The Brain: Understanding Neurobiology
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The Brain: Understanding Neurobiology

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Teacher’s Guide

Implementing the Module

The five lessons in this module are designed to be taught in sequence for approximately two weeks as a replacement for part of the standard curriculum in high school biology. The following pages offer general suggestions about using these materials in the classroom; you will find specific suggestions in the procedures provided for each lesson.

What Are the Goals of the Module?

The Brain: Understanding Neurobiology Through the Study of Addiction is designed to help students develop the following major goals associated with scientific literacy:

What Are the Science Concepts and How Are They Connected?

The lessons form a conceptual whole that will provide students with a fundamental knowledge of neurobiology, drug abuse, and drug addiction. Students begin by learning how different areas of the brain regulate specific functions, including feeling pleasure (Lesson 1—The Brain: What’s Going On in There?). Students extend their understanding of the brain by learning how neurons in the brain relay information through electrical and chemical signals (Lesson 2—Neurons, Brain Chemistry, and Neurotransmission). Once students understand how neurons communicate, they explore how drugs of abuse alter the function of the brain by disrupting the signaling process between neurons (Lesson 3—Drugs Change the Way Neurons Communicate). Students can then apply their knowledge of how drugs act at the cellular level to understand that drug addiction is a brain disease that is signified by changes in the brain, some of which may persist a long time or may be permanent (Lesson 4—Drug Abuse and Addiction). Finally, students consider how treatment for the disease of drug addiction compares with that for other chronic diseases (Lesson 5—Drug Addiction Is a Disease, So What Do We Do about It?). The chart Conceptual Flow of the Lessons illustrates the sequence of major concepts addressed by the five lessons.

Conceptual Flow of the Lessons
Lesson Learning Focus* Major Concepts
Lesson 1
The Brain: What’s Going On in There?
Engage/ Explore Specific brain regions control specific brain functions.
Lesson 2
Neurons, Brain Chemistry, and Neurotransmission
Explore/ Explain Neurons convey information using electrical and chemical signals.
Lesson 3
Drugs Change the Way Neurons Communicate
Explain/ Elaborate Drugs affect the biology and chemistry of the brain.
Lesson 4
Drug Abuse and Addiction
Explain/ Elaborate Addiction is a brain disease.
Lesson 5
Drug Addiction Is a Disease—So What Do We Do about It?
Elaborate/ Evaluate Drug addiction is a recurring chronic disease that can be treated effectively, similar to other chronic diseases.
*See How Does the BSCS 5E Instructional Model Promote Active, Collaborative, Inquiry-Based Learning?

How Does the Module Correlate to the National Science Education Standards?

National Science Education Standards iconThe Brain: Understanding Neurobiology Through the Study of Addiction supports teachers in their efforts to reform science education in the spirit of the National Research Council’s 1996 National Science Education Standards (NSES). The content of the module is explicitly standards based: each time a standard is addressed in a lesson, an NSES icon appears in the margin and the applicable standard is identified. The chart Content Standards: Grades 9–12 lists the specific content standards that this module addresses.

