Build-A-Brain Classroom Activity
"Build-A-Brain" combines science
content with the visual arts to produce a module
that can address students with a variety of learning
styles. Students are asked to use play-doh to design
and model the brain of an imaginary animal using
information they learn about brain structure and
function. In addition, this activity utilizes easily
identifiable characteristics such as proportion
of brain to body mass, relative size of specific
brain structures, complexity of cerebrum and cerebellum,
and differential development of the frontal cortex.
The depth and breadth of the science content can
be easily varied to meet the needs and abilities
of a wide range of grades.
have an accompanying powerpoint presentation, a scoring
rubric, lots of colored play-doh and a variety
of vertebrate brain models to accompany this hands-on
lesson. Please contact CBN educator Laura
Carruth ,PhD, if you'd like more details on
how to use "Build-A-Brain".
1. Discover the structure and function of the brain
2. Compare and contrast brains of different species
3. Design brain of an imaginary animal
4. Model brain of this imaginary animal using
various visual arts media
5. Practice oral communication skills by giving
a short presentation
1. Introduction: Explain to students that they
are going to build a brain of an imaginary animal.
Ask students to write down what they want their imaginary
animal to be able to do.
2. Explanation of Brain Structure and Function:
a. Before brains of imaginary animals can be
built, students must learn about various brain regions.
b. Show students (handout or overhead) images
of a brain. Explain the structure and function of the brain and be sure
to emphasize the following points:
Explain the structure and function of the brain
and be sure to emphasize the following points:
- The cerebral cortex is the outer layer of the
brain and is the most advanced area. This is where
thinking, talking, and understanding take place.
It is also the main coordinator of all of the other
areas of the brain. Increased convolutions (folds)
are most often found in more intelligent animals
because these folds allow for increased surface
area, providing room for more neurons (brain cells)
and connections between neurons.
- It is generally thought that the two cerebral
hemispheres (halves) have different functions with
the left hemisphere controlling math and speech
and the right hemisphere controlling more creative
endeavors. Interestingly, the right hemisphere
controls muscles on the left side of the body.
The two sides of the cerebral cortex are connected
by the corpus callosum allowing coordination of
movement and integration of information.
- In addition to the lateral (right/left) distinctions
in the cerebral cortex, there are several distinct
- The frontal lobe is located in the front (anterior)
portion of the brain and its functions include
reasoning, planning, parts of speech, movement,
emotions, and problem solving. The frontal lobe
communicates greatly with the limbic system in
processing emotional and painful information and
the frontal lobe has the primary motor region that
controls voluntary body movement.
- The parietal lobe is located in the top/back
portion of the brain-- behind (caudal to) the frontal
lobe. The parietal lobe contains the primary sensory
region (touch, pressure, temperature, and pain)
and deals with the integration of sensory and motor
- The occipital lobe is located in the back (caudal)
portion of the brain just above the cerebellum
and it is important for vision (sight).
- The temporal lobe is located behind your temples
under (inferior to) the frontal and parietal lobes.
It is important for memory, auditory sense (hearing),
- The cerebellum is located on the back of the
brain near the base (bottom) and its functions
include movement, balance, coordination, and posture.
Information from the eyes and muscles are sent
to the cerebellum to detect how the body is positioned
(this sense is called proprioception).
- The brain stem is the most primitive area of
the brain. It is nicknamed the reptilian brain
and controls basic processes such as breathing,
heart rate, and blood pressure. The brain stem
is comprised of the medulla, pons, and midbrain.
- The olfactory bulb is responsible for the sense
3. Ask the class to make predictions comparing domestic
dog and cat brains. Feedback during this discussion
will help clarify any misconceptions that may have
developed. If necessary, prompt students with questions
such as: which has better balance?; a better sense
of smell?; is more intelligent?
4. After they have made their predictions, show
students the dog and cat brain images to determine the following: Which
has a larger cerebellum? ; a larger olfactory bulb?; more convolutions
or folds in its cerebral cortex? ; a bigger brain? How would the breed
of dog affect this answer?
5. If time permits, have them do a similar class
exercise comparing dolphin and manatee brains, human and chimpanzee brains,
and finally dolphin and human brains.
6. Have students work in small groups (three
students seems to be ideal) to design and model the brain of an imaginary
animal. After the students have had some time to discuss what they want
their animal to be able to do, hand out play-dough and other art supplies
to students. It is helpful if each group can have several colors of play-dough
7. As students begin to build their brains, teachers
can keep the students on task by asking the small groups of students
- What is your animal?
- What does your animal do?
- How is its brain built to perform these tasks?
8. Students present and explain their imaginary
animal brain to the class. While the students are
presenting their brains, teachers can evaluate their
students' presentation using the scoring
Build-A-Brain classroom activity
content was originally developed by Dr. Melissa Demetrikopoulos,
Institute for Biomedical Philosophy.
To contact her please email: email@example.com.
Further development and implementation by John Pecore.
Download the "Introduction
to Brain Structure" handout in PDF format.
For additional materials to use in your classroom,
or the accompanying Brain Diversity power point,
please contact Laura Carruth, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Build-A-Brain Publication in Science Scope (Summer 2006)
A great site for downloadable Brain Images is maintained
jointly by the University of Wisconsin and Michigan
State Comparative Mammalian Brain Collections, as
well as by the National Museum of Health and Medicine.
Preparation of all of their images and specimens
was funded by the National Science Foundation as
well as by the National Institute of Health. http://brainmuseum.org/
Site with an extensive database that catalogs behavioral
and physical characteristics of a great number of
Eric Chudler's Neuroscience for Kids site has a
wealth of information about the nervous system. The
following pages are particularly relevant to this
1. extensive information on the basic parts of
the brain: http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/introb.html#bb
2. songs related to this lesson: http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/songs.html
3. additional creative writing projects: http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/writing.html