Life Science

Human Body - Inquiry Based Learning???

I am part of the Science Task force at my school and we are examining our Science Standards and aligning them with AERO Science standards. We realized that the study of the body organs and systems is not in the standards. My theory is that it was excluded because that is more memorization than inquiry based learning. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

Kari Johnson
kari johnson
30 Activity Points

Hi Kari,
In Illinois the body organs and systems are considered health standards and are under a separate heading set apart from the science standards in Physical Development & Health. In other words, they are in their own section just like mathematics or social studies. I was looking at the AERO science standards online, and I think health might fit under Goal 21: Students will know and understand the biological, cultural, and social explanations for why human beings have important traits in common yet differ from one another. It goes on in grade 5 to say...
By the end of grade 5:

a. Cite examples to show that human behavior is due to a combination of factors, including inheritance, environmental and society.

b. Compare the factors that influence human behavior to the factors that influence the behavior of other animals.

c. Describe human body systems for obtaining and providing energy, defense, reproduction, and the coordination of body functions.

d. Compare human body systems to the systems of other animals.

So I see parts c and d combined (above) as being a place where AERO addresses the study of body organs and systems.

I wonder if other states do a similar thing (as Illinois does) and place body organs and system under separate health learner standards.

Carolyn Mohr
Carolyn Mohr
79623 Activity Points

Hi Kari and group,

I am not sure what grade level you teach Kari, but in Colorado our state does include the human body within middle school standards. I do believe that memorization is key to learning the body, but I use many inquiry based labs throughtout each system.

I love to question and challenge my students beliefs and organ transplantation is one area I focus on... For instance, if you cannot filter your own urine, and you do not want to receive a transplant, I give the studnts tons of different materials and they must build a system that filters "urine" (I make fake urine) for them.

It is great to see the students talk, engineer, fail, reflect and then try again. It also introduces the importance of sharing within the scientific material, so everyone can benefit.


Elizabeth Dalzell-Wagers
Elizabeth Dalzell
9945 Activity Points

I am from Texas and taught middle school science. In 7th grade students learned about systems (parts structure and function) and how these parts interacted within the system. In eighth grade we looked at the interactions between systems so students learned that different systems (cardivasular for example cannot work without the muscular system)are dependent on other systems to make a whole system (the human) work.
Hove you checked the the NSES (National Science Education Standards) to see what they map out?


Adah Stock
Adah Stock
101470 Activity Points

Hi Kari -

Great question! The human body topics do often fall under state standards for Health classes. Some states also include the human body in their Biology course standards.

However, I would respectfully disagree that human body topics need to be taught primarily by memorization. You can teach about the human body using inquiry-based learning. There are many terrific teaching activities available.

I did a quick search in the NSTA Learning Center Library and found some interesting free resources about inquiry learning methods to teach human body topics to middle-school students.

Using Video Games to Understand Thermoregulation

Science Sampler - The Science and Art of Proportionality

Teaching through trade Books: Moving my Body

Dorothy Ginnett

Dorothy Ginnett
Dorothy Ginnett
27555 Activity Points

Standards related to health are not in Pennsylvania's science standards, either. They are included, however, in the National Science Standards.

Although many states don't appear to use the national science standards, they are an essential element of the National Board Certification process.

Students are fascinated with the human body, which, although it is fraught with many vocabulary words, can be taught with hands-on inquiry activities such as this clever lab that involves the creation of a "fake leg"

Repairing Femoral Fractures: A Model Lesson in Biomaterial Science (

Patty McGinnis
Patricia McGinnis
25265 Activity Points

The potential for teaching physics within the human body is huge. The physics standards have been lightened up significantly for 7th grade where it has been, but a lever is still a lever, force is still force the coordination with the human body systems has made it easier to explain that physics didn't come first. I am primarily a physical scientist, but the usefulness of tying physical and natural science through the human body was clear early on. The inquiry into form and function follows so well. Think of it as which came first? Physics or the inquiry of "How can I do this quicker or easier." The other point is science is a new language for a lot of learners. We have to teach the language.

