How to Teach the Nervous and Endocrine Systems in Your Anatomy Class [Episode 99]


Click below to hear how to teach the nervous and endocrine systems: 


We are starting week two of our difficult topics to teach with the different science disciplines. Last week’s episode, Episode 98, focused on biology and biochemical reactions. But this week, I’m focusing on anatomy! Since there’s a lot of content to cover in this subject and each teacher differs in what they choose to teach, that makes it difficult to decide what the most difficult topic to teach is. With the help of my listeners, I’m focusing on five tips on how to teach the nervous and endocrine systems in your anatomy class. 

As I mentioned, there’s a lot of diversity in how a teacher approaches teaching anatomy in their classroom, but just like with teaching biology, I encourage you to focus on the big picture. Each of the five tips that I share assists in that overarching idea and showcases how both the nervous and endocrine systems work together.

Both of these systems also spark curiosity among students, which leads to them asking a lot of questions. Although this is a great thing and piques their interest, it can be overwhelming for you. Therefore, some of my tips focus on providing students with the opportunity to be responsible for their own research. This idea creates a space where they can answer their own questions while you highlight the main topics. 

The nervous and endocrine systems can be overwhelming to teach, but I hope that my tips and ideas help motivate and excite you about approaching these topics in your anatomy class. In two weeks, I’ll come back to this series with the last two science disciplines, but next week will be a special episode. It’s my 100th episode, so be sure to tune in for an episode where you get to ask me anything! 

Topics Discussed:

  • 5 tips for teaching the nervous and endocrine systems
  • Why these systems can be overwhelming for teachers and how to give students the lead
  • How to create a space for student research where they can answer their own questions and explore their interests
  • The importance of focusing on the big picture when teaching anatomy

Resources Mentioned:

Related Episodes and Blog Posts:

Connect with Rebecca:

More about Secondary Science Simplified: 

Secondary Science Simplified is a podcast specifically for high school science teachers that will help you to engage your students AND simplify your life as a secondary science educator. Each week Rebecca, from It’s Not Rocket Science, and her guests will share practical and easy-to-implement strategies for decreasing your workload so that you can stop working overtime and start focusing your energy doing what you love – actually teaching!

Teaching doesn’t have to be rocket science, and you’ll learn exactly what you need to do to simplify your secondary science teaching life so that you can enjoy your life outside of school even more. Head to itsnotrocketscienceclassroom.com/challenge to grab your FREE Classroom Reset Challenge.

Rebecca 0:00
You’re listening to episode number 99 of the secondary science simplified podcast. Welcome back to week two in our difficult topics to teach series. Last week, I kicked us off talking about five tips for how to teach biochemical reactions in your biology classes. And you guys, honestly, it was so obvious to me based on my regular emails and my DMs with you guys, what topics you found the most challenging in biology. And in a couple weeks, we talked about chemistry. But to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure what you all would think about anatomy, I kind of thought it would be spread across the board. So anytime I don’t know what to do about something I take to my Instagram polls. And that is where I get such great feedback from you all. And the over arching, resounding response, when I asked what was the most difficult for you to teach in your anatomy classes, was both the nervous system and the endocrine system, those both came back equally as the biggest ones. They just felt like the biggest animals to tackle. You guys felt like your students were so interested, and yet they just had so many questions, you couldn’t possibly answer them all. You just felt overwhelmed by the amount of content that is in both of them. And so that is what we’re going to talk about today. We’re going to learn how to tackle these two systems together, and I cannot wait to talk to you about it. Let’s do this. This is secondary science simplified a podcast for secondary science teachers who want to engage their students and simplify their lives. I’m Rebecca joiner from it’s not rocket science. As a high school science teacher turned curriculum writer, I am passionate about helping other science teachers love their jobs, serve their students, and do it all in only 40 hours a week. Are you ready to rock the time you spend in your classroom and actually have a life outside of it? You are in the right place teacher friends, let’s get to today’s episode.

