Life Science Students Create Functional Body Systems

Students Worked in Teams to Collaborate, Create, and Refine

Before Betsy Orgain’s life science class visited the Bryan Innovation Lab a few weeks ago, seventh-graders Connor Murray and Olivia Fahrenkrog said they could list each part of the lungs from bronchioles to capillaries and alveoli. However, they can now also describe — from hands-on knowledge — how each of those parts interacts as a complex and delicate system.

Connor and Olivia, like the rest of Mrs. Orgain’s students, worked in teams to build “functional” models of body systems, bringing their previous classroom lessons “to life.” Connor and Olivia chose the respiratory system; other students chose systems such as nervous, musculoskeletal, and digestive.

The three-part project included:
Day 1: Each student started a design for a body system, then Mrs. Orgain placed them into groups. The participants in each group were assigned roles (notetaker, manager, collector, and illustrator), and they shared their individual designs with each other. They then collaborated on a group design, illustrated it, and created a supply list. The students were limited to materials available in the Bryan Lab (and they pulled out every single bin of supplies!).
Day 2: They collected supplies and started to build.
Day 3: The students received constructive feedback from other groups, then fine-tuned and tested their projects. At the end, they presented their projects to their peers for positive feedback.

“In this project, the students realized what the body has to do to function,” Mrs. Orgain said. “The connection of the working parts of the body is so intricate, yet we are largely unaware of all it takes for us to do both voluntary and involuntary tasks.”

The seventh graders didn’t merely learn how their body systems work together — they learned how they can work together to overcome obstacles, celebrate successes, and ultimately make something that represents each individual’s contribution to the team.

“Going into this project, I made assumptions about how student groups would design the different body systems,” Mrs. Orgain said. “But their creativity took over and their designs were happy surprises.”

For example, some teams used Makey Makeys to code the impulses in neurons and create movement. Another group used a combination of yarn, cardboard, and gravity to create a “functional” neuron.

For teams making hands or feet, one group used broken popsicle sticks as joints while another one used notched straws. One group, making a digestive system, used clothespins as “teeth” to break up a cracker, Play-Doh for the tongue, soda bottles as the mouth and stomach, and tubing for the esophagus.

Shane Diller, lead technologist in the Bryan Innovation Lab, partnered with Mrs. Orgain on the project. He explained: “The power of allowing students to make their ideas reality is not limited to just improving their critical thinking. This also bolsters their creative confidence in navigating problems that do not have one answer. To have to ideate on how to best present information and demonstrate their understanding requires synthesis of information at a very high level. This drastically increases the subject matter they retain when done correctly.”





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