activity demonstrates developing nerve pathways used to reach
muscles. By moving through the maze students will develop an
understanding that a nerve must undergo a developmental process,
navigating a few obstacles to become correctly connected to
the muscle (or tissue) it innervates.
Science Content Standard C: As a result of their activities
in grades 5-8, all students should develop understanding of
structure and function in living systems. Principles that
underlie this standard include structure and functions of
cells, tissues, organs, systems for movement, control, and
coordination. A behavioral response requires coordination
and communication at many levels, including cells, organ systems,
and whole organisms. (pp. 155-157)
end of 5th grade, students should know that the brain gets
signals from all parts of the body telling what is going on
there. The brain also sends signals to parts of the body
to influence what they do. (p. 136)
Identity Grades 6-8: By the end of the 8th grade, students
should know that human beings have body systems for providing
coordination of body systems. (p. 129) “Students can now
develop more sophisticated understandings of how organs and
organ systems work together.” This includes the carrying of
messages by nerves to help the organism respond to its environment.
“Asking ‘What if?’ questions such as ‘What might happen if
some other parts weren’t there or weren’t working?’ can stimulate
students to reflect on connections among organs.” (p. 137)
By the end of the 8th grade, students should know that interactions
among the senses, nerves, and brain make possible the learning
that enables human beings to cope with changes in their environment.
National Science Teachers Association Scope
Sequence and Coordination
6-8 grade level, the curriculum should emphasize the human
organism.” (p. 48) Students should explore the different
Nebraska Science Standards
5-8 At the middle school level, students expand their scientific
inquiry skills through knowledge, observations, ideas, and
questions. Middle school students will begin to recognize
the relationships between explanation and evidence. They
understand that background knowledge and theories guide the
design of investigations, the types of observations made,
and the interpretation of data. Student investigations will
shape and modify students’ background knowledge. (p. 24)
Unifying Concepts and Processes
By the end of eighth grade, students will develop an understanding
of systems, order, and organization.
and describe integral parts and functions of any system.
and predict the interactions within a system and between systems.
and use classification schemes.
cause and effect relationships within and between systems.”
By the end of eighth grade, students will develop an understanding
of the structure and function in living systems.
and describe the levels of organizations: cells, tissues,
organs, organ systems, whole organisms, and ecosystems.
and describe the specialized function performed by specialized
cells, such as muscular and skeletal, in multicellular organisms.
and describe the internal human body systems.
and explain how disease affects the structure and/or function
of an organism.”
students to walk through the maze carefully and in
a spread out fashion, such as starting one student every 15
seconds. No running.
are not obligated to eat the M & M’s. In the event that
a student can not eat chocolate or sugar, alternate candy
can be provided.
nerve pathway choices and consequences while moving through
a puzzle which concretely demonstrates the nerve development
in a learning module to reiterate the key points and apply
what they have just learned
pathways develop through a process of trial and error
of the nervous system must work together
Science Process Skills
ft. of PVC pipe (1 inch diameter is adequate)
of M & Ms (or other candy)
Teacher Advanced Preparation
the M-n-M maze, lay down 23 2.5 ft pieces of PVC pipe in
the same shapes as in the diagram. This is the bottom layer.
Connect the PVC pipe using joint connector pieces: L-shaped
for the corners, elbow connectors for the ends of the sections,
T-shaped for the straight lines and tri-pronged for the T-shaped
joints. Starting at the end of one section, attach the 5
ft long vertical struts to the bottom layer at the connecting
joints. Because some of the connecting joints do not have
an opening for the vertical strut, those struts need to be
attached to the bottom layer with duct tape. As you attach
the vertical struts, begin constructing the top layer in the
same way the bottom layer was constructed. For stability
attach the top layer to the vertical struts. Again, you will
need to use duct tape to attach the top to some struts.
point, your maze should consist of two free-standing sections.