Rebecca 2:03
Like I mentioned last week, today’s episode may just be for anatomy teachers, but I do have something for all of you if you’re still listening and not an anatomy teacher. And that is my Halloween free resources for secondary science teachers. They are available on my website, I will link it in the show notes. It’s not rocket science classroom.com/halloween. And I’ve created four of them. So there’s one for biology, one for anatomy, one for chemistry, and one for physics. And I think these will be fun for you guys to use this month with your students. Now again, like I said, at the top of this episode, I feel like it was kind of hard to nail down one system for anatomy, because so many of us teach this subject so differently, which I kind of love. Like I think it’s the beauty of teaching in elective science. And of course that doesn’t have like a true set of NGSS specific standards for it. There’s a beauty to it there. But it also creates a lot of diversity in terms of how we’re all approaching this. Like, I know that every chemistry teacher is teaching stoichiometry in some capacity, and every biology teacher is going to teach photos and this isn’t respiration in some capacity. But with anatomy, you know, you just never know a lot of people focus in a lot more on the anatomy and all the structures making sure your students really know them. Others go a bit more big picture and lean to the physiology. Some of you don’t even try to cover all of the systems. Others of you are like we will get through every single system, even if we have to bulldoze through it. So I feel like approaching this subject, I do want to approach it a little bit delicately. Because I don’t want you to listen to this and think I must do it Rebecca’s way. I hope you don’t never think that when you listen to this podcast, and that you just hear from me. This is what I have found that I believe to be helpful. Or I’ve done this in my class, and I’ve had XYZ success. So I encourage you to try. But if you feel differently, totally approach it differently. Now for some context, I am the type of anatomy teacher that likes to focus more big picture. I have said before on this podcast when talking about my anatomy, scope and sequence. My goal and my heart when I wrote this anatomy curriculum was to engage students in the content and make them interested in learning about the human body. And the memorization of structures or the preparation of them for nursing school or whatever is really hit the backburner because to me, if I can engage them and get their hearts intrigued and interested in this content, then they’re going to go on and take all this stuff in college later and memorize it all. Of course, it would help them if they’ve seen it before, which is why I do obviously still introduce infrastructures, and there is a little bit of memorization in my class, but it’s definitely not the forefront. I really want to focus on bringing the content to them in a way that’s really, really relevant because anatomy can steer very, it can get really teacher centered, lecture based and memorization based really quickly if you aren’t careful about protecting against that. So that’s kind of my context going into that. That’s how I approach it and that’s kind of the lens with which I’m going to share these five tips. So my first tip for you is to T Use these systems together. Personally, I like to group all the body systems by overarching theme, because one of the things that’s really important to me, and teaching anatomy and physiology is that they don’t see any system in isolation. Yes, I teach three concepts in my I call it my Control and Coordination Unit. And I teach three concepts in it. Concept. One is the nervous system. Concept. Two is the senses. Concept three is the endocrine system. So you could argue that I am teaching them somewhat in isolation, but I’m constantly because they’re all in the same unit, really trying to bring them all back together. Always. I’ve said a couple of times, like, honestly, if you want to, like never write a test for anatomy, you could just make your test every single unit like, Okay, we’ve now learned two more systems, we’ve no five total, your test is to write me a 3.5 paragraph essay with three ways that all five systems we’ve learned thus far work together to maintain homeostasis in the body. And, you know, defend those claims as evidence and reasoning from what you’ve learned in this class, and then just keep adding on to it. Like, I just really think these systems integrate so well. And I think it’s important for students to see them and learn them together. So they don’t just think it’s all up to one thing, like, that’s why I love the nervous system and the endocrine system going together. I knew some teachers don’t even teach the endocrine system, which like, Oh, I love the endocrine system. I think it’s so important. And it’s so practical, which we’ll get to a little bit later in this episode. But I think it’s really cool to talk about them together to talk about they have, they both have different roles. Nervous System is using action potentials and neurotransmitters to create these immediate short term responses and communication. Whereas the endocrine system is releasing hormones in the blood, and there’s a more of a delayed