Action Potential: A Student Project
Kathleen M. Seilheimer
Neural transmission is an extremely abstract concept for most high school biology students. The process of nerve impulse or action potential can be studied and discussed in great detail; however, this process most often is quickly forgotten by the students. In this activity, students demonstrate their knowledge of action potential by creating an analogy and explaining this analogy to the class.
This activity will require approximately 45 minutes for student preparation and an additional 45 minutes for student presentation.
The process of action potential must be discussed and studied prior to this activity. I have found students to be more creative and less confused when they have a basic understanding of nerve impulses and the terminology of the action potential.
butcher paper or newsprint
Many students may choose to supply materials unique to their presentation.
Teacher Preparation and Direction
1. The students are to work in pairs. If there is an odd number of students in a class, a
group of three students will work better than a student working alone.
2. The students must illustrate the action potential on paper by creating an analogy to
demonstrate action potential. This can be done if the students write or tell a story to go
along with their illustration. I have found the most successful projects have moving
parts and the students manipulate these parts to demonstrate the action potential.
3. The students are given a class period to work on the project. I like to introduce this
activity on the last day of the week so the students can prepare their project during the
weekend. The students present their projects the first class period after the weekend.
4. All presentations are given a number. The presentations are placed on the lab tables.
One student of the team (student A) will remain at the presentation in order to
explain the project to other students in the class. The other student(s) of the team
(student B) will circulate around the classroom or lab, listening to all the student
presentations on a one-to-one basis. When all the students (B) have heard all the
presentations, the students of each team will exchange roles so student B is presenting
and student A is listening to all the presentations.
5. The student teams rejoin and together the students write constructive criticisms or
suggestions for each presentations. These suggestions are then shared with the
6. The teacher can evaluate the presentations; however, I use this activity as a review prior
1. Groups may be made up of three or four students. This works well when the class is
large and all the presentations can not be completed in one class period.
2. Group presentations can be made to the whole class instead of in small groups or on a
3. The individual groups can role model the action potential and present their product to the
About The Author
Kathleen M. Seilheimer is a biology teacher at Palatine High School in Palatine, Illinois. She can be contacted at Palatine High School, 1111 Rohlwing Road, Palatine, Illinois 60067.