Learning Human Anatomy Basics with Paper Dolls (Day 2 of 3)

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SWBAT identify the major systems of the body: system name, components, and functions.

Big Idea

Hook kids into the study of human anatomy and physiology using student created paper dolls!

Notes for the Teacher

This is a 3 day lesson series that is my students' first introduction to the systems of the body.  I like starting with this paper doll activity because the systems can be quite complex.  Using an extended drawing activity that slows down student thinking and appeals to their happy early childhood memories of coloring while they begin to grapple with complex terms and how they relate to one another helps us tackle this large topic area in a very short period of time.  Our school has a very popular upper level Human Anatomy and Physiology course and as a result, the introductory biology class tends to focus on molecular biology concepts rather than emphasize the body and other larger scale systems.  This project helps me to give students a taste of what it is to come for them later on in their high school career.

On Day 1, students are introduced to resources about the human body systems and begin to brainstorm their paper doll ideas.  The class also reviews basic concepts of hierarchy and organization within living systems:  cell, tissue, organ, organ system, organism.

Standards: SL.9-10.1SL.9-10.1aSL.9-10.5RST.9-10.2RST.9-10.4RST.9-10.5HS-LS1-2XC-SF-HS-2

On Day 2, students collaborate during studio work time to complete their paper doll booklets.

Standards: W.9-10.2dSL.9-10.1SL.9-10.1aSL.9-10.5RST.9-10.2RST.9-10.4RST.9-10.5HS-LS1-2XC-SF-HS-2

And during Day 3, students share their projects with the class and make deeper connections with each system.

Standards: W.9-10.2dSL.9-10.1SL.9-10.1aSL.9-10.5RST.9-10.2RST.9-10.4RST.9-10.5HS-LS1-2XC-SF-HS-2

After this lesson series, we spend time digging into the essential concept of feedback loops and then work on a multi-day project activity involving specific body systems.  This is a short unit, but one that students report being impacted by and enjoying as an end of the year experience before school lets out for the summer.  And because they are now much more confident learners than they might have been at the start of the academic year, students feel comfortable taking on more independent roles in learning this new material.


The Classroom Flow: Connecting Yesterday's Introduction to Today's Work

10 minutes

1.  Ask students to take out their body systems key information documentHuman Body Systems Overview document, paper dolls template, and the paper doll project document.    Tell students that today will be a studio session for them so that they can work on their paper doll projects, collaborate with other students to find the information they need in order to draw and label it on their dolls, and to check in with you as needed for accuracy and direction.

2.  Set the expectations for a productive studio session:

  • Students will be actively engaged in research or project creation throughout the session.
  • Students will follow our basic support system formula: consult a text, ask a friend, check in with the teacher.
  • Students will be respectful of their classmates' work time and space.

3.  Refer students to the areas of the classroom where they can find materials such as textbooks, reference books, drawing paper, scissors, glue, tape, colored pencils, and markers.

  • Note: I don't allow internet use during our class studio session time for this project.  I find that there tends to be more productive collaboration opportunities when each student is not tied to their individual devices and so I request that students save any web based source searches for their time outside of class.   

4.  Tells students they can spread out around the room in pairs at their lab tables and in their individual desks.  Limit the number of students working in any area to pairs only.  Once lab tables fill up to four students, the conversations are much more difficult for you as the teacher to listen in on to measure understanding and progress and it is harder for students to stay focused on their work.  

5.  As students work, observe and take notes about any recurring themes of conversation you hear around the room.

  • Note:  Keep the master key information document with you throughout the session to help you assess where students are in their understanding and what support they may need going forward.  The immune, endocrine, reproductive, integumentary, and excretory systems tend to be what students will ask you about (it they have questions at all).  The hormones involved in the endocrine, reproductive, and excretory systems may need some clarification, while the integumentary system simply needs a quick check in about the basic components (hair, skin, nails) and how they work together for protection.  It is helpful for some students to link the nonspecific proctective measures of the integumentary system to the very specific defense responses of the immune system.

The Classroom Flow: Creating the Paper Dolls

30 minutes

1.  As students work, observe carefully and praise students following our