Content Standards: Grades 9–12
NSES Content Standard Correlation to The Brain: Understanding Neurobiology Through the Study of Addiction
Standard A: As a result of their activities in grades 9–12, all students should develop
Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry  
  • Identify questions and concepts that guide scientific investigations.
Lessons 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
  • Design and conduct a scientific investigation.
Lesson 3
  • Use technology and mathematics to improve investigations and communications.
Lessons 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
  • Formulate and revise scientific explanations and models using logic and evidence.
Lessons 2, 3, 4, 5
  • Recognize and analyze alternative explanations and models.
Lessons 1, 2, 3, 4
  • Communicate and defend a scientific argument.
Lessons 1, 2, 3
  • Use mathematics in all aspects of scientific inquiry.
Lesson 4
Understandings about scientific inquiry  
  • Scientists rely on technology to enhance the gathering and manipulation of data.
Lessons 1, 4
  • Mathematics is essential in scientific inquiry.
Lessons 3, 4
Standard C: As a result of their activities in grades 9–12, all students should develop understanding of
The cell  
  • Cells have particular structures that underlie their functions.
Lesson 2
  • Most cell functions involve chemical reactions.
Lesson 2
  • Cell functions are regulated.
Lessons 2, 3
  • Cells can differentiate, and complex multicellular organisms are formed as a highly organized arrangement of differentiated cells.
Lessons 1, 2
Behavior of organisms  
  • Multicellular animals have nervous systems that generate behavior.
Lessons 1, 2, 3
  • Organisms have behavioral responses to internal changes and to external stimuli.
Lessons 1, 2, 3
  • Behavioral biology has implications for humans, as it provides links to psychology, sociology, and anthropology.
Lessons 4, 5
Standard E: As a result of their activities in grades 9–12, all students should develop
Understandings about science and technology  
  • Science often advances with the introduction of new technologies.
Lessons 1, 4
Standard F: As a result of their activities in grades 9–12, all students should develop understanding of
Personal and community health  
  • The severity of disease symptoms depends on many factors, such as human resistance and the virulence of the disease-producing organism.
Lessons 4, 5
  • Personal choice concerning fitness and health involves multiple factors.
Lessons 4, 5
  • An individual’s mood and behavior may be modified by substances.
Lessons 1, 4, 5
  • Families serve basic health needs, especially for young children.
Lesson 5
Standard G: As a result of their activities in grades 9–12, all students should develop understanding of
Nature of scientific knowledge  
  • Because all scientific ideas depend on experimental and observational confirmation, all scientific knowledge is, in principle, subject to change as new evidence becomes available.
Lessons 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Historical perspectives  
  • Usually, changes in science occur as small modifications in extant knowledge.
Lesson 1

Teaching Standards

The suggested teaching strategies in all the lessons support you as you work to meet the teaching standards outlined in the National Science Education Standards. The module helps teachers of science plan an inquiry-based science program by providing short-term objectives for students. It also includes planning tools such as the Conceptual Flow of the Lessons chart and the Suggested Timeline and the Abbreviated Timeline for teaching the module. You can use this module to update your curriculum in response to your students’ interest in this topic. The focus on active, collaborative, and inquiry-based learning helps teachers support the development of student understanding and nurture a community of science learners.

The structure of the lessons in this module enables teachers to guide and facilitate learning. All the activities encourage and support student inquiry, promote discourse among students, and challenge students to accept and share responsibility for their learning. Using the BSCS 5E Instructional Model, combined with active, collaborative learning, allows teachers to respond effectively to the diversity of student backgrounds and learning styles. The module is fully annotated, with suggestions for how you can encourage and model the skills of scientific inquiry, as well as the curiosity, openness to new ideas and data, and skepticism that characterize science.

Assessment Standards

You can engage in ongoing assessment of your teaching and of student learning using the variety of assessment components embedded within the module’s structure. The assessment tasks are authentic: they are similar in form to tasks that students will encounter outside the classroom or in which scientists participate. Annotations guide you to these opportunities for assessment and provide answers to questions that can help you analyze student feedback.

How Does the BSCS 5E Instructional Model Promote Active, Collaborative, Inquiry-Based Learning?

Because learning does not occur through a process of passive absorption, the lessons in this module promote active learning. Students are involved in more than listening and reading. They are developing skills, analyzing and evaluating evidence, experiencing and discussing, and talking to their peers about their own understandings. Students work collaboratively with others to solve problems and plan investigations. Many students find that they learn better when they work with others in a collaborative environment than they can when they work alone in a competitive environment. When all this active, collaborative learning is directed toward inquiry science, students succeed in making their own discoveries. They ask questions, observe, analyze, explain, draw conclusions, and ask new questions. These inquiry experiences include both those that involve students in direct experimentation and those in which students develop explanations through critical and logical thinking.

This view of students as active thinkers who construct their own understanding out of interactions with phenomena, the environment, and other individuals is based on the theory of constructivism. A constructivist view of learning recognizes that students need time to

This module provides a built-in structure for creating a constructivist classroom: the BSCS 5E Instructional Model. This model sequences the learning experiences so that students have the opportunity to construct their understanding of a concept over time. The model leads students through five phases of learning that are easily described using five words that begin with the letter “E”: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. The following paragraphs illustrate how the 5Es are implemented across the lessons in this module.


