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5 Ways to Make the Central Nervous System Simple for Students

Sana Shujat
Teaching with Labster
October 18, 2022

Nervous systems are of two types: central and peripheral. The central nervous system (CNS) consists of the brain and spinal cord, while the peripheral nervous system (PNS) has a bunch of nerves spread across the body. This article will primarily discuss the structure and function of the central nervous system. The brain and spinal cord collectively act as one unit and the command centers of the nervous system. If you’re an educator having a hard time teaching about the brain no need to worry anymore because Labster has got you covered. 

Have you ever touched a blazing hot cup of coffee and instantly dropped it on the floor? Well, technically, you didn't; your brain did. The nerves from your hand send signals to the central nervous system that decides if the cup is too hot or not. The CNS receives information from all body parts and regulates body processes. 

The brain is carefully enclosed inside the skull, while the vertebral column surrounds the spinal cord, filling both structures with cerebrospinal fluid. The three protective layers, collectively called meninges, protect and isolate parts of the CNS physically as well as chemically against microbial damage. The brain is primarily divided into the brainstem, diencephalon, cerebellum, and cerebrum. The spinal cord is the continuation of the brain and is divided into four different regions: cervical (C), thoracic (T), lumbar (L), and sacral (S). 

The intricacies of the brain and spinal cord's anatomy and functioning get more complex as we delve further into the matter. It puts considerable pressure on educators to keep things simple, easy to understand, yet comprehensive. 

Why could the central nervous system be a tricky topic?

The central nervous system is responsible for efficiently carrying out many crucial responsibilities. The brain is divided into parts and sub-parts, and each structure regulates a specific function. The details about the brain and spinal cord's structure and function are lengthy and overwhelming for some students. Let’s discuss the top three reasons why teaching CNS effortlessly could be challenging.

1. Its content is lengthy

The brain surface, known as the cerebral cortex, appears irregularly surfaced due to grooves and folds of the tissues. The grooves and folds, scientifically termed sulcus and gyrus, are of different types. The cerebrum is the largest part of the brain (split into left and right hemispheres) and is responsible for tasks like memory, speech, thoughts, and voluntary actions.

The hemispheres are again partitioned into four interconnected lobes: Frontal, Occipital, Parietal, and Temporal. Each lobe has a dedicated function; for instance, the frontal lobes control higher cognitive functions like language, while the occipital lobes are associated with hearing. Moreover, other significant brain areas include basal ganglia, Broca’s area, Medulla oblongata, thalamus, cerebellum, corpus callosum, hypothalamus, amygdala, etc. 

Protection of the Central Nervous System

Structure of Human Brain (Image Source)

The spinal cord spreads about 18 inches and acts as a bridge between the brain and the body. Thirty-one different types of spinal nerves enter the spinal cord: namely, cervical, thoracic lumbar, sacral, and coccygeal nerves. 

In the preceding paragraphs, we just scratched the surface of the subject. Therefore, it is justifiable that students face a tremendous challenge in learning specifics about each aspect.

2. Difficult terminology

Some terms used in the anatomy of CNS are either tricky to spell, pronounce or memorize. Some of these terms are as follows: amygdala, fissures, diencephalon, lumbar and sacral nerves, cauda equina, etc. Additionally, some elements play different roles but have similar names, confusing many pupils. For instance, the cerebrum is the largest brain part, while the cerebellum (little brain) is the second most prominent part of the brain. Similarly, differentiating between the hypothalamus and hippocampus could also confuse some students. 

cerebellumcerebrum

3. Diseases associated with the brain

It is impossible to see inside the brain directly. We need robust “magnetic resonance imaging”  (MRI) machines for this purpose. The MRI scans reveal intricate details, but it is difficult to read those scans. Only a professional could understand what’s wrong with your brain through these scans. Brain disorders could be due to several factors, like infections, degeneration, structural defects, autoimmune disorders, tumors, strokes, or injury. 

5 ways to make the central nervous system a more approachable topic for students

The central nervous system doesn't always have to be overwhelming. This article highlights five practical and proven strategies that make learning about the brain and spinal cord approachable and fun.  