response. We’re looking at long term responses here. But together, they’re both working together to regulate to integrate to coordinate, and just overall control your bodies, and its overall functions. But on this really micro cellular level, which I think is really cool. So that’s my first tip. If you’re not teaching them together, or if you’re listening, you’re like, I’ve never gotten to the endocrine system, because I save it for the end of the year. I feel like most teachers teach nervous systems somewhat early, like you probably started with some intro unit. And then you’re getting into skeletal, muscular. A lot of teachers do Integumentary at the beginning of the year, too. I like it at the end of the year personally. But then you get into control and coordination. I think a lot of teachers are hitting it around mid year, your nervous system, throw integrate in with it, and now call it your control center or your control and coordination unit like I do, I really encourage you to think about doing them together that way. My second tip for you, is y’all please take the pressure off, okay. It isn’t all up to you. Okay, I lot of the feelings that I was syncing through my DMs and through the way that you guys were writing to me about this was, you know, a little bit of defeat, like a little defeatism. And just overwhelmed. Like, your students have so many questions, and you cannot answer them all. And it’s kind of overwhelming. And it’s this is hard, confusing stuff. And you’ll you’re right, this is hard. And let me remind you of the obvious is that you and I are not neuroscientists, we are not endocrinologist. And it’s not our jobs to be. So it’s not our job to answer all these questions. I think it’s so common as science teachers, for our students think we’re doctors, and maybe some of you are doctors listening, which like, amazing, but you know, it becomes anatomy especially can become like a health class where they’re like, what’s this like mole on my arm? Do you think it’s and you’re like, I don’t know, I didn’t go to medical school. Most of you listening probably didn’t, you know, maybe you were a pre med major, like I was at one point. But that’s not the case anymore, like, and then I even think of my sister, my sister is a vascular surgeon, she could come and knock the socks off teaching about the circulatory system. But she could not answer all these questions about the nervous system and the endocrine system. That’s not her forte. So I just want to encourage you like, you don’t need to be responsible for answering all of the questions. And it is a service to our students, to equip them to find the answers to their own questions and to create space for them to do that, which we’ll talk about in a second. But I just want to encourage you that this is hard. And also, this is a beautiful unit and opportunity to focus on the nature of science, which is that it’s ever changing, ever evolving. We’re always adding to what we know about things like what we’re teaching, we can teach our students now about the endocrine system is so much more than was taught about the endocrine system when I was in high school, okay, I don’t even know if we talked about it then because so much was still lacking or even think about when we were walking through our infertility journey. And we were to meet with a reproductive endocrinologist who you would think would be the specialist in this there’s still so much they don’t know about the hormones around the reproductive system that create you know what we got, which was unexplained infertility diagnosis, there’s no reason why This shouldn’t be happening from a chemical standpoint. So I just want to encourage you that even the professionals don’t have all the answers. And this is a beautiful time to humble ourselves and admit that we don’t have all the answers and equip our students to find the answers. So I just want to encourage you take the pressure off on that this is hard stuff. And again, like, you could make all of your slides and then in two years, we know so much more about the fight or flight response. And then things can get added to it. And you know, so take the pressure off. And another thing I’ll say with this is, this is a great opportunity to bring in a special guest speaker, if that is something you have the capacity to do you like, bring in a neurologist, bring in an endocrinologist, bring in a functional nurse practitioner, or someone who practices functional medicine, and who has done a lot of this, like hormone based research, there’s so many cool things they can learn about, as someone who had to be perfectly frank with you all and not to like, tell you TMI that you’re like, please get out of here with this. But after our third was born, I had serious digestive issues that started after delivery. And I saw gastro in ologists. Like I saw so many specialists, obviously my primary care physician, so many tests, scans, you name it, I had it, to try to figure out what was going on eventually, they’re like, it’s probably just your hormones recovering, it’ll probably take a year to recover. But I was like I’m so ill, like, I don’t know, mentally if I can do this for a year. So functional practitioner, who was more naturopathic and really learned a lot of things about my hormones and got them regulated. And