Students come to learning situations with prior knowledge. This knowledge may or may not be congruent with the concepts presented in this module. The Engage lesson provides the opportunity for teachers to find out what students already know or what they think they know about the topic and concepts to be developed.

The Engage lesson in this module, Lesson 1—The Brain: What’s Going On in There?, is designed to


In the Explore phase of the module, Lesson 1—The Brain: What’s Going On in There? and Lesson 2—Neurons, Brain Chemistry, and Neurotransmission, students explore the function of the brain both as a body organ and as a collection of interacting cells. The lessons provide a common set of experiences within which students can compare their thoughts about what they are observing and experiencing

During the Explore phase of the lessons, students


The Explain components of Lesson 2—Neurons, Brain Chemistry, and Neurotransmission and Lesson 3—Drugs Change the Way Neurons Communicate provide opportunities for students to connect their previous experiences and to begin to make conceptual sense of the main ideas of the module. This stage also allows for the introduction of formal language, scientific terms, and content information that might make students’ previous experiences easier to describe and explain.

In the Explain lessons in this module, students


In Elaborate lessons, students apply or extend the concepts in new situations and relate their previous experiences to new ones.

In the Elaborate lessons in this module, parts of Lessons 3 and 4, Drug Abuse and Addiction, students


The Evaluate lesson is the final stage of the instructional model, but it provides only a “snapshot” of what the students understand and how far they have come from where they began. In reality, the evaluation of students’ conceptual understanding and ability to use skills begins with the Engage lesson and continues throughout each stage of the model, as described in the following section. Combined with the students’ written work and performance of tasks throughout the module, however, the Evaluate lesson can serve as a summative assessment of what students know and can do.

The Evaluate lesson in this module, Lesson 5, Drug Addiction Is a Disease—So What Do We Do about It?, provides opportunities for students to

To review the relationship of the BSCS 5E Instructional Model to the concepts presented in the module, see the chart Conceptual Flow of the Lessons.

When a teacher uses the BSCS 5E Instructional Model, he or she engages in practices that are very different from those of a traditional teacher. In response, students also participate in their learning in ways that are different from those seen in a traditional classroom. The charts What the Teacher Does and What the Students Do outline these differences.

What the Teacher Does
Stage That is consistent with the BSCS 5E Instructional Model That is inconsistent with the BSCS 5E Instructional Model
  • Piques students’ curiosity and generates interest
  • Determines students’ current understanding (prior knowledge) of a concept or idea
  • Invites students to express what they think
  • Invites students to raise their own questions
  • Introduces vocabulary
  • Explains concepts
  • Provides definitions and answers
  • Provides closure
  • Discourages students’ ideas and questions
  • Encourages student-to-student interaction
  • Observes and listens to the students as they interact
  • Asks probing questions to redirect the students’ investigations when necessary
  • Asks questions to help students make sense of their experiences
  • Provides time for students to puzzle through problems
  • Provides answers
  • Proceeds too rapidly for students to make sense of their experiences
  • Provides closure
  • Tells the students that they are wrong
  • Gives information and facts that solve the problem
  • Leads the students step-by-step to a solution
  • Encourages students to use their common experiences and data from the Engage and Explore lessons to develop explanations
  • Asks questions that help students express understanding and explanations
  • Requests justification (evidence) for students’ explanations
  • Provides time for students to compare their ideas with those of others and perhaps to revise their thinking
  • Introduces terminology and alternative explanations after students express their ideas
  • Neglects to solicit students’ explanations
  • Ignores data and information students gathered from previous lessons
  • Dismisses students’ ideas
  • Accepts explanations that are not supported by evidence
  • Introduces unrelated concepts or skills
  • Focuses students’ attention on conceptual connections between new and former experiences
  • Encourages students to use what they have learned to explain a new event or idea
  • Reinforces students’ use of scientific terms and descriptions previously introduced
  • Asks questions that help students draw reasonable conclusions from evidence and data
  • Neglects to help students connect new and former experiences
  • Provides definitive answers
  • Tells students that they are wrong
  • Leads students step-by-step to a solution
  • Observes and records as students demonstrate their understanding of concept(s) and performance of skills
  • Provides time for students to compare their ideas with those of others and perhaps to revise their thinking
  • Interviews students as a means of assessing their developing understanding
  • Encourages students to assess their own progress
  • Tests vocabulary words, terms, and isolated facts
  • Introduces new ideas or concepts
  • Creates ambiguity
  • Promotes open-ended discussion unrelated to the concept or skill

