cells communicate with each other by secreting specific excitatory and inhibitory molecules).

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: life science
Understands how species depend on one another and on the environment for survival.
Knows that organisms can react to internal and environmental stimuli through behavioral response (e.g., plants have tissues and organs that react to light, water, and other stimuli; animals have nervous systems that process and store information from the environment), which may be determined by heredity or from past experience.

Grade level: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: life science
Understands the basic concepts of the evolution of species.
Benchmark 6-8:
Knows basic ideas related to biological evolution (e.g., diversity of species is developed through gradual processes over many generations; biological adaptations—such as changes in structure, behavior, or physiology—allow some species to enhance their reproductive success and survival in a particular environment).

Benchmark 9-12:
Knows that the basic idea of evolution is that the Earth's present-day life forms have evolved from earlier, distinctly different species as a consequence of the interactions of (1) the potential for a species to increase its numbers, (2) the genetic variability of offspring due to mutation and recombination of genes, (3) a finite supply of the resources required for life, and (4) the ensuing selection by the environment of those offspring better able to survive and leave offspring.

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Betsy Hedberg, former middle school teacher and current freelance curriculum writer and consultant.

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