Students explore a case of a woman with general fatigue, slowed speech, and loss of balance. Christmas lights are used throughout the activity because I usually do this around the holidays. The lights are also a good analogy for explaining how neurons work. Each neuron sends a message to a neighboring neuron, but if there is something wrong with the connection, the signal is lost.
The case centers around a college student and her mother who is having neurological symptoms. Diagnostic tools, such as a spinal tap and and MRI are used to diagnose the mother with multiple sclerosis.
Students also learn about the neuron by watching a “2 Minute Neuroscience” video on the anatomy of a neuron and cell communication. Then they sketch a neuron and label the main features.
In the next section, students take a close look at communication between two neurons. They read descriptions and label a diagram that shows the axon of one neuron and the dendrites of the next. Ideally, students can complete this one their own, but you may want to pause and help them with the labels and model how to sketch a neuron. I also have students color the neuron when we go through the chapter slides. I even have a plush neuron to serve as a visual aid as well as some microscope slides for students to view actual neurons.
In the last section of the activity, students read about a drug that could be used to treat MS. The drug promotes repair of the myelin sheath. MS is actually an autoimmune disease, where the myelin of the nerves is damaged by the immune system.