Dan Haller
Dan Haller
245 Activity Points

In Virginia, human body systems is also within the health/PE department and no longer within our science curricula for middle school.

However, I have always used the human body to teach many different topics in science as mentioned above for physics. I can demonstrate simple machines (levers) and various forces. I used to have the students do a heart acceleration lab and used beats/min for a speed to chart acceleration for study of motion.

I keep a skeleton in the room regardless of what topic I teach.

When we did solar system study in 6th grade, I had the students research and write about how human needs are met in space: what would they need to do to survive.

When my 7th graders study evolution, I use the human body to study homologous structures. I have saved a lot of bones (mostly chicken and turkey from soup making) and they need to ascertain what the use of that bone would be and why. What is it homologous to in a human.

So, even if the specific science curriculum does not incorporate actual human body system studies, it is always pertinent.

Nancy Bort
Nancy Bort
7025 Activity Points

by kari johnson, Thu Jan 20, 2011 1:54 AM
I am part of the Science Task force at my school and we are examining our Science Standards and aligning them with AERO Science standards. We realized that the study of the body organs and systems is not in the standards. My theory is that it was excluded because that is more memorization than inquiry based learning. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

Hi Kari,

I'm not sure which grade level you are specifically looking to address, but there are some fun and creative ways to introduce the body systems at any grade level. The Delta Education website and Carolina Biological website offer lots of hands-on products to help students explore the systems of the human body. Scholastic publishes a book call Adorable Wearables that Teach About the Human Body by Donald M. Silver and Patricia J. Wynne (ISBN 978-0-439-22269-3). The Body Systems Inquiry Web Unit and The Human Body WebQuest are also good resources for teaching the body systems through exploration and inquiry.


Maureen Stover
Maureen Stover
40810 Activity Points

Based on the last post, I seem to be a year late with this reply, but this topic caught my eye because I, too, am looking for a more engaging way to teach Human Body Systems. In Hawaii we have this standard in 5th grade. Our benchmark states that students need to be able to "Describe the structures of the human body and how they work together to sustain life." This is my 4th year teaching this grade and I'd like to make it more hands-on and inquiry-based this time around rather than just me tossing out the information to my students. I appreciate all the resources that have been shared. I especially like the link for the Body Systems Web Inquiry Unit. There are so many other links contained on that page. I think I'm actually excited to teach this!

Evelyn Ibonia
Evelyn Ibonia
410 Activity Points

I am currently teaching body systems to 7th graders. My students are doing research on different organs, learning searching, questioning and researching skills as they locate information about specific organs. They need to make connections between the organ and its main system and other systems it interacts with as well as learn about diseases that affect the organ and treatments. Students will design a presentation with photostory and have them evaluated by their peers.

Jenny Hensgen
Jenny Hensgen
1375 Activity Points

I do teach about the human body in my 7th grade classroom and am always referring back to it as we go through cells, genetics, and eventually evolution. I want students to see that similarities in all living organisms and how they work together.

Kathryn Mattila
Kathryn Mattila
2625 Activity Points

I just finished doing a unit project on the Human Body system and in Illinois, the human body is listed under the health standards. I believe that you can make a lesson on the human body system be inquiry based and not just memorization. When you think of the human body system, students are told to know the different components of the body systems; which is important but should not consume the whole lesson. Having students be hands on in their learning is one of the best teaching methods out there. An activity I did for the Digestive system was have the students recreate the process of digestion using sandwich bags, crackers and coca cola. It is a simple activity but gives the students an idea of what digestion looks like as it takes place in our stomachs.


