CT scans of the human brain

Lesson ideas for ‘Big Picture: Inside the Brain’

Use our issue in the classroom

This issue explores how imaging research has changed the way we look inside one of our most fascinating organs, the brain. Here, we suggest some related activities you could do with your students. If you do any of these activities, we’d love to hear from you! Please send any materials or comments to bigpicture@wellcome.ac.uk.

Animation on the nervous system and synapses

Our animation on the action potential is about how your brain sends messages all over your body.

Potential follow-up questions and activities include:

  • The axon shown in the animation is non-myelinated – what would the difference be in a myelinated axon, and why?
  • The animation shows the role of neurotransmitters in nerve transmission. Name two neurotransmitters. (Hint: The ‘Big Picture’ poster ‘Inside the brain’ has a ‘Know your neurotransmitters’ section.)
  • Plot a graph of an action potential showing time vs potential difference (an example can be seen here).
  • What are the two ways the animation mentions that prevent continuous action potentials being generated?
  • What is the name given to the period of time where the stimulated area of the membrane recovers from the action potential being generated?
  • What does the ‘all-or-nothing law’ for action potentials mean?

A quiz and more information about action potentials can be found here.

Debate and discuss the brain

The ethical questions in this issue of ‘Big Picture’ explore some of the issues raised by developments in brain imaging, as well as issues raised by changes within the brain.

For instance, is it OK for a student to take ‘smart drugs’ when revising for exams?

And should patients be held responsible for their actions if a brain injury has altered their behaviour?

You could lead a discussion exploring what students think about these issues, ask students to consider what different people (patients, insurers, doctors, teachers and so on) would think about the questions or use the situations outlined as the starting point for a debate.

Fast Fact challenge

‘Big Picture’ contains Fast Facts, such as “Our brains form a million new connections every second of our lives”. Challenge your students to find more Fast Facts about the brain and to reference where they found them. They could even make their own infographic with the facts they find! 

Student project or investigation

Students doing an EPQ (Extended Project Qualification), Scottish Advanced Highers or an International Baccalaureate can use ‘Big Picture’ and the related links as part of their research projects and investigations. One example may be to research a particular condition, such as aphasia. We have produced a film for ‘Big Picture’ that follows a young aphasia victim as they talk about a stroke they suffered and go for a brain scan. More information about strokes is available from the Stroke Association’s website

We also have a whole issue about doing EPQs, packed with advice for both teachers and students. 

Axon game homework

In the game Axon, you click on protein targets to grow your neuron, connecting new brain regions. Challenge students to do this for homework, and see who can grow the longest neuron.

Lead image:

Thomas Guignard/Flickr CC BY NC

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Inside the Brain’ in January 2013 and reviewed and updated in November 2017.

Inside the Brain
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development