What the Students Do
Stage That is consistent with the BSCS 5E Instructional Model That is inconsistent with the BSCS 5E Instructional Model
  • Become interested in and curious about the concept or topic
  • Express current understanding of a concept or idea
  • Raise questions such as, What do I already know about this? What do I want to know about this? How could I find out?
  • Ask for the “right” answer
  • Offer the “right” answer
  • Insist on answers or explanations
  • Seek closure
  • “Mess around” with materials and ideas
  • Conduct investigations in which they observe, describe, and record data
  • Try different ways to solve a problem or answer a question
  • Acquire a common set of experiences so they can compare results and ideas
  • Compare their ideas with those of others
  • Let others do the thinking and exploring (passive involvement)
  • Work quietly with little or no interaction with others (only appropriate when exploring ideas or feelings)
  • Stop with one solution
  • Demand or seek closure
  • Explain concepts and ideas in their own words
  • Base their explanations on evidence acquired during previous investigations
  • Become involved in student-to-student conversations in which they debate their ideas
  • Record their ideas and current understanding
  • Reflect on and perhaps revise their ideas
  • Express their ideas using appropriate scientific language
  • Compare their ideas with what scientists know and understand
  • Propose explanations from “thin air” with no relationship to previous experiences
  • Bring up irrelevant experiences and examples
  • Accept explanations without justification
  • Ignore or dismiss other plausible explanations
  • Propose explanations without evidence to support their ideas
  • Make conceptual connections between new and former experiences
  • Use what they have learned to explain a new object, event, organism, or idea
  • Use scientific terms and descriptions
  • Draw reasonable conclusions from evidence and data
  • Communicate their understanding to others
  • Ignore previous information or evidence
  • Draw conclusions from “thin air”
  • Use terminology inappropriately and without understanding
  • Demonstrate what they understand about the concept(s) and how well they can implement skills
  • Compare their current thinking with that of others and perhaps revise their ideas
  • Assess their own progress by comparing their current understanding with their prior knowledge
  • Ask new questions that take them deeper into a concept or topic area
  • Disregard evidence or previously accepted explanations in drawing conclusions
  • Offer only yes-or-no answers or memorized definitions or explanations as answers
  • Fail to express satisfactory explanations in their own words
  • Introduce new, irrelevant topics

How Does the Module Support Ongoing Assessment?

Because teachers will use this module in a variety of ways and at a variety of points in their curriculum, the most appropriate mechanism for assessing student learning is one that occurs informally at various points within the five lessons, rather than something that happens more formally just once at the end of the module. Accordingly, integrated within the lessons are specific assessment components. These embedded assessment opportunities include one or more of the following strategies:

These strategies allow the teacher to assess a variety of aspects of the learning process, such as students’ prior knowledge and current understanding, problem-solving and criticalthinking skills, level of understanding of new information, communication skills, and ability to synthesize ideas and apply understanding to a new situation.

assessment iconAn assessment icon and an annotation that describes the aspect of learning being assessed appear in the margin beside each step that includes an embedded assessment.

How Can Controversial Topics Be Handled in the Classroom?

Teachers sometimes feel that the discussion of values is inappropriate in the science classroom or that it detracts from the learning of “real” science. The lessons in this module, however, are based on the conviction that there is much to be gained by involving students in analyzing issues of science, technology, and society. Society expects all citizens to participate in the democratic process, and our educational system must provide opportunities for students to learn to deal with contentious issues with civility, objectivity, and fairness. Likewise, students need to learn that science intersects with life in many ways.

In this module, students have a variety of opportunities to discuss, interpret, and evaluate basic science and health issues, some in the light of values and ethics. As students encounter issues about which they feel strongly, some discussions might become controversial. How much controversy develops will depend on many factors, such as how similar the students are with respect to socioeconomic status, perspectives, value systems, and religious preferences. In addition, the language and attitude of the teacher factor into the flow of ideas and the quality of exchange among the students.

The following guidelines may help teachers facilitate discussions that balance factual information with feelings.

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