The Brain: Understanding Neurobiology Through the Study of Addiction has several objectives. The first is to help students understand major concepts in neurobiology. The brain controls everything a person does, including regulating breathing and heart rate, movement, thought, and emotions. The module seeks to provide students with a fundamental knowledge of how the neurons in the brain convey information to regulate these diverse functions.
The second objective is to provide students with factual information on how drugs of abuse alter the function of the brain. Drugs of abuse exert their effects by altering the communication between neurons. Some of the changes resulting from drug abuse are short-term while others are long-term, and potentially permanent. At some point in drug abuse, the brain changes and the person abusing drugs becomes addicted. The addicted person has a compulsive need to continue to take drugs despite adverse physical, social, and emotional consequences. Scientists continue to investigate what changes occur in the brain when a person becomes addicted to drugs.
Science plays an important role in assisting individuals as they make choices about enhancing personal and public welfare. In this module, students see that science provides evidence that can be used to support ways of understanding and treating human disease. In addition to being the world’s largest supporter of research into drug abuse and addiction, the National Institute on Drug Abuse is committed to ensuring the rapid and effective dissemination of research findings to improve drug abuse and addiction prevention, treatment, and policy. This module is one way to provide this information to the public.
The lessons in this module encourage students to think about the relationships among knowledge, choice, behavior, and human health in this way:
Knowledge (what is known and not known) + Choice = Power
Power + Behavior = Enhanced Human Health
An additional objective of this module is to encourage students to think in terms of these relationships now and as they grow older.
One challenge for science teachers is to make science meaningful to high school students. Students at this age want to see the relevance of the material to their lives. This module presents fundamental principles of neurobiology in relation to drugs of abuse. This link to drugs grabs students’ attention because, in today’s world, drugs affect virtually all students either directly or indirectly. This real-life context engages students and makes neurobiology something more than just another topic to memorize for biology class. They can apply the information to make decisions about their lives.
“Excellent information on drug actions and neurobiology presented in an inquiry format. Students handled difficult concepts because of the way they were presented.”—Field-test Teacher
“It appears that students really did learn the material on neurotransmission and drug addiction. I actually heard one student kidding another about their dopamine levels! Another student was in my room after school explaining to an underclassman how information gets from one part of the body to the other—complete with diagrams on the board.”—Field-test Teacher
“The topic is of interest to students. The information is current and goes beyond what is available in textbooks.”—Field-test Teacher
The Brain: Understanding Neurobiology Through the Study of Addiction meets many of the criteria used to assess teachers and their programs.
In addition, the module provides a means for professional development. Teachers can engage in new and different teaching practices without completely overhauling their entire program. In Designing Professional Development for Teachers of Science and Mathematics1, Susan Loucks-Horsley et al. write that replacement modules, such as The Brain: Understanding Neurobiology Through the Study of Addiction, can “offer a window through which teachers can get a glimpse of what new teaching strategies look like in action.” By experiencing a short-term module like this one, teachers can “change how they think about teaching and embrace new approaches that stimulate students to problem solve, reason, investigate, and construct their own meaning for the content.” The use of a replacement module like this can encourage reflection and discussion and stimulate teachers to improve their practices by focusing on student learning through inquiry.
The following table correlates topics often included in the high school curriculum with the lessons presented in this module. This information is presented to help teachers make decisions about incorporating this material into their curriculum.
|Topics||Lesson 1||Lesson 2||Lesson 3||Lesson 4||Lesson 5|
|Localization of brain function|
|General functions of specific brain areas|
|Anatomy of the neuron|
|Mechanism of drug action on neurons|
|Environmental, behavioral, and genetic influences on addiction|
|Addiction as a chronic disease|