5 Exciting Ways to Teach Students About Action Potential

Anjaney Kothari

The transmission of electrical signals through action potential is one of the most intriguing topics in neurobiology. But the cell biological phenomena that trigger an action potential and help conduct it through a neuron are highly complex. Add to that the complicated techniques and calculations that accompany action potential research – like patch clamps and the Nernst equation.

To forge better understanding, educators must adopt exciting new ways to teach this crucial yet challenging concept to their students. Here, we list five ways to teach students about action potential that will make this topic easier and more interesting.

1. Engage Students with Interactive Models

Students can learn complex topics at their own pace when they can interact freely and safely with the subject matter. In STEM education, interactive models further help magnify diverse scientific phenomena occurring at small scales and make them more comprehensible.

For example, you can demonstrate the functioning of a voltage-gated ion channel through interactive animation. Students can click on a button to change the membrane potential and visualize the transport of ions across the channel. You can also demonstrate the principle of the patch clamp with a simple suction mechanism on a sheet of paper. After the demo, the students can interact with the model themselves and think about the effectiveness of this method.

2. Make the Topic Fun with Games and Activities

Games and activities can transport students to an entirely different world, where learning earns them rewards. Plus, they create a fun learning bubble where each student constantly interacts with peers as well as the subject matter.

Take Labster’s action potential simulation, for example. Our simulation transforms conventional action potential teaching material into a gamified virtual world. It sends the students on a mission to identify the neurotoxin that has caused severe food poisoning in a patient. On this mission, the students must:

·       Dissect a giant squid and harvest its neuron for some in vitro experiments.

·       Learn about the varying effects of three neurotoxins on neuronal action potential.

·       Compare and match the effects with the patient’s action potential to identify the right neurotoxin.

Squid neuron dissection in a virtual lab.

3. Infuse Technology into Lessons

Advanced technologies in the edtech sector, like animations and simulations, have substantially improved how we teach science and technology. When teaching highly challenging topics like action potential, try to infuse technology into your lessons.

For example, in Labster’s action potential simulation, students find themselves inside an axon, observing the biological processes that trigger an action potential. In addition, interactive animations in our simulation guide the students through such complex topics as:

·       Voltage and current clamp techniques,

·       Calculation of membrane potential using the Nernst equation, and

·   Functioning of voltage-gated ion channels.

Test chamber control in an action potential simulation.
Discover Labster's action potential virtual lab today!

4. Inspire Students Through Career Exploration

Discussing the professional opportunities that a study topic can present is a surefire way to inspire students to learn. Students will invest more time and effort in learning about action potential with the thought of exciting careers motivating them.

For example, tell your students about how neurobiologists regularly manipulate action potential in neurons to uncover complex phenomena. Talk to them about how pharmacologists developing drugs to block neuronal ion channels must use patch clamp techniques.

5. Connect Topic to Real-World Scenarios

Electrical signals traveling through neurons to keep our bodies up and running may be too abstract for students to grasp. But only until you tie this vital phenomenon up with some real-world scenarios and applications. Connecting a topic to real-world scenarios makes it relatable and inspires students to learn more.

For example, talk to your students about how some inherited cardiac disorders, like long QT syndrome, involve prolonged action potential. Tell them how congenital hearing loss is a result of disrupted action potential due to mutations in voltage-gated ion channels.

Final thoughts

Learning about action potential is the first step in understanding any neurological phenomenon. If you make this first step exciting and easy, your students can be well-prepared to develop a strong hold over advanced neurobiological processes. The five methods we have listed here can help educate your students about action potential in an exciting manner.

Try our free 30-day All Access Educator's Pass today and teach with the Action Potential simulation alongside 300+ other virtual labs!
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