PostedWednesday, October 23, 2019 at 6:37 PM
Bring neural engineering into your middle school science classroom with this STEAM curriculum unit! Students will learn about the basic structure and function of the nervous system, explore the relationship between electrical circuits and the nervous system, and then construct a simple, sensory substitution device with Arduino microprocessors and breadboards, used in aiding individuals with a missing or impaired sense. After building the device, students will test and present a work-in-progress prototype to peers, and then modify the design based on the test results and peer feedback. Finally, students will explore other perspectives, including the needs of end-users, budget, type of materials, ease of use, maintenance, and accessibility. These lessons were developed by Phelana Pang of Seattle Girls School as part of the Research Experience for Teachers program at the Center for Neurotechnology (University of Washington).
The full unit, including lesson plans and supporting student handouts and teacher resources, is available from the Center for Neurotechnology's Research Experience for Teachers program website.
NGSS Alignment: The lessons in this unit build toward the following bundle of NGSS Performance Expectations: MS-LS1-8, MS-ETS1-1, MS-ETS1-2, MS-ETS1-3, MS-ETS1-4.
The nervous system is an integral part of the human body. It receives information from the environment through sensory neurons, processes that information, and results in a response through motor neurons. Communication in neural networks occurs through both electrical and chemical signals. Similarly, electrical circuits can involve sensory input (temperature, pressure, light), processing of the input using logic gates, and a resulting output (light, motor). This parallel of the nervous system and electronic circuits is central to the field of neural engineering. Engineers identify a problem based on a need (in this case, the loss of a sense), design solutions (sensory substitution), test and ...
The nervous system is an integral part of the human body. It receives information from the environment through sensory neurons, processes that information, and results in a response through motor neurons. Communication in neural networks occurs through both electrical and chemical signals. Similarly, electrical circuits can involve sensory input (temperature, pressure, light), processing of the input using logic gates, and a resulting output (light, motor). This parallel of the nervous system and electronic circuits is central to the field of neural engineering. Engineers identify a problem based on a need (in this case, the loss of a sense), design solutions (sensory substitution), test and evaluate their solutions, and modify their solutions. When senses are impaired or not functioning, devices can be designed to aid with sensory substitution.
This lesson was developed by Phelana Pang (Seattle Girls School, Seattle, WA) and piloted with her students for multiple years. It is designed as an intensive 4-5 week STEAM unit for middle school classrooms, but could be appropriate for high school with some modifications.
In Lesson One: Introduction to Neuroscience, students will be introduced to the parts and functions of the nervous system and neurons.
In Lesson Two: Robot Gripper Hand, students will experiment with an electromyography (EMG) controlled robot gripper hand to see that electrical signals generated by muscles can be used for electrical circuits. Students will also draw similarities between the sensory inputs and motor outputs of the nervous system with the inputs and outputs of a circuit.
In Lesson Three: Prosthetic Fingers, students will create a silicone model of their finger to consider constraints in engineering a prosthetic device.
In Lesson Four: Neural Engineering and Sensory Substitution, students will differentiate between and provide examples of assistive devices and neuroprosthetics. Students will explain the basics of sensory substitution.
In Lesson Five: End-Users and Ethics, students will discuss the ethics of neural engineering. They will consider and examine the perspectives of various stakeholders and end-users. Students will brainstorm ideas for sensory substitution devices with end-users and ethics in mind.
In Lesson Six: Circuits, students will learn about the basic components of a circuit. Students will design circuits using Snap Circuit kits, online animations, and classroom materials and draw corresponding circuit diagrams. Students will begin exploring control of output using various inputs (e.g., photoresistors, motor) in a circuit.
In Lesson Seven: Breadboards, students will explore how breadboards work and create simple circuits.
In Lesson Eight: Introduction to Arduinos, students will be introduced to the parts of an Arduino and basic Arduino code. They will upload standard sketches and set up the correlating breadboard circuits.
In Lesson Nine: Designing a Sensory Substitution Device, students will discuss engineering practices, identify criteria and constraints in a project, recognize that the steps involved in designing a solution is not necessarily linear and that optimizing a solution requires rounds of testing, feedback, and modification. Students will design and program their models of sensory substitution devices.
In Lesson Ten: Presenting and Evaluating the Design, students will create a poster to showcase their sensory substitution device design. Students will use pugh charts to evaluate the models created by different teams.