The topics of drug abuse and addiction can be a heavy, even dreary subject in many classrooms. Years of anti-drug campaigns (D.A.R.E., etc.) have desensitized many students to the point of boredom when it comes to drug/addiction education, rendering many teachers’ valuable wisdom and instruction as mere platitudes in the minds of students. However, the web offers some very cool content which can help teachers’ drug and addiction lessons captivate student interest and promote long-term student learning.
One option for educators looking for a fun online resource for drug/addiction education is Mouse Party, an interactive guide to the neurobiology of many popular drugs, provided by the Genetics Science Learning Center at the University of Utah. Complete with swanky party music, the site features a crew of mice, each of whom can be seen to exhibit the behavioral symptoms of a specific recreational drug. Marijuana mouse, for instance, is calm and dazed, while cocaine mouse is nervous and jittery.
The drugs available for students to study include:
Students can select a mouse (and associated drug) of interest and drag it into a miniature examination chair, which, with the help of some cool animated equipment, allows the student to see what exactly is happening inside the brain of the affected mouse. The animated tutorial walks through the changes in neurotransmitter action caused by each drug, explaining in some detail how the biological action of a particular drug is linked to its behavioral effects.
The website particularly focuses on changes in dopamine activity, the neurotransmitter most important in the brain’s reward pathway. Chemical alterations in the reward pathway are foundational to the development of chemical dependence and addiction.
The site also offers worksheets and other helps to round out this online learning activity, making it a ready-made option for educators wanting to provide students with an entertaining opportunity to learn more about the neuroscience of drug use. Worksheets allow students to identify the significant neurotransmitters affected by each drug, describe the mechanism of action in the brain, and illustrate the molecular events happening in synapses when a specific drug is taken.
The Genetics Science Learning Center recommends this activity for high school level classes, but it could be adapted for advanced middle school students or used as a supplemental resource for introductory college courses. For any level, Mouse Party offers an engaging online learning activity for students studying the science of drug abuse and addiction.