Nervous system activity

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Nervous system: organ system made of a network of specialized cells called neurons that coordinate the actions of an animal and transmit signals to and from different parts of the body... more

Neuron: a special cell which is part of the nervous system. Neurons work together with other cells to pass chemical and electrical signals throughout the body... more

A Nervous Experiment: For Teachers

It is often a challenge to add a human anatomy and physiology activity to the classroom that is easy to implement and is also inexpensive. I have used this experiment with students to test the sensitivity of nerves located in different parts of the body.

Tips for Classroom Implementation

Time required: As little as 20 minutes if the concept has already been introduced and the data table is supplied.

Classroom set up: Supply one paper clip per student and at least one ruler per table. (Students can share rulers.) Students should record their own data.  


  • This is an easy experiment for students to perform individually, but most students prefer help from a partner. If done in partners, warn students to poke gently. The first time I did this experiment, one of my students ended up with a bloody nose from an ill placed paperclip poke (and I teach high school students). Ever since then, I have warned students. They scoff and roll their eyes, but there haven’t been any more injuries.
  • Certain students may insist they feel two points even when only one point is used. For these students, working with a partner may work best so they can concentrate on what they feel rather than what they are doing. Sharing data as a class will also help these students relate what they feel to what everyone else experienced.


  • More advanced students should be able to produce the data table on their own without the pdf printout or instructions.
  • Have students write a formal hypothesis explaining their reasoning and conclusion explaining their data and why it either supported or did not support their initial hypothesis.
  • This experiment could lead to follow up questions or experiments giving the students the opportunity to design and implement their own experiment. Examples include testing which finger is most sensitive, comparisons to other parts of the body including feet or toes, or reactions to hot and cold.


  1. Students will investigate the action of their nervous system.
  2. Students will collect and compare data from three different parts of the body.
  3. Students will interpret data and form conclusions.

Next Generation Science Standards

Life Sciences Disciplinary Core Idea Standards:
( - Appendix E)

  • LS1.A Structure and Function:
    3-5: organisms have internal and external structures that allow for growth, survival, behavior, and reproduction
    6-8: cells work together to form tissues and organs specialized for body functions
    9-12: organisms have systems of specialized cells to perform essential functions with feedback mechanisms.
  • LS1.D Information Processing
    K-2: Animals sense and communication information and respond to inputs
    3-5: Different sense receptors are specialized for particular kinds of information
    6-8: Sense receptors transmit signals through nerve cells to the brain, which results in behaviors or memories

Science and Engineering Practices:
( - Appendix F)

  • Asking questions and defining problems (Related to Common Core RST 7, WHST 7)
    6-8: Ask questions that arise from careful observation, determine independent and dependent variables, and empirical evidence
    9-12: Formulate, refine and evaluate empirically testable questions and design problems using models and simulations
  • Planning and carrying out investigation (Related to Common Core RST 3)
    3-5: Conduct investigation with control variables, make predictions about changing variables, and make observations/measures to produce data to evaluate predictions
    6-8: Conduct an investigation with multiple variables, collect and evaluate data
  • Analyzing and interpreting the data (Related to Common Core RST7, RST9)
    K-2: Record and share observations
    3-5: Introduce quantitative approaches, using multiple trials, represent data in tables or graphs, compare and contrast data
  • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions (Related to Common Core RST1, RST8)
    K-2: Make observations to construct evidence-based accounts for natural phenomenon
    3-5: Use evidence in constructing explanations of observed relationships between specific variables

Common Core Standards

Common Core Reading Anchor #3;
Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

RST.6-8.3: “follow precisely multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurement or performing technical tasks.”

Nervous Experiment: Follow the procedure written in experiment and record results, repeat procedure for each body part. For advanced students, design and implement their own procedure, as well as analyze results.

Common Core Writing Anchor #1
Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

WHST.6-8.1: “…Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant, accurate data and evidence that demonstrate an understanding of the topic or text, using credible sources…”

Nervous Experiment: Use logical reasoning and relevant evidence from Nervous Journey text and experimental results to determine if hypotheses were supported. 

Common Core Writing Anchor #7
Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

WHST.6-8.7: …answer a question (including self-generated question)…generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration

WHST.9-12.7: “…narrow or broaden inquiry when appropriate…”

Nervous Experiment: Follow the procedure written in experiment and record results, repeat procedure for each body part. For advanced students, design and implement their own procedure, as well as analyze results.

Arizona Science Standards

Strand 1: Inquiry Process

Concept 1:

  • K-4 Observations, Questions, and Hypotheses  Observe, ask questions, and make predictions.
  • 5-8 Observations, Questions, and Hypotheses; Formulate predictions, questions, or hypotheses based on observations. Locate appropriate resources.
  • HS Observations, Questions, and Hypotheses  Formulate predictions, questions, or hypotheses based on  observations. Evaluate appropriate resources.

Concept 2:

  • K-4 Scientific Testing (Investigating and Modeling)  Participate in planning and conducting investigations, and recording data.
  • 5-8; Scientific Testing (Investigating and Modeling)  Design and conduct controlled investigations.
  • HS; Scientific Testing (Investigating and Modeling)  Design and conduct controlled investigations.

Concept 3:

  • K-4 Analysis and Conclusions  Organize and analyze data; compare to predictions.
  • 5-8 Analysis and Conclusions  Analyze and interpret data to explain correlations and results; formulate new questions.
  • HS  Analysis, Conclusions, and Refinements  Evaluate experimental design, analyze data to explain results and to propose further investigations.  Design models.

Strand 4: Life Science

Concept 1:

  • K-4  Characteristics of Organisms  Understand that basic structures in plants and animals serve a function.
  • 5-8  Structure and Function in Living Systems  Understand the relationships between structures and functions of organisms.

Concept 5:

  • HS  Matter, Energy, and Organization in Living Systems (Including Human Systems)  Understand the organization of living systems, and the role of energy within those systems

Brittany Sanner is a Robert Noyce scholar and a graduate of Arizona State University. She teaches biology and chemistry at Central High School in Phoenix Arizona.

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Bibliographic details:

  • Article: Nervous System Activity For Teachers
  • Author(s): Brittany Sanner
  • Publisher: Arizona State University School of Life Sciences Ask A Biologist
  • Site name: ASU - Ask A Biologist
  • Date published: July 23, 2012
  • Date accessed: April 16, 2021
  • Link:

APA Style

Brittany Sanner. (2012, July 23). Nervous System Activity For Teachers. ASU - Ask A Biologist. Retrieved April 16, 2021 from

American Psychological Association. For more info, see

Chicago Manual of Style

Brittany Sanner. "Nervous System Activity For Teachers". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 23 July, 2012.

MLA 2017 Style

Brittany Sanner. "Nervous System Activity For Teachers". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 23 Jul 2012. ASU - Ask A Biologist, Web. 16 Apr 2021.

Modern Language Association, 7th Ed. For more info, see
Sensory experiment

Easy to find and inexpensive tools provide a fun way for students to experiment on nerve sensitivity. 

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