Your Body is a Wonderland: Human Body Systems
Last spring, I volunteered in a third grade class that was learning about the digestive system. The teacher took advantage of a warm, sunny afternoon and took her restless students outside to make chalk outlines of their partners, and draw in as many different types of body systems as they could. Most students nailed the digestive and respiratory systems, while the circulatory systems on most outlines were wildly imaginative affairs, with great swirls and loops throughout the bodies.
The students knew that their circulatory systems were likely inaccurate, but they had fun trying anyway, all the while trying to puzzle out just how that particular system worked. "So much stuff in there," one girl sighed, and she was right: there is a lot of stuff in the human body, which is why it’s such a great topic for students of all ages. There’s always something new to learn.
The human body is a remarkably complex machine, with an array of individual systems that work in tandem to keep the organism alive and functioning. Although the terms "anatomy" and "physiology" are often used interchangeably, they actually refer to different things. "Anatomy" refers to the shape, size, and location of various structures within the body; the term can refer to anything from cells and tissue to bones and skin. "Physiology," on the other hand, focuses on all the interacting systems of the body and their purposes, such as the circulatory or respiratory systems. In essence, the two terms are about form (anatomy) and function (physiology).
The human body is one of those subjects that can be taught to both preschoolers and high school students alike, albeit at different levels. Younger students are well aware of the visible functions that bodies perform, such as jumping, bending arms, and so forth. Learning about the mostly invisible functions that happen inside our bodies opens up a whole new intellectual vista for students. While younger students can concentrate on learning the various body systems, their functions, and a bit about how the systems interact, older students can explore the subject more fully. Topics can include how diseases affect body systems, the effect of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco products on such systems, and how manmade components such as artificial hearts and lungs are being used to treat breakdowns in human circulatory and respiratory systems. The opportunities for lessons are virtually unlimited.
This week I’ve selected three resources for various grade levels that offer creative twists to traditional human body systems lessons. We’ll also be featuring many more lessons and activities on the human body throughout the week on our Twitter and Facebook pages, so be sure to give those a look. Also, please be sure to read my colleague Peggy’s column (linked below) for more great teaching ideas.
Modeling the Nervous System
Subjects: Body systems, Biology
Sometimes the best way to learn about something is to hold it in your hand. What better way to learn about the different parts of the nervous system than to make them yourself? This resource consists of a series of hands-on lesson plans in neuroscience. I love the creativity of this series of lessons, where students make models of neurons out of all sorts of materials, simulate cerebrospinal fluid, make spinal columns, and much more. This unit was produced by Neuroscience for Kids, a site created by Professor Eric Chudler at the University of Washington to help teachers and students learn more about the nervous system.
Dream Anatomy: Anatomical Metaphors
Subjects: Biology, Body systems, Visual Arts, Language Arts
Students will view anatomical illustrations to understand the metaphors used to describe and understand the human body and its various functions. Students will also conceptualize metaphors for various functions and parts of human body and create a composite illustration of a human body using metaphors. (e.g. drawing a human brain as a computer and its wires as nerve system). I like how this project presents a nice departure from typical body systems lessons, as it asks students to think creatively about the functions of body systems and how they interact. This project is a product of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, which provides information and materials that document the history of medicine, disease, and health from all eras and cultures.
Travel Brochure of the Body Systems
Subjects: Body systems, Life Science, Language Arts
Students work in teams to design and produce luxury tours through the Human Body Systems. By creating an eye-catching brochure, students must highlight the trendy spots, the exciting activities, and the imports and exports of the areas. They must also discreetly mention any possible dangers or special precautions that tourists might encounter in visiting these systems. Students’ world body tour should include visits to the following systems: (1) Digestive, (2) Respiratory, (3) Skeletal, (4) Muscle, (5) Nervous, (6) Excretory, (7) Circulatory, and (8) Immune. I like that this activity requires students to use a variety of critical thinking and communications skills to “sell” their particular tour package – a fun and unique way to demonstrate their knowledge of human body systems and the interconnectedness of each system. This activity was produced by the Access Excellence at the National Health Museum, a site that offers educational lessons and resources for health and bioscience teachers and students.