Body system communication

This focus idea is explored through:

Contrasting student and scientific views

Student everyday experiences

Students will be aware that their body responds to changes in the environment (for example, through heat regulation), but may be confused about what causes these responses and how they occur. They may not be aware of the human body’s two important communication systems, the nervous system and the endocrine (hormone) system.

Students may focus on nerves with particular attention to their feelings, but may not consider them in relation to how the body responds to the environment (internal and external). They do realise the speed with which nerves operate with respect to their feelings, for example the speed with which happiness can change to sadness or anger. Students are also often unaware or confused about the nervous system as a whole and the relationship that exists between the different parts of the nervous system (the brain, spinal cord and nerves).

Research: Driver (1994)

The human body responds to hormones in a sustained, widespread way. Students will have heard about hormones (especially in relation to pimples and the contraceptive pill), but they are likely to be confused about how they function. Their everyday experiences may mean that some students are more familiar with certain hormone functions (such as diabetics), than others (such as happiness as a result of the actions of endorphins).

Students often hear about hormones in the media. For example, they may have heard that chickens are fed hormones and that when humans eat these chickens they are affected in different ways, such as faster maturation of children. However, students have little knowledge of how this may occur. They may also have heard about the use of growth hormone by athletes, though they are likely to be confused about its source or the details of its role.

Research: Driver (1994)

Scientific view

Humans have two types of communication systems. These are the nervous system and the endocrine (hormone) system. These systems regulate body processes through chemical and electrical signals that pass between cells. The pathways for this communication are different for each system.

Research: Evans, Ladiges, McKenzie, Batterham & Sanders (2007)

Responses triggered by hormones are generally slower and more sustained than the responses of the nervous system which are targeted and short lived. Responses of the hormone system affect cells that are likely to be widely distributed throughout the body, such as the hormones involved in sexual maturation, whereas the actions of nerves are likely to be more targeted.

Further information may be sourced from the  University of Washington: Neuroscience for Kids.

Critical teaching ideas

  • The nervous and endocrine systems are two forms of communication system in the human body that integrate, coordinate and respond to sensory information which is received by the human body from its surroundings.
  • In both the nervous and the endocrine system signals are passed from one cell to another by chemical communication.
  • In the nervous system, nerve cells send messages electrochemically: this means that chemicals cause an electrical impulse from one cell to another. This response is targeted and short lived. In the endocrine system, glands secrete hormones into the blood that travel to the target organs to effect a more widespread and sustained response.

Explore the relationships between ideas about body system communication in the Concept Development Maps – (Cell Functions, Cells and Organs)

Teaching activities

Clarify and consolidate ideas for/by communication to others

Students compare and contrast the nervous and endocrine systems with each other and other everyday communication systems that they are used to dealing with.

a) Students write a research report comparing and contrasting wireless technology (computer systems) with the hormone and nervous system. They should look specifically at the speed of response and the information carried.

b) Students relate the human communication systems (nervous and hormone) to communication systems in society and the technology that is used (such as mobile phones and landline telephones) and make comparisons between them.

Promote reflection on and clarification of existing ideas

Teachers should allow students to experience and build their knowledge by experimenting, researching and modelling.

A student using a small plastic hammer to investigate knee reflex responsea) Students work in pairs to test reflexes (nerve responses). It is best to test rapid nerve responses (which are particularly needed in case of danger).  These responses include reflex responses in the knee and of the eye pupil to light. To extend this part of the activity students can investigate whether these responses can be prevented.

Research: Lewis (1999)

b) Endocrine (hormonal) responses are much slower and sustained for longer.  To explore the endocrine system students can produce a large display of the hormone system. Using a large piece of paper, they should draw an outline of a student and fix it to the wall. Students then research information on different gla​nds and the role of the hormones they produce. They draw pictures of the glands, stick each picture to the body outline and attach information about the hormone that is produced. This activity could be extended by researching information on conditions created by too low or too high levels of hormones.

Research: Lewis​ (1999)

Further resources

Science related interactive learning objects can be found on the FUSE Teacher Resources page.

To access the interactive learning object below, teachers must login to FUSE and search by Learning Resource ID:

  • Body Parts: endocrine system – students look closely at the human endocrine system. They learn what hormones are and which glands release them. They find out which glands regulate bodily functions such as energy levels, digestion, calcium levels, growth and puberty.
    Learning Resource ID: NZGVA3