This two-disk presentation is an easily accessible way for biology educators to enrich their understanding of the nervous system. Two lecturers, Eric Kandel and Thomas Jessell, both faculty members at Columbia University, present historical and current approaches to understanding the functioning of the brain and nervous system. The lecturers point out that neuroscience is a relatively new science that combines the knowledge of psychiatry, anatomy, physiology, genetics, molecular biology, and advances in technology to lead to a more complete understanding of the roles of the synapse (the focus of these lectures). The lecturers describe the synapse as not only the point of communication between nerve cells but also the site of memory storage. Many neurological and psychiatric disorders are the result of diseases that target the synapse.

The first disk contains four lectures: “Mapping Memory in the Brain,” “Building Brains: The Molecular Logic of Neural Circuits,” “Plan of Action: How the Spinal Cord Controls Movement,” and “Memories Are Made of This.” There are also six animations and 25 short film clips that enrich understanding. Some of the animations and film clips could be useful in high school and introductory college biology classes to enhance the understanding of the molecular nature of nervous system activity.

The animation “Molecular mechanism of synaptic function” is an excellent, simple representation of the chemical changes needed to transmit communication across the synapse. This animation could be used within a nervous system unit at both the introductory and AP levels of high school biology. The animation “Signal molecules trigger transcription factors” could be used to enrich students’ understanding of the significance of environmental effects on the genes and their role in learning. However, some review of protein synthesis should precede the use of this animation. This molecular approach to understanding is also demonstrated in the animations showing how memory forms.

The short (a few seconds to 2 minutes) video clips provide visual support for lecture content, such as the loss of memory and muscle activity. A very interesting series of clips is devoted to proprioception. These clips provide a simple introduction to the importance of this process and show the effects of a loss of this system. These could form a complete lesson with student interactions within the classroom.

Although the lectures are highly informative, their length (about 55 minutes) may be prohibitive to showing each lecture in its entirety at one viewing in a high school classroom. In addition, many of the topics may be difficult for high school students to comprehend. However, there are sections of each lecture that lend themselves to being useful as part of a lesson.

A special feature of each lecture is a profile of each of the speakers. Especially interesting is the profile of Jessell in lecture 3, in which he addresses the future of a career in science, and the profile of Kandel in lecture 4, in which he discusses the importance of women as scientists.

Disk 2 consists of a “Discussion Session on Neurobiology and Mental Illness” and a set of interviews. The panel “Discussion on Neurobiology” consists of Kay Jamison, a specialist in bipolar disorder, Gerald Fischbach, a specialist in autism, and Kandel and Jessel addressing student questions about autism, bipolar disorder, and other topics. This section of the disk could be used to generate class discussion about neurological disorders. The interviews focus on how each of these people became involved in their neuroscience careers. The individuals include Kandel, Jessell, two neuroscientists, a neuroscience laboratory technician, and a neuroscience Ph.D. candidate. These could be used during a career day or offered to students interested in a science career.

Moving around the disks is easy. The main menu, which is the first image, lists special features. The summary menu allows you to access the list of chapters (sections of each lecture) for you to readily show small sections of the lectures. This DVD set is a useful tool that provides enriching the learning experiences for high school and college students.

ROBERTA BATORSKY, an experienced high school and college biology teacher, is adjunct faculty at Rowan University. Roberta has a B.S. and an M.S. in biology. Her address is 25 Hinkle Drive, Bordentown, NJ 08505; e-mail: Roberta welcomes submissions of classroom media for review in ABT.