Callie Rodgers
Callie Rodgers
1795 Activity Points

I agree Callie, and hopefully I'll get more oppertunities to conduct activities such as yours in my own classroom. So much time was spent in my classrooms growing up simply on memorization and unguided disections. I believe if more of an emphasis was put on exploration and understanding, students will be more engaged and in turn learn more

Jared Kilmer
Jared Kilmer
970 Activity Points

I recently developed a workshop on the skeletal and muscular system for fourth graders. I read the article you suggested: Teaching Through Trade Books: Moving My Body, and it has several good suggestions about activities that teach students about bones, joints, and muscles. In my workshop I included an activity that is similar to one suggested in the article which is about joint immobilization. Students were asked to complete certain tasks (write a note, stack up pennies, transfer popcorn kernels from one small container to another) while having their hand joints immobilized. The activity taught the students the importance of joints and also gave students an awareness of orthopedic disabilities.

Brenda Ontiveros
Brenda Ontiveros
2430 Activity Points

I also found this to be a helpful resource when investigating what type of stations I wanted to include in my Bones, Joints, and Muscles Workshop. I debated whether or not to use the activity about how exercise affects your most important muscle in your body, the heart. I chose to keep the workshop activities mostly connected to the skeletal system, but I will use the activity in Teaching through trade Books: Moving my Body, in future activities related to muscles. Knowing how to take care of your heart and what will keep it strong and healthy is vital knowledge for students to know throughout their lifetime. Why not get them in the habit of keeping their heart healthy from a young age. A very helpful article.

Nicky Durband
Nicky Durband
1670 Activity Points

Your lesson sounds like a fun and interactive activity that students will be able to remember easily because it involves the students to be creative to re-create the digestive system. It is similar to the activity that was in a recent workshop I was involved that was teaching about bones, muscles, and joints. As a culminating activity, students were given a baggie of miscellaneous items and were assigned to create a part of the body that represented bones muscles and joints. Some of the items available to use were: cotton balls, tooth picks, small dole rods, rubber bands, twist ties, paper clips, and straws. It was interesting to see the variety of outcomes they built, but it was apparent that they had a good understanding of how bones, muscles, and joints work together.
Mary Kay

Mary Hannig
Mary Hannig
2935 Activity Points

In Hawaii, our 7th grade, life science standard are as follow:
• Describe the parts of the cell theory.

• Explain the basic structure and function of each part of a eukaryotic cell.

• Describe four levels of organization in living things.

I feel that by relating the human body to these benchmarks makes the unit more relevant. I use AVID strategies to organize students' notes by using Cornell notes in our interactive notebook. I have students research a pathogen and its affects on the human body. Students then create a glog using I also use Edmodo to link their glog to communicate and share their findings. I then plan to show this year the movie "Contagion," which illustrates the affect of a pathogen in our global society.

Monica Chavez
Monica Chavez
1470 Activity Points

We teach Body Systems in the 5th grade. There[b] are a lot vocabulary words in this section. To culminate the learning, we have the students work in groups to create a Body Systems Project, on whichever body system they are assigned. Each project has to be made of recycled products. Each group needs to write a one page paper explaining their body system. I really enjoy teaching this unit, being that the human body is so fascinating.
R. Luster

Ricki Luster
Ricki Luster
1400 Activity Points

Hi Everyone,
I enjoyed reading everyone's ideas and seeing all that is out there. I teach K and have a colleague that has a skeleton in her room. She inherited it because there were bones missing but her students love playing with it. I think learning about the human body and its systems can start in k. We don't need to achieve mastery but exposing them to the vocabulary or addressing their curiosity can really get us to some good inquiry. They often wonder great things...if food goes in when and where does is come out? What happened to it? If we are full of blood how come it doesn't come out of my nose all the time? I would love to teach about skin and how it heals itself. Hopefully,students will understand and maybe just maybe it would get some students to stop picking at their scabs.
Thank you for the topic. I know there are no standards on this in K but I do think I can integrate it or find a great non-fiction book for a short research project which believe or not is part of a K standard.

Kehau Samuelu
DonnaLynn Samuelu
3475 Activity Points

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