University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

What changes our minds? (Drugs)
Foods, drugs, and the brain

This unit develops an in-depth understanding of the nervous system within the context of the effects of various foods and drugs. After being introduced to the subject by video interviews with scientists from the University of Illinois, students develop a hands-on experiment on the effects of various energy drink ingredients on planarian flatworms and use a digital activity to investigate the effects of estrogens on how rats learn. Interactive role-playing activities allow students to understand how chemicals affect neurons and cell communication at a cellular level, and a summative discussion on the FDA regulation of drugs helps students apply their knowledge in scientific arguments.

The lessons focus on research by Dr. Joshua GulleyDr. Paul Gold, and Dr. Donna Korol.

  • The purpose of this lesson is to introduce the driving question: What changes our minds? Through a series of discussions, students generate different types of answers to this question using a series of videos in which people of different backgrounds address the question from varying viewpoints. Through their own discussions and others' responses to the same question, students begin to answer this question from both brain and mind perspectives. Students begin to learn an important concept in psychology and science in that over time and based on experiences, people's understandings and conceptions can and do change.

    Note: The unit, “What changes our minds? Foods, drugs, and the brain,” shares a common theme with the unit “What changes our minds? Toxicants, exposure and the environment”.  This common theme is the investigation of how exogenous chemicals affect organisms.  Lessons 1 and 2 for both units are nearly identical and introduce students to two driving questions that are shared by both units: Lesson 1’s “What changes our minds?” and Lesson 2’s “How do we define what changes our minds?”.  Beginning with Lesson 3 the units branch off separately with one covering concepts related to toxicants, exposure and the environment and the other covering concepts of foods, drugs, and the brain. 

    This Lesson 1 is nearly identical to Lesson 1 in the unit “What changes our minds? Toxicants, exposure, and the environment.”  The only difference between these two lessons is the homework assignment in which students complete a survey of the kinds of chemicals they come into contact with. In this unit, “Foods, drugs, and the brain”, the homework survey contains a list of items that would primarily be considered drugs. In the unit “Toxicants, exposure, and the environment” the homework survey contains primarily items that contain chemicals that would be considered toxicants.

    Materials last updated: Apr 9, 2013
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  • This lesson introduces students to commonly held definitions and categorizations of “drugs” and “toxicants.” Students investigate their own ideas about these words through a categories game where they group terms into the drug, toxin, toxicant, and poison categories based on initial reactions and then a series of questions. After whole class definitions are generated, a video is shown of the University of Illinois scientists explaining their definitions of “drugs” and “toxicants” and why they define these words as such.  Based on the video and subsequent homework reading, students develop a better understanding of the difference between drug and toxicant.

    Note: The unit, “What changes our minds? Foods, drugs, and the brain,” shares a common theme with the unit “What changes our minds? Toxicants, exposure and the environment.” This common theme is the investigation of how exogenous chemicals affect organisms. Lessons 1 and 2 for both units are nearly identical and introduce students to two driving questions that are shared by both units: Lesson 1’s “What changes our minds?” and Lesson 2’s “How do we define what changes our minds?.” Beginning with Lesson 3 the units begin to branch off separately with one covering concepts related to toxicants, exposure and the environment and the other covering concepts of foods, drugs, and the brain.

    Materials last updated: Sep 11, 2014
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  • In this lesson, students are tasked with investigating a popular energy drink and its components: caffeine, B vitamins, sugar, and ginseng.  Students apply various combinations of the components, along with the actual energy drink, to planarians in order to test the behavioral effects of these substances on the planarians.  Using hypothesis development, data collection, and analysis, the students draw conclusions regarding the effects of various drugs and combinations of drugs on planarians and how this might relate to humans.  As an assessment, the students look at the nutrition facts of different popular beverages in order to compare the amounts of drugs in these drinks to that of the energy drink.

    Materials last updated: Sep 11, 2014
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  • In this lesson, students are introduced to Maddy, a high school student interested in learning about neuroscience research in the lab of Professor Donna Korol, a behavioral neuroendocrinologist.  Students are asked to read background information on estrogen’s effects on the reproductive and nervous system and then read a transcript from Dr. Korol’s lab meeting led by her graduate student, Samantha.  Through this lab meeting, students learn about place-response learning experiments and develop a hypothesis relating how ovariectomized rats will learn, with and without estrogen treatment.  After collecting the data from video trials of treated and untreated rats, students graph their results and revisit their hypothesis to evaluate the accuracy of their hypothesis based on the evidence.

    Note: These materials are currently under revision.

    Materials last updated: Nov 10, 2014
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  • Students continue their investigation into how drugs “change the mind” by examining how drugs affect the nervous system.  They make connections to Lessons 3 and 4, where they investigated model organisms’ responses to drugs. In lesson 5, students continue learning about organisms’ potential responses to drugs through observing what happens to humans undergoing a “sweat test.”  This “sweat test” introduces students to the sympathetic nervous system, and how drugs might influence the test. Students continue learning about the nervous system through a series of readings on the different parts and functions of the nervous system.  Using a jigsaw strategy, students discuss how certain drugs can affect the nervous system, specifically caffeine, alcohol, and sugar.  The lesson concludes with a discussion on how drugs affect the nervous system and how this connects to neurons, the cells that make up the nervous system.

    Materials last updated: Sep 11, 2014
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  • In this lesson, students continue to look at how drugs “change our minds” by investigating how drug actions affect the neuron structure, particularly the different components of the neuron.  The students first design a “newron” of a fictional organism, to begin developing an understanding of the functions of an actual neuron.  Next, the students investigate how neurons communicate via the generation of an action potential, and how drugs can affect the action potential.  Finally, students revisit their models of the nervous system they illustrated in Lesson 5 to add more details as to how the nervous system operates within the context of how drugs affect the cells of the nervous system.

    Materials last updated: Sep 11, 2014
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  • In this lesson, students investigate how drugs affect cells at the molecular level by creating clay models and discussing what the models demonstrate. Students begin by creating a model of a resting neuron and what happens when a neurotransmitter sends a message to the cell. Then, they explore how drugs affect this messaging system, using an excitatory drug, nicotine, and an inhibitory drug, hexamethonium, by adding these compounds to the clay models. Finally, the students relate what they have learned to the planarian experiment in Lesson 3 as well as apply their knowledge to describe the mechanism of action of two other drugs, curare and yerba mate tea.

    Materials last updated: Sep 11, 2014
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  • Students explore multiple levels of drug action on the nervous system by looking at different measures: behavioral effects, system-level brain activation, and neuron activity and morphological changes. In addition to learning about the multiple levels of the effects of drugs on the brain, students examine how these effects are similar and different in humans, rats, and planarians. Discussions address why scientists use animal models in the study of drugs, including the benefits and the limitations. Students answer the driving question: How can animal models reflect the effects of drugs at the behavioral, system, and cellular levels?

    Materials last updated: Sep 11, 2014
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  • In this lesson, students revisit the definition of a drug, and consider when and why use of different drugs is regulated in different ways.  Students use information about the types of biological responses to drugs discussed in previous lessons (cellular, physiological, behavioral) to debate the relative benefits and risks of several familiar substances.  They use the outcomes of these debates to better understand how our government classifies existing and newly developed drugs.

    Materials last updated: Sep 11, 2014
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