View Learn.Genetics Materials

Sensory Systems - Companion activities

Use these simple activities and demonstrations along with the Sensory Systems apps to enhance the experience of each sense. All use inexpensive or on-hand materials and can be used in a variety of ways. For example:
  • For a whole-classroom activity, distribute copies and materials to students to work on individually or in pairs.
  • Place copies and materials at stations, and have students rotate through them.

Touch

Description & Instructions

Which areas of the skin have more sensory receptors? Find out by gently pressing several “touch testers” to the skin on the face, arm, and hands. Work in pairs.

Materials

Make these with any small, dull objects that can be fixed level with one another at a specific distance apart. Follow the link to the right for ideas.

  • 1-point
  • 30mm apart
  • 15mm apart
  • 5 mm apart

copies

Downloads & Links

Two-point Touch Test

Touch Testers

Description & Instructions

Which areas of the skin have more temperature-sensitive sensory receptors? Find out gently touching warm and cool “temperature probes” to the skin on the arm and hands. Work in pairs.

Materials

Cool temperature probes (one per pair): Place blunt dissection probes in a beaker full of cold tap water or ice water. (You may use any other small, blunt object that retains temperature.)

Warm temperature probes (one per pair): Place blunt dissection probes, one per pair, in a beaker full of warm tap water or an insulated cup.

Paper towels to dry the probes

copies

Downloads & Links

Temperature Touch Test

Hearing

Description & Instructions

Use the microphone function on the Hear: The Neuroscience of Our Senses app and a set of prompts to compare how different sounds are registered in the cochlea.

Materials

iPads with the Hear: The Neuroscience of Our Senses app

copies

Downloads & Links

What Hearing Looks Like

Proprioception

The proprioception system helps us keep track of where all of our body parts are relative to each other, and how the body is oriented relative to gravity. It gathers input not only from the vestibular system in the inner ear, but also from the eyes, and from stretch and pressure receptors in the skin, muscles, and joints.

The activities below demonstrate various aspects of proprioception.

Description & Instructions

These simple tasks, performed with eyes closed and then open, highlight the role vision plays in helping us know where the parts of our body are in space.

Materials

  • Chair with a back
  • Copies of instructions (optional)

Downloads & Links

Proprioception test

Description & Instructions

When the vestibular system is activated by spinning, the eyes automatically move to stabilize images—even when they are closed. Groups of four work together to observe this reflex by spinning a test subject in a chair and then watching how their eyes track immediately upon stopping.

Materials

  • Chair that spins 360 degrees
  • Copies of instructions (optional)

Downloads & Links

Vestibulo-ocular reflex

Description & Instructions

This simple demonstration illustrates the relative motion of fluid in the rotation-sensing structures of the inner ear.

Materials

  • Cup
  • Water
  • 2 cm x 2 cm square of paper
  • Copies of instructions (optional)

Downloads & Links

Semicircular canal demo

Vision

Description & Instructions

This demonstration shows how a lens gathers light from a large area and projects a miniature, reversed image.

You can use this demo along with a pinhole viewer to show how a lens enables an eye to make an image that is smaller and brighter.

Materials

  • Magnifying glass
  • White paper
  • Access to a room with an overhead light and/or a well-lit window
  • Copies of instructions (optional)

Downloads & Links

Lens demonstration

Description & Instructions

Use the See: The Neuroscience of our Senses app to compare the visual acuity of different animals. Look at information in the app about eye anatomy to understand how the structure of an eye helps to determine what an animal can see.

Materials

  • iPads with the See: The Neuroscience of our Senses app
  • Visual acuity chart
  • Access to a room with an overhead light and/or a well-lit window
  • Copies of instructions (optional)

Downloads & Links

Visual acuity (includes instructions and visual acuity chart)

Taste & Smell

Description & Instructions

In part 1, students chew a jellybean with their nose first plugged and then unplugged. This demonstrates the how taste and smell work together to make flavor.

In part 2, students repeat the exercise with a mint candy. This demonstrates how menthol activates cold-sensing touch receptors on the tongue.

You may wish to repeat this again with cinnamon candy, which activates heat-sensing receptors.

Materials

  • Fruit flavored jellybeans. Jelly Belly candies are good because it is hard to guess their flavor from the color.
  • Mint candy, such as wintergreen or peppermint life savers, Altoids, or peppermint candies.
  • Cinnamon candy (optional)
  • Copies of instructions (optional)

Downloads & Links

Taste vs flavor

Description & Instructions

Students gauge the sensitivity of their sense of smell by determining the lowest concentration of an odorant they can detect.

Follow the link for more information about odorants you can use and how to set up dilutions.

  1. Arrange beakers or cups containing different concentrations of odorant in order from weakest to strongest. Label the concentration, but not the odorant.
  2. Starting with the weakest concentration, ask test subjects to sniff each one. When they can detect an odor, they should stop. This is their odor threshold.
  3. Compare results with the larger group.

Materials

Dilutions of odorants, labeled with the concentrations. Group each odorant separately.

Downloads & Links

Setting up Odorant Dilutions