BioMedical Engineer Meets Doctor

     In Ms. Leahy's fifth grade class, students have just finished one unit of study and are ready to embark on the next.  Often, when students transition from one learning topic to another, the first is forgotten as they begin to learn about something new.  However, in this fifth grade class, this is not the case.  Students have just completed their inquiry into scientific principles through the central idea: Humans use their understanding of mixtures and matter for a variety of purposes. They were focused on answering the following questions:

·      How do mixtures act similarly and differently from their original materials?

·      How do we use our knowledge of matter to create mixtures and solutions and new forms of matter that are used in everyday life?

They are getting ready to start inquiring into the physical and social health of humans through the central idea: The performance of interdependent systems determines overall health. Students will focus on answering these questions:

·      What are the human body systems and their basic functions?

·      How can mental, physical, social, and spiritual health affect, or be affected by, human body systems?

·       How do the different components of the body work together to enable humans to survive?

·       What are some public health issues that we face in society today? How do these affect the body? What can individuals do to avoid or prevent these?


     What do these two units of study have in common?  A lot!  Through their study of human systems, students inquired into and developed empathy for an individual who was having adverse reactions to a medicine she was taking.  They learned about biomedical engineering and what biomedical engineers do, then assumed the role. Students were tasked with designing a pill coating that would help an individual who was reacting poorly to her medication. Students developed empathy for a 5th grader named Sarah by learning about her medical needs with her different body systems.  The students used their knowledge of mixtures and solutions from the unit they just completed and applied this to a medical need.  Students created a pill coating that would hopefully allow Sarah to take her meds without having them upset her stomach. They experimented with corn starch, flour, salt, and vegetable oil to create a recipe for the pill coating. The students then tested the pill using Sprite to simulate the pill going through the digestive system.  Students observed and recorded their observations, continually checking on the pills to see what happened. Then they gathered feedback, reflected and discussed what changes they would make for future iterations

     Through this lesson, students linked two of their units of inquiry together- Mixtures and Solutions and Human Systems.  The work they did was relevant and related to a real-life situation that one of their peers was facing. Students simulated the life of a bio-medical engineer to solve a real problem, engaged in 21st Century Skills, including communication, collaboration and critical thinking, and took action to solve a problem for a friend.  Because student learning is occurring in an authentic way, the skills these students are learning will remain with them long after the details of fifth grade are forgotten.