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5 Ways to Make Gross Functions of the Nervous System a More Approachable Topic

Usama Attiq
Teaching with Labster
October 18, 2022

Introduction: Nervous system

The nervous system is the command center of your body and originates from the brain. It controls the thought, body’s movements, and autonomic response. Additionally, the nervous system also controls other body processes, including breathing, puberty, and digestion. Generally, the nervous system affects every part of your body such as memory, learning, sleeping, heart rate, and feelings. It is a complex system that guides and allows you to interact with the environment around you.

The nervous system is formed by nerves, ganglia, and organs such as the brain and spinal cord. Further, these structures consist of blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissues. These structures work together to complete the complex activities of the nervous system.

The main functions of the nervous system are categorized into three forms; sensory, motor, and integrative functions. Sensory motors can collect information from the body. Motor functions can send signals from the brain to the other parts of the body. The integrative function of the nervous system is to receive, store and process information.

The nervous system is a complex topic that comprises several important aspects. At Labster, we can inform you about the difficulties students experience while learning this topic. Then, we provide five ways that make learning the nervous system an easy topic for students. In the end, we will convince you why a virtual lab simulation is an effective way to teach complex topics like gross functions of the nervous system to the students. 

human nervous system

 Figure: An image of human nervous system from the Labster’s theory. 

Why the nervous system can be tricky to learn

The nervous stem consists of several structures, each with its own function. Three reasons explain why students find it difficult to learn the gross function of the nervous system.

1. It feels abstract

Students learn about nerves, neurons, and ganglia in the nervous system, which are very small in size. You need to use an electroscope to see these objects. Sometimes, students may find it hard to learn abstract concepts. The reason is that they read the structure of neurons and nerves, but they cannot imagine these structures.

2. Complicated glial cells types

Glial cells are mature cells present in the central nervous system. The different types of CNS are oligodendrocytes, radial glia, astrocytes, and ependymal cells. These cells have different characteristics and functions. In the same way, the peripheral nervous system also contains different kinds of glial cells. It is difficult for students to differentiate between the glial cells of the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system.

3. It's content-heavy

The nervous system is divided into two types, further classified into different parts. Each part has its own unique function. For instance, the brain is the central nervous system's main part, divided into several lobes. Each part of the brain accomplishes a different function. So, it is hard for students to remember all the content about the nervous system.

5 ways to make the gross function of the nervous system a more approachable topic to understand

Since we are familiar with the reasons that make the gross function of the nervous system difficult to understand, five ways make this simpler and easier for learners.

1. People behind that science:

Herophilus was a physician often known as the “Father of Anatomy,” who differentiated the nerves from the blood vessels. He explained that nerves of the spinal cords are directly attached to the brain. He discovered seven cranial nerves and sperate the cerebellum from the cerebrum. He also identified optical nerves by the dissection of an eye. His dissections helped to identify the trigeminal nerve, hypoglossal nerve, facial nerve, oculomotor nerve, and trigeminal nerve. He correctly recognized that the nervous system produces and controls voluntary motions. Herophilus stated that nerves are responsible for the transmission of neural impulses.

2. Learn about the basic parts of the nervous system

The nervous system is classified into two main parts. Each part is made up of millions of nerve cells called neurons. These cells are responsible for sending and receiving signals through the body.

  1. Central nervous system (CNS)

  2. Peripheral nervous system (PNS)

Central nervous system (CNS): The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cords. The word “central” is used for this part because it collects information from all the body parts of your brain. The brain and spinal cord are protected by three layers called meninges.

The brain is a complex organ that consists of four lobes. These lobes are the temporal lobe, occipital lobe, parietal lobe, and frontal lobe.  Generally, the brain is divided into three main parts; cerebrum, cerebellum, and brainstem. The brain plays important functions such as creativity, reasoning, touch, emotion, breathing, temperature, and vision.

The spinal cord connects the brain to the body. It starts from the bottom of the brainstem and ends at the lower back. There are 31 spinal nerves present in the spinal cord. The spinal cord has four main regions; cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral. The spinal cord is helpful to control the reflexes responses, for instance, involuntary movement of your hand.

Peripheral nervous system (PNS): The peripheral nervous system is the part of the nervous system that is outside the brain and spinal cord. It consists of nerves and ganglia. 31 pairs of spinal cords and 12 cranial nerves are distributed throughout the whole body. The peripheral nervous system is divided into two parts; sensory division and motor division.

central and peripheral nervous system

Figure: An image showing the difference between the Central Nervous System (CNS) and Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) from Labster’s theory. 

3. Explain the functions of the nervous system

The nervous system performs many important functions in the body. The nervous system helps to control all the functions of the human body. It helps to create connections between the brain and other parts of the body.

  • The nervous system plays a significant role in learning and memory. Memory is the ability to remember information about things. It is controlled by the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. CNS and PNS help to control, receive and process the information.

  • Another important function of the nervous system is maintaining the body’s homeostasis. It means that the body's internal temperature is controlled by the nervous system. For example, heat is created during exercise. To maintain the internal temperature, the nervous system sends the message to blood vessels to dilate. It enhances blood flow and produces more sweat which helps to reduce the body temperature to its normal state.

  • Voluntary movements are controlled by the nervous system. Our nervous system sends messages to a certain body part to move.

  • The nervous system is helpful for the programming of spinal reflexes. For example, the stretch reflex has the function of protecting the body from an injury. During jogging, if you roll your ankle, the stretch reflex senses the stretching of the muscles and sends signals to the muscles to contract. This reflex helps to protect the ankle from breaking and causing just a minor sprain.  

4. Seeing is believing

Using color diagrams to explain tough topics like gross functions of the nervous system is important. The nervous system is complex because of the presence of multiple structures. Students learning these structures through color diagrams will enhance their interest in learning. Color diagrams effectively show the structures of neurons, nerves, ganglia, parts of the brain, and spinal cords.

Neurons are the basic units of the brain and the nervous system responsible for sending and receiving information between the brain and the other parts of the body. It consists of axons, dendrites, and a cell body. The image below represents the neurons' structures and the signal's transmission from one neuron to another. The color diagram helps the students easily understand the neurons' structure and function.

gross functions of nervous system virtual lab

Figure: An image structure of neurons from the Labster’s virtual laboratory on gross functions of the nervous system

5. Use of virtual lab simulation

The old methods of teaching the gross function of the nervous system through textbooks do not always seem interesting. Teachers may need to use new technologies like virtual lab simulations in the advanced world during class. Labster provides 3D simulations with gamification elements such as storytelling and the scoring system. It makes it interesting to learn a complex topic like the gross function of the nervous system.

Labster provides Gross Functions of the Nervous System simulation that give you a 3D animation of the topic. This simulation provides detailed information about the structural and functional comparison of the central nervous and peripheral nervous systems, chemical and electrical synapses, and the role of the types of neurons. Virtual lab simulation provides a detailed explanation of the tough topic, like the gross function of the nervous system, that can be helpful for students and also for teachers to convey the topic appropriately.

Explore Gross Function of the Nervous System: Let your brain learn about itself Virtual Lab Simulation GIF

Check out Labster’s simulation of the gross function of the nervous system here, or get in touch to know how you can start a virtual lab with your students.

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