I feel like 100% normal now and I’m like, so grateful. But that’s where I’m like, this is a cool opportunity to bring in a diverse group of medical professionals and have them answer some of these questions. So I say all that to say I went on that tangent because like, I saw specialists for problems I was having that couldn’t even find my answers. So take the pressure off yourself, finding and knowing all these answers that your students have, okay, and that kind of leads me into my third tip for you is rely on research. You don’t have to answer every question. And it’s totally okay to stop everything and say, Let’s find it out together. But I think it’s also okay to not do that for your students. I think one of my favorite things to do is I’ve always had like a mini whiteboard with magnets on it stuck to my regular whiteboard. And I use it I like to like move it around and stuff. But I would tell kids, if they had a great question during cloth, and like, we didn’t have time to answer it right, then I’m like, Come write it on the mini whiteboard, which they would do. And then after school, I would add it to my like list of running questions, and then block out a day in this unit where you’re like, all we’re doing today is divvying up these questions and finding the answers. And then we’re all going to come back and share what we found together and kind of learn together roundtable. You know, you can make it a whole fun thing like this the day everyone we can, you know, all make a pot of coffee. And we’ll like research together. And it’s kind of cool to be like, This is what you’re going to be doing in college, like when you have questions, or even if you don’t go to into post secondary education. When you have questions. As an adult, you conduct research. Typically, if you’re like me with a cup of coffee, and you find the answers. And I think that’s also there’s a beautiful gift and teaching them to do this purely for curiosity sake, and not just for a research project you’re doing and you have to write a paper about it, you don’t I’m saying like, let’s just give them the joy of research and teach them how to do it responsibly in order to find research on the internet that’s actually reliable to answering their questions that they have on a whim. So I want to encourage you to do that as well. Okay, my fourth tip for you that I really want to say is focused on the basics. Again, you could spend the entire school year just on the nervous system and endocrine system, okay, but we don’t have time for that. You have probably what, three weeks max, okay, so take the pressure off in like, eliminate some of the stuff you’re teaching, let’s just hit the highlights, like, my kind of goal with the nervous system is like, I want to hit the differences between like the central and peripheral nervous systems, we kind of hit the main structures here. But like, I’m not expecting them to know, like, every single portion of the brain in every single thing it does, like if they know like one flashcard worth per part. Like, I’m cool with that, because there’s just so so much and there’s so much we still don’t understand. Like I was even thinking, as I was writing out this podcast of a dear friend of ours, who just had a baby who has frontal lobe damage. When baby was born, it was the congenital thing. And the beauty of neuroplasticity and how the brain is like starting to rewire itself. And there’s just in there like learning so much about the brain from this one child who was born with these abnormalities. And I’m like, how cool that we can discover these things. So again, like, don’t feel like they have to know like, pages and pages of information when that information is something we’re constantly building upon. So I would hit those highlights. I do think it is really helpful to focus on how neurons communicate and how cells transmit signals. I think that’s a net can kind of carry that into other subjects, they might take like, you know, an Advanced Biology and AP Biology, that kind of thing that will come up with it. So I do encourage teaching that I actually have like a little inquiry activity I wrote, like a guided inquiry thing where students look at models and then answer questions and kind of it draws the information out of them very like POGIL s, if you know what puzzles are. I love puzzles, but I don’t think they’re all great. So sometimes I like to make my own and this is my own version of that. So I have one for that. But I think focusing on that is like a, it’s a really concrete thing you can teach. I think the senses are kind of like you can hit the highlights there. I think you guys know how to hit the highlights on senses. And then with endocrine system, I hit okay, what how does the hypothalamus pancreas gonads placenta? And glands like the big glands? How do what do they do? How do they contribute, maybe hit different stimuli that can cause hormone secretion. And then from there, like I have an activity where students each take a hormone do research and they let us know what they can find about it, I really try to make this my most student led student centered unit, I think it can again, like I said, it can so quickly get lecture based because there’s so much content you could cover. So that’s why I really want to encourage you focus on the big six. And then for my Tip Five, dive deep on topics they really care about for the rest, and let them have the space to research those things. This is my most research heavy unit of any unit I’ve ever written. I can’t even do the math on top of my head. It’s like I’m in the 30s or 40s, in terms of the number of units I’ve written. And out of all of them. This is the number one most researched them because again, so many questions, you can’t possibly predict all the questions they will have. So why not create the space for them to find the answers for themselves, I do have an activity in my control and coordination unit, where they’re reading about stress and the sympathetic nervous system. I think that’s important because they’re all going to experience stress, I have a WebQuest about drugs and addiction. Because I think that is a super fascinating topic that traditionally the majority of students are interested in learning about, I have some lab stations where they do some like fun things to test out their senses. I feel like that’s like very standard, everyone has like a census station thing. But I do I mentioned the senses because I think it’s kind of a nice break from all the information that they can learn in nervous and endocrine, I like to the senses in the middle just to kind of break it up, it feels kind of lighter. But again, like I said, I have them researching a hormone. Early on in the unit, I have them researching a neuroglia and telling us like what it specifically does and how it transmits information and what type of information it transmits. And then at the end of the unit at the culmination of the unit, I have a research project where they have to research a disease that results from a communication failure in either the nervous or the endocrine system. And I have a whole long list that they can pick from. But they can also of course, always find their own. But I think this creates a really nice opportunity, again, for them to see the big picture to tie this all in together to see how the nerves and endocrine system work together. And then it also think we can learn a lot about how something is supposed to work by researching what happens when it doesn’t work. And that’s why I love this project, this unit kind of falls at the end of my first semester. So it’s kind of like a nice midterm project almost before we come back, you know, in January, and dive into our transport unit. So I recommend that so those are my five suggestions for you. I want you to teach these hard systems together, I want you to take the pressure off of yourself. And just remember, it isn’t all up to you. It doesn’t have to be please bring in other experts that would make you feel like better and more supportive in this. Third, rely on research, you do not have to answer every question and you shouldn’t, let’s let’s get them to find joy in researching for the sake of curiosity and not you know, because they have to make a brochure or 3d model about something for you’re feeling overwhelmed by the amount of content, just focus on the basics. And then that leads into five, and then create space for them to research everything else. And maybe if you’re like, Well, I want to dive into a couple of things. Okay, then dive into stress and dive into addiction, like I mentioned, like, pick those two kind of hot topics that these are related to you and let them kind of dig deep there. The other beautiful thing about the endocrine system, and again, why I encourage bringing it up early is you can bring it up again and again, as we learn other future systems. I mean, same with the nervous system too. But that’s where I think there’s a beautiful thing about teaching them together. And you can especially hit endocrine hardest when if you can get to reproductive systems at the end of the year, really circle back to endocrine then so I want you to take the pressure off there as well. So I hope you feel that way. I hope this gets you a little bit more motivated and excited to teach these systems in the future or maybe next week if it’s coming upon you. And yeah, tune in next week. So I’m excited. Have you noticed this is episode 99 which means next week is episode 100 Which is crazy. The secondary science of a five podcast so I’m going to do like an Ask Me Anything episode based on questions I’ve been collecting from you guys over the last few weeks. And then the last two weeks in October, we’ll talk about difficult topics and chemistry and physics. So stay tuned. And if you would like to check out any of those resources that I referenced, or anything else, you can find them in today’s show notes at it’s not rocket science classroom.com/episode 99. And if you’re listening, that means you’re probably an anatomy teacher. And I would love for you to leave a review today and tell me what you love about the podcast.

Rebecca 20:36
All right, teacher friends. That wraps up today’s episode. If you’re looking for an easy way to start simplifying your life as a secondary science teacher, head to It’s not rocket science classroom.com/challenge to grab your classroom reset challenge. And guess what? It’s totally free. Thanks so much for tuning in, and I’ll see you here next week. Until then, I’ll be rooting for you teacher friend.


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