How do I learn

About this lesson

We’ve structured this lesson around five actions, each of which draws on important principles about learning and the brain. If you’re here looking for information, jump down to perspectives and resources for select expert opinions. However, moving through each step will make the lesson more memorable for you.

  1. Challenge
  2. Initial Thoughts
  3. Perspectives and Resources
  4. Revised Thinking
  5. Report Out


Why a challenge?

We learn best through stories and connections. A concrete challenge posed at the beginning of the lesson helps you to understand what you’re learning in real-world terms.

What are neurons and how do they interact?

Scientists have been challenged by the workings of the brain for centuries.

Until the microscope became a basic scientific tool, they could only study the parts of the brain visible to the naked eye. Some neuroscientists use microscopes and other technologies to study individual cells and their functions.

The neuron is one of the most special and fundamental cells to the structure and workings of the brain. The brain is made up of literally 10s of billions of neurons. Other cell types are, of course, important for brain and nervous system function, but the Neuron has been one of the most well researched and unique.

Your challenge:

To visualize and explain to learners what a neuron is.

Here are some guiding questions that we will consider throughout this module:

  1. What does your average neuron look like?
  2. What is a synapse and how does it work?
  3. How are connections between neurons at synapses both electrical and chemical?



Initial thoughts

Why initial thoughts?
Why not just jump down to perspectives and resources? Learning Sciences research (e.g. Mueller, 2008) has shown clearly that making a ‘commitment’ to a specific stance or statement improves your learning, even if that belief later changes. Making your beliefs explicit is vital to the learning process.

Here are some questions to help you get started:

  1. What do I know about neurons?
  2. What do I think I know about neurons but am unsure of?
  3. What would I like to learn more about neurons?

Perspectives and resources

What are neurons and how do they interact?
This is the first set of Perspectives and Resources to broaden your understanding of neurons. Let’s see how an expert explains neurons and how they work.
Please review the resources while keeping your guiding questions in mind:

  • What does your average neuron look like?
  • What is a synapse and how does it work?
  • How are connections between neurons at synapses both electrical and chemical?
  1. Eric Chudler on neurons
    Dr. Chudler talks about the number of neurons in the brain.
  2. We have (neuro) transmission!
    Dr. Chudler and participants from the 2012 HDIL Institute demonstrate neurotransmission.
  3. Explanation of the neurotransmission activity
    Dr. Chudler elaborates on neurotransmission with participants from the 2012 HDIL Institute.
  4. Where is the memory?
    These short 3D videos illustrate the movement of sodium and potassium ions in the neuron and Action Potential.

  5. Ions: Sodium and potassium in the action potential.
    The PowerPoint archived from Dr. Bertle Hille’s 2013 presentation on ion channels in Neurons
    Read more

Revised thinking

Why revised thinking?
In addition to committing to an initial thought, reflecting on what you learned can promote metacognition, and your own understanding of the material. In addition, reflecting on your learning helps to solidify the lessons, making them easily accessible when you need them – in the future! (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking, 2001).

What are neurons and how do they interact?

Consider the following questions:

  1. What was surprising?
  2. What did you already know, but now see in a new light?
  3. What was useful?
  4. What would you still like explained?


Report out

Why report out?
Learning is a deeply social activity. Sharing with others strengthens your learning, and gives others the opportunity to learn as well. According to veteran UW Physics professor Lillian McDermott, “you learn what you teach.”

What are neurons and how do they interact?

Talk with someone you care about – friend, family member, co-worker, co-teacher, about neurons. What do you think? What have you learned. Tell us about your sharing out below.

Thank you for taking the time to walk through the whole cycle! We hope you’ve had fun and learned a lot!