Vol. 3 No. 1 (2020)
Research Articles

A Hands-On Activity to Illustrate Action Potentials and Neurotransmission

Vonnie Shields
Towson University
Michael May
Lower School, St. Paul’s School, Brooklandville, MD 21022
Torben Heinbockel
Middle School, St. Paul’s School, Brooklandville, MD 21022

Published 2020-06-29


  • Action potential,
  • Axon,
  • Brain,
  • Central nervous system,
  • Neuron,
  • 5E Learning model,
  • Elementary school,
  • Neuroscience,
  • Neurotransmission,
  • Neurotransmitter,
  • Education,
  • Science outreach,
  • STEM
  • ...More

How to Cite

A Hands-On Activity to Illustrate Action Potentials and Neurotransmission. (2020). Annals of Behavioral Neuroscience, 3(1), 284-290. https://doi.org/10.18314/abne.v3i1.2015


The brain and nervous systems are considered by many as one of the last frontiers of science. In order to prepare our children to explore this and other science frontiers, schools have started to place more emphasis on STEM education. Here, we describe a hands-on school activity that facilitates our children’s understanding of the nervous system. The main purpose of this activity is to introduce senior elementary school students to the basic functioning of the brain, differences between central and peripheral nervous system, neuron morphology and function, nerve impulses or action potentials, and neurotransmission. We discuss action potentials in terms of how they are generated and propagated down an axon, and how they trigger the release of neurotransmitter at their axon terminals (synaptic knobs). We use a self-made model neuron that we developed to carry out this hands-on activity. We conduct this activity by following the five steps of the 5E learning model (Engagement, Exploration, Explanation, Elaboration, and Evaluation).