The Homunculus Dance @ Skyridge

Our enthusiastic Noggin crew joined Ms. Morrisey and three of her very knowledgeable middle school classes this last Friday from 9:20 to 1:50.

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The students were well prepared with questions, and already knew a surprising amount about the brain.  We gamely discussed everything from why we sleep and dream, to what happens with concussions and the nature of headaches.

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We also showed them neurons and discussed how they work.  Neurons wire into networks, and carry information, including information about what part of your body you want to move.  There is an important “map” of your body in your frontal lobe, but it’s a strange looking map, with more neurons assigned to your face, and hands than, for example, your lower back…

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This is the homunculus (Latin for “little man”), and it helps explain why we have much better motor control of our faces (where over FORTY separate muscles let us smile, grimace, frown..!) and hands.  Many more neurons control those muscles than muscles in our legs, or lower back.  But look more closely at the map, and you’ll notice that it’s not only distorted, but also discontinuous  –  your hands, for example, are right on top of your neck!  Students enjoyed exploring this unique cortical organization through “the homunculus dance…”

And all this dancing, smiling, movement happens because information flows electrically along specific neuron “wires” linking your body with your brain..!

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We talked about more neural networks in the frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital lobes, as well as in the cerebellum, including what their functions are, why they’re important, and how they communicate with each other.

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We then broke into five groups, each relating to a lobe of the brain (plus the cerebellum and the brainstem). We then cut out sheets of paper illustrating the four main lobes and cerebellum.  We reviewed some of the information we discussed and then had them draw visual representations of the functions each area was associated with. These were then re-assembled as individualized “brain maps,” and are now proudly displayed in Ms. Morrisey’s classroom.

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For the finale we brought out the real brains…

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Even Mr. Smith, the school principal, enjoyed holding Noggin brains…  Go Skyhawks!

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We look forward to returning to Ms. Gilman’s classes next week to do this again!

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