To increase the structural integrity of the maze, attach the
two sections together using four 2.5 ft pieces of PVC pipe
on the top layer. These pieces will need to be attached with
duct tape and are for stability only. Once the stabilizing
struts are attached, persons over 5 feet tall need to be careful
when going through the maze so they do not hit their heads
on the struts.
the maze structure is up and stable, roll a couple inches
of the sheets over the top layer and secure with safety pins.
The sheets should hang to the floor. Connect the sheets together
with safety pins to prevent gapping. Once the sheets are
hung and secured, attach envelopes containing puzzle pieces
(photocopies) at regular intervals throughout the maze. The
envelopes should not be in direct sight of each other in the
maze and the pieces should be in sequential order. Attach
the envelopes to the sheets with safety pins. Put an envelope
with “wrong turn” pieces at the end of the dead end. These
pieces should instruct the student to turn around and look
for another way out.
discussion can ask the students questions about the nervous
system. These include “What are nerves” and “What do nerves
do?” The students are then instructed that in the following
activity, they need to pretend that they are a nerve inside
a baby’s spinal cord. Their task? To correctly maneuver
through the maze and “hook-up” with their muscle by looking
for clues and landmarks (the puzzle pieces) along the way.
are directed to proceed through the maze, picking up puzzle
pieces along the way. The starting point signifies the spinal
cord. The end, the fingers. The pieces illustrate the anatomical
regions the nerve passes through on its way.
the student moves down a wrong pathway, he or she will have
to backtrack. When the student successfully emerges from
the maze, a brief education module is begun. The purpose
of the Mind-n-Muscle maze education module is to define and
exemplify the project’s outcome objectives to the student
participants. Reiterating the main educational objectives
to the students after participation in the maze will serve
to make these objectives not only more apparent, but also
more memorable and applicable.
involved in the education module will begin with students
gathering their collected puzzle pieces, and gluing them in
the correct order onto a background piece of paper. Instructors
will guide students in this process, while explaining the
importance of gluing each piece in its proper place. After
students have correctly connected the puzzle pieces, they
will be instructed to pick up a bag of candy, and return to
the instructor will explain (in an amount of detail appropriate
to each age group) the process of nerve formation in the brain
and spinal cord during fetal development. It is explained
that each nerve has a specific destination, and must travel
through the “maze of the body” to reach this destination.
Nerves often use clues along the way (chemicals, electrical
signals, etc.) to help direct them along the proper path.
Children are asked to identify some of the clues they used
in traveling through the maze. Instructors then explain what
might happen if a nerve were to reach the wrong destination,
or terminate growth before fully developing. Results of these
circumstances may include paralysis, or uncoordinated movement.
then demonstrate two nerves that control hand musculature
(median nerve and ulnar nerve) by drawing their paths in magic
marker on their arms (or referring to a picture). While pointing
to the median nerve, the instructor explains that this nerve
connects with muscles surrounding the thumb, and helps the
thumb to move. Similarly, the ulnar nerve connects to muscles
around the pinky finger, and helps control its movement.
Children are then instructed to observe and demonstrate how
these nerves work in their own bodies by using their thumb
and pinky fingers to pick up either their bag of candy or
individual pieces of candy, and place them in their mouth.
Finally, children are asked to explain what might happen if
one, or both, of these nerves did not work, or were improperly
education module serves to increase the amount of new knowledge
retained by the participants in many ways. First, explaining
the learning objectives both before and after the maze activity
will help children to both prepare for this new information,
and remember the information after the activity. Second,
demonstrating actual nerve pathways within the human body
will allow children to more concretely visualize the process
of nerve development, and utilization. Finally, allowing
the children to demonstrate the actions of nerves within their
own bodies provides for an increased understanding of the
practical utility of this information, allowing children to
understand its importance in their own lives.
should be able to describe the nerve message pathway from
the brain or spinal cord to the fingers. This includes being
able to explain what might happen if that pathway is interrupted.