Introductory Story for Module 3
Jay and Latisha are sitting in the chairs in the Brain Power! Club house. They’re taking turns checking each other’s reflexes using the rubber hammer doctors use on patients’ knees.
Latisha says, “You have good reflexes, Jay.”
Jay responds, “A sign of someone ready to kick off a serious campaign to become a future Junior Scientist!”
“It would be fun to be Junior Scientists like the Brain Power! Club kids, wouldn’t it?” Latisha says. “I like it here in their club house. And I think that if we do a good job with our next mission, we might get promoted!”
Corty appears, emerging from a nearby computer monitor. He says, “Oh, wow, that’s just what I have for you, a mission! You are going to compete with the Junior Scientists to see who can solve more missions.”
Latisha and Jay are both really excited.
Corty says, “The Junior Scientists solved the last one, so this is up to you. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is learning about neurotransmission. It’s the process that takes information to and from the brain.”
Latisha and Jay look at each other confused and a little concerned. Latisha says, “I must be having a neurotransmission breakdown because I don’t get it.” Jay agrees.
Corty asks them for examples on how to send information.
The kids respond, “By telephone, e-mail, instant message, letters…”
Corty says, “Right. But brains don’t have telephones or computers. Well, I mean, I do, but I’m…different.” The kids totally agree.
Corty says, “Typical brains have to find another way to communicate with the rest of their bodies. And they do it by using the synapses between neurons—or brain cells—as a kind of Internet, like when you send Instant Messages.”
The kids are still confused. Corty says, “Maybe it’s time to call in an expert.”
A scientist named Elliot Stein appears on the computer screen and explains neurotransmission. The kids see a 3-D animation showing neurotransmitters being released from one neuron into the space between neurons, called the synapse. The neurotransmitters cross the synapse between the neurons and then attach to the receptors on the next neuron. Then the computer screen goes blank.
Corty says, “There you go! Your mission is to design a board game to teach other kids about neurotransmission.”
Latisha says, “Whoa!” Jay says, “Cool! Hard, but cool.”
Corty says, “Of course, board games are best when played in teams.” He looks at the kids and clears his throat meaningfully. The kids look at each other and roll their eyes.
Stop here until students have designed a game.
Jay and Latisha work hard on their board game. They put the finishing touches on it and draw a picture of Corty on the board. Jay makes the final stroke and says, “Ta-dah – finished!”
Latisha explains how to play the game, “Each player is a neuron, a brain cell. See how the pieces are shaped like neurons? The goal is to be the first to get an important piece of information to the brain.”
Jay chimes in, “At the beginning of the game, each player finds out, from a booklet, what that piece of information is. Mine is that I’m being chased by a hungry lion. I need to let my brain know, so it can tell my body what to do—Ruuuun!”
Latisha says, “Mine is that I’m hungry for pizza, and I have to get that information to my brain so that my body knows how to get a slice—hold the anchovies, please.”
Jay picks up two stacks of cards and says, “There are two sets of cards.” He points to one stack and takes a card from it. “This set tells the players how many spaces to move their pieces. This one says ‘Neurotransmitters were just released into the synapse. Move ahead two spaces’.
Latisha points to the other stack of cards and says, “Then there’s another set of cards called “Challenge Cards,” with questions to test the players’ knowledge of neurotransmitters. This one asks you to name the parts of a neuron. If you get it right, you spin again.”
Corty says, “Well, I have a question for you: What part of the brain would help you if we’re taking a test in math class?” Jay and Latisha look at each other and shrug.
Corty says, “Which part of the brain helped you make up this game?” They shake their heads because they don’t know. Corty says, “Don’t know? Well, this is a good game, but it only tells half the story. You know where you’d find the other half?”
Latisha says, “I know. The Brain Power! kids had a mission that taught them about the brain.”
Corty says, “Now your synapses are firing. You need to work together to make this game a real brain teaser.”
Jay says, “Well, it would be more fun to play with four.”
Corty says, “Maybe you can do your next mission together. You’ll need to know about the brain and neurotransmission to solve it.”