1. Share exciting facts about the brain

We all like to learn exciting facts sparking our intuitive and inquisitive natures, and so does the brain. Educators could include some of the points in their lesson plans:

  • The brain never gets to rest, even when we’re sleeping. Did you know that this is the time when the brain is most busy reconciling and saving memories? Therefore, ensure a good night's sleep for sharp memory.

  • The left hemisphere controls the right side of the body, while the right hemisphere coordinates with the left. Moreover, researchers revealed that there is nothing like left-sided or right-sided brain thinkers (a popular myth); instead, both sides cooperate in executing significant tasks. 

  • The brain consumes 20% of the total oxygen we breathe in.

  • The pituitary gland at the bottom of the brain controls and regulates other endocrine glands.

  • Paralysis occurs if the connection between the brain and spinal cord is interrupted due to stroke, trauma, or infection. 

  • It is tough to repair some nervous system cells if damaged. It is a challenge for neurologists to regain a 100 % healthy brain after severe injury. 

2. Brain jokes and riddles

The human brain is an essential yet challenging topic in biology. Teachers at the college/university level are always looking for ways to make learning the central nervous system a student-friendly matter. Learning doesn't always need to be straightforward and monotonous. Try coming up with jokes or riddles related to the brain and spinal cord that would help students learn effortlessly. Some of the jokes and riddles you could share with your class are as follows:

  • What happens when your brain sees a friend across the street?

It gives a brain wave.

  • Why did the brain refuse to take a bath?

It didn’t want to be brainwashed.

  • What did the hippocampus say during its retirement speech?

Thanks for the memories.

  • What is the amygdala?

I’m not sure, but I have strong emotions about it for some reason.

Don’t be shy to devise your jokes or witty riddles. This would make learning an entertaining experience for educators and students.

3. Activity-based learning

Activities are always fun to engage students while fulfilling the duty of delivering scientific concepts. Students at all levels like to participate in hands-on and exciting activities. The central nervous system is a content-rich topic, making it easy to develop games around it, like flash cards. Teachers could use printables and encourage students to label the brain's structures. Spending some time designing specific worksheets would make the teaching process easy for students. 

You could divide your students into two groups and initiate a healthy competition. Make all questions circle around the functioning of the brain. For instance, questions like which part of your brain helps you decide in a fight or flight situation. Which part regulates breathing? OR Injury at which part of the brain would cause loss of sight or hearing? Be sure to prepare a list of related questions before you make the competition announcement in the class. 

4. Make it stick with the wordplay

The activities and sharing of fun facts would make students feel at ease with the subject, but they also need tools to memorize the brain and spinal cord for exams. Our brains are accustomed to retaining information better through a story or acronym. Take advantage of the following acronyms or mnemonics to help your students get better grades. 

  • The acronym to easily remember brain lobes is “FTOP: Freud Tore his Pants Off”, pointing towards “Frontal, Temporal, Parietal, and Occipital.”

  • HATCH is the acronym to help learn the brain’s limbic system: “Hippocampus, Amygdala, Thalamus, Cerebellum, and Hypothalamus.”

  • The mnemonic “Pavlov’s Really Frickin’ Mad!” is a fun way to learn parts of the brain stem (Pons, Reticular Formation, and Medulla) by heart.

  • The mnemonic hippo with a campus cannot remember where to go would help students learn that the hippocampus plays a significant role in memories. 

5. Use virtual lab simulations

A virtual laboratory simulation is a great way to teach muscle tissue: structure and function. At Labster, we're dedicated to delivering fully interactive advanced laboratory simulations that utilize gamification elements like storytelling and scoring systems inside an immersive and engaging 3D universe.

Check out Labster's simulations for Introduction to the Central Nervous System: Explore your body’s command center! Virtual Lab. You’ll explore the structures and functions of the brain and spinal cord. You'll also get a chance to help our lab assistant with aphasia.

Introduction to the Central Nervous System: Explore your body’s command center! Virtual Lab GIF

Please take a look at the following snippets taken from the Labster simulations or get in touch to find out how you can start using virtual labs with your students.

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