At a Glance


  • STEM
  • Biology

Instructional Level

  • University

Tasks in Workflow

Social Plane(s)

  • Individual

Type of Tasks

  • Solving problems

Technical Details

Useful Technologies

  • Computer and simulation link

Class size

  • Small (20-49)
  • Medium (50-99)


  • Single class period (< 90 mins)

Instructional Purpose

  • Application & knowledge building


Designed by the Biological Science Division at the University of Chicago, the Nerve is an online simulation created to help students better understand how action potentials function. The simulation uses the squid giant axon as an experimental system in which to explore and explain the Hodgkin-Huxley model of action potential initiation and propagation. Students can change various axon properties and experimental parameters in the simulation to see how these changes affect axon potentials.

In this particular activity created by Dr. Joseph Dent from McGill University, students are given a list of simulations to try that have predetermined parameters. Student are asked to record changes that they observe in action potential initiation or propagation. Following each simulation, there are questions that prompt students to relate what they learn from the simulation with the key concepts presented in the course lectures.

Instructional Objectives

Students will be able to explain the key concepts of action potential function (initiation and propagation)

Workflow & Materials


Activity Workflow

View on CourseFlow

Contributor's Notes

Joe Dent

Joe Dent

McGill University, Montreal


Sometimes theories or concepts presented in lecture can be abstract and difficult for students to grasp. Using a simulation to visually demonstrate a particular concept presents the material in a different way that can be easier for students to understand.


Motivation: students are more willing to complete the exercise if it is assigned as grade-credit rather than as homework.

Resources: the software available isn’t necessarily designed to address specific learning goals. On the other hand, creating custom software is resource and time-intensive.


Exercises are best graded as pass-fail: passing does not necessarily mean students achieved a correct answer. Students pass if they demonstrate engagement in the activity and show that they have put in effort to answer the presented problem.


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