Nerve Transmission Demonstration
Health: Clasp Hands to Demonstrate Nerve Transmission
Here's a demonstration that illustrates, in slow motion, how the nervous system works.
The demonstration shows how the sensory and motor nerves send messages to and from the brain. Your students play the part of actual nerves sending a message.
Have your students join hands in a circle. Explain that each student is a nerve cell, with their arms the ganglion and the clasped hands the synapses, or connections between nerve cells.
Designate the student at one end of the circle to be the finger. The student at the opposite end is the spinal cord/brain.
Explain that the students to the finger's left are the sensory nerves and to the finger's right are the motor nerves.
Tell the finger that s/he has touched a hot stove and should send an impulse to the spinal cord (or brain).
S/he does this by squeezing the hand of the student to his/her left (a sensory nerve) while saying “hot stove.” This nerve repeats the action, squeezing his/her neighbor's hand and saying “hot stove.” This continues until the message reaches the spinal cord (or brain).
The spinal cord/brain receives the message, then sends a return message by squeezing the hand to his/her left (a sensory nerve) and saying “pain—move the hand.” This message continues until it reaches the finger, at which point the finger lifts both hands and yells, “Ouch!”
To give your students some perspective on the speed of nervous transmission, you can measure the approximate length of your chain, and time how long the message takes to reach its goal.
Then inform them that the nervous system can send messages at up to 120 meters—or about the length of a football field—in one second.
1. David Anspaugh & Gene Ezell, Teaching Today's Health (10th Edition), Benjamin Cummings, 2012.
2. Kenneth G. Tillman (PhD), Patricia Rizzo Toner (M.Ed), “You take the high road…” How to Survive Teaching Health, Parker Publishing Company, 1990.
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