Children always wonder how their body works. Whether it is the air they breathe, the food they eat, or the blood in their veins, kids wonder what it all looks like. For decades we have taught elementary students about the human body, starting in kindergarten and repeating multiple times through to fifth grade. Typically, it is one of the more engaging and robust units jam-packed with assorted realia. Teachers use resource books, skeletons, total physical response activities, songs, diagrammed worksheets, posters, Magic School Bus videos, and more to provide students with an authentic learning experience.
We have all seen and experienced versions of these elementary classics. Take a glance at the walls of an elementary campus and at some point you will see the research projects, diagrams, owl pellet dissections, and informational writing about the human body. Initially, I thought there wasn’t much more that could be added to make it more student-centered. I was wrong.
A couple of years ago, I was jazzed to see the human body unit expanded by inviting the local Discovery Children’s Museum educator to campus. Heather travels throughout our district and intrigues 4th grade students with a nearly two hour workshop that includes inflating the lungs of a pig, making fake blood, exploring the chambers of the heart, and several other hands-on activities! This presentation is always a hit! Again, what else could we possibly do to make our daily lessons better for our students? Heather’s workshop is purposeful and a unique treat, but what can be done to personalize daily human body lessons throughout the entire unit?
This year, I attended a training by Jeremiah Salzman, a fantastic digital coach in our district. He instantly caught my attention as he discussed modifying and redefining classroom instruction with technology. Jeremiah challenged our thinking and traditionalism. He shared an example that I thought was profound.
Jeremiah talked about how an entire generation (and thousands still do) watched Scholastic’s Ms. Frizzle and her magic school bus transport and transform her students to interact with science firsthand. Ms. Frizzle made science literally come alive. For the first time, students could see the inside of a 2D human body with an articulate and animated teacher that guided the inquiry process. Science seemed fascinating, not something simply diagrammed in a book or worksheet.
As we watched, most elementary teachers secretly dreamed of captivating our students attention in the same way Ms. Frizzle did in each episode. But, unfortunately we only reached the activities and guest speakers mentioned above. Those classic concepts are amazing and are definitely beneficial, but in the 21st century classroom we can do a better job of engaging our digital natives. With the help of the internet and mobile devices, our students can also get some of that firsthand 3D experience with science. Jeremiah recommended two phenomenal resources for the human body standards…
Thanks to a free website called BioDigital, students can look at various systems in the body, zooming in and out to get a better idea how all things are connected. Students can manipulate the body systems. Additionally, BioDigital looks at how different medical conditions affect the body. (BioDigital also has iOS and Android apps.)
For those younger students, take a look at an app called The Human Body by Tinybop. While it is a paid app, imagine the look on your students faces when they see the person on screen eat an apple and watch the apple move through the digestive system. Or they watch a how the nervous system responds to a bee sting.
Our campus has 1:1 iPads, Smartboards, and plenty of laptop and desktop computers. These sources have transformed the 4th grade teacher’s daily instruction of the human body standards. It used to only be Ms. Frizzle that could take students inside the human body. Now, any teacher can truly experience the joy of narrating and navigating deep inside a 3D anatomy with their students.
Independently and collaboratively, our students are able to manipulate the website or app and learn in a method that was previously inconceivable. Ultimately, students can self-guide themselves, generate questions, and use the technology for an infinite number of differentiated learning and assessment opportunities.