Psychology in Action

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Process: Arrange the class in groups around 4 or 5 student desks (or tables) aligned left to right with some spacing. Each desk has two parallel masking tape strips 25% in from front and back respectively. Each group has six pennies, six nickels and six dimes. The tape strips represent the axonic membrane. Place three nickels (sodium ions) in the top and 3 in the bottom area, representing the “outside” areas. Place six pennies (protein ions) and six dimes (potassium ions) in the “inside” of the membrane. First , each group creates the ionic firing pattern by themselves. Resting Phase: Each group keeps a tally of the electrical charge for each phase. For simplicity’s sake all coins are considered to carry “one” charge. The silver coins are positive. The copper coins are negative. Have the group add up the charge on the outside, the charge on the inside and the charge differential between the two layers. Action Phase : Get each group member involved in quickly moving the nickels into the membrane. Again add up the charges and calculate the differential. As the two positive ions repel each other the students now move the dimes out to reduce the charge differential. Again have them track the charge and show how the sodium potassium pump works to re-create the resting potential by having them slowly move nickels out and dimes in. Second , the signal travels across the axon. Starting at the left desk the first group moves their nickels into the membrane. As soon as the charge is sufficient for the action potential, the group on the adjoining desk moves their nickels in, while the first group moves out their dimes (potassium ions) and so on down the line. When the action potential voltage arrives at the last desk in line, they tap the person with the squirt gun and s/he squirts the gun (neurotransmitter release). Synaptic Calculus : After the action potential propagation has been understood you can add a desk to the left and explain this represents the incoming signals. Give them a non-transparent bag that contains a mix of coins. The students grab a handful of coins. Each coin represents a signal received by a dendrite. In each round eight coins are placed on the desk. The students must calculate the charge after each coin. Whenever the charge reaches 4 (or more) positive “units” the voltage activation threshold has been achieved and the nerve fires by tapping the desk to its right. Be sure to complete the full eight coin Instructor's Resource Guide Chapter 2 Page 74
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layout with each round to show that more positive charges will still result in the same signal being sent. Like a door bell the pressure is either sufficient to ring or not. The rule is that no coins can leave their respective desk. The signal propagates but the ions remain in place. Psychoactive Drugs: You can add to the preceding set up by supplying each group with a group of foreign coins (pennies from Canada, Germany etc.) that have similar color and shape to American coins.
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