The Minds of Living Things

Your Name: Gary Longfellow
School: Taipei Adventist American School
E-mail Address:
Published Date: July 29, 2012
Subject(s): Language Arts, Visual and Performing Arts and Science
Intended Grade Level(s): 8th Grade

Description: This thematic unit involves comparative examinations of human and animal minds (primarily higher vertebrate brains). It compares and contrasts brain anatomy, size, and behavior, and pathology for human and other higher vertebrates. This unit also explores the role of God as the Designer and Creator of all forms of life on this earth.

Pathways Theme, Goals, and Skills: The unit is based upon the Pathways Living Things Theme, and is designed to complement the reader for this grade level. Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story about Brain Science. The unit will meet a number of PaLTT targeted sills:
  • Extended Reading and Writing
  • Comprehending, Studying and Evaluating Ideas
  • Word Study
  • Sentence Skills

Faith Integration: This unit recognizes the Creator as the ultimate source of all intelligence on this earth. Within the context of His design, all creatures have the intelligence needed to carry on life processes and to function within their environment. This unit will utilize the “Spiritual Gifts Inventory” provided with the black line masters as a way of considering the God given human talents and gifts. The students will be grouped into teams of three for a internet search and presentation project. They will then select one mammal and develop a Animoto presentation on some of the unique physical and behavioral adaptations for that animal. Each group will share their animoto presentation with the class.

Technology Standards (National Educational Technology Standards): This unit will involve students in technology imbedded learning experiences (Standard #2) that encourage and facilitate creative and innovative (Standard #1) experiences for students.

Books, references, worksheets:


Teacher Preparation:
  • Provide the students with copies of the theme book on Phineas Gage
  • Find sources and obtain brain specimens for the introduction activity
  • Produce copies of the various worksheets and assessment tools
  • Obtain printed or taped copy of John Muir's book Stickeen
  • Arrange for Animoto accounts for the students
  • Train the students on the use of Animoto
  • Produce copies of the spiritual inventory materials
  • Assist the students in selecting a psychologist to interview and developing appropriate questions
Student Preparation:
  • Students may require training and assistance using some of the web based technology such as Animoto, Skype, etc.
  • Students may require assistance with the process of saving and storing digital photographs.
  • Some guidance may be necessary in preparing the students for the spiritual gifts inventory.
  • Traing the students concerning interview etiquette.
  1. Introduction and motivation - This unit on the Phineas Gage and the brain will be introduced using brains from various animals. The students will have a list of various animals, they will have the challenge of examining the various animal brains with the goal of determining what animal they are associated with. When finished the class will correctly label each of the brains and deiscuss their reasons for making particular choices.
  2. Phineas Gage Videos - Observe the two part You Tube videos on Phineas Gage with the students. Then assign reading circles to begin reading the book. Use the first part of the black line "Character Comparison #8 (personality before the accident) with the students.
  3. Animal Personalities - Do animals ever have personalities? (Discussion) Oral Reading from John Muir's book Stickeen. Assignment a one page draft on the personality of some animal or pet that they may have come in contact with. Assign Animoto (3-4 students) partners to review each others papers and provide them with feedback on their drafts. Each Animoto team must pick one story and illustrate the story on Animoto. Each Animoto presentation should also include at least two poetic forms. i.e. Haiku , personal photographs (take by the students) of the subject animal and music from the public domain.
  4. Exploration of the Human Brain - The students examine the 3-D Brain on the Inter-net. With Phineas Gage's injuries in mind, they conduct a Deep Brain Simulation Surgery on the EdHeads web site. They consider brain anatomy, the various behaviors associated with brain locations and some potential pathologies. Students complete vocabulary journals for the Gage book and create a vocabulary wordsearch on Puzzelmaker.
  5. Human Personalities - Students complete the Spiritual Gifts Inventory included with the black line masters. Completion of the inventory will allow for comparisons between students that should lead to an awareness of the diversity of gifts amongst the class. Thus a consideration of God's love of Diversity. The last worksheet focuses on development and use of the gifts, thus God's desire for servant focused leadership.
  6. Human Brain and Behavioral Disorders - The students will complete the second part of the Phineas Gage Character comparison sheet and consider what differences if any in his personality must have been due to the accident. They will then develop and refine interview questions to use with an in person or Skype interview of a psychologist.
  7. The students will create a graphic organizer of the Mind of Living Things Unit by developing an outline and then converting it to a graphic organizer using Inspiration.

Differentiated Instruction: Differientation will be made primarily through differentiation of the products. Adjustmants may be made in the size of expected work, the support (student groups), and the assessment standards.

Multiple Intelligences: Most of the intelligences are addressed within the context of this unit. Interpersonal intelligences are addressed through the use of cooperative groups, and presentations. The Naturalist intelligences will be met through the examination nervious tissue at the introduction and the photographic observations of animal personalities.
Individuals with strengths in the Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence will benefit from the brain tissue introduction and the virtual brain stimulation surggery. The Visually/Spatially Intelligent students will benefit from much of the technology components such as the You Tube videos, 3-D computer simulation of the brain, etc.

Classroom Management and Decoration: The room will be set up with neural images of the animal world and mind puzzlers.
Used Rubistar to develop the Animal Personality Anamoto Rubric, as well as, a Pet Personality Paper Rubric

Vocabulary Tests
The Various Journal and Inventory Sheets
Inspiration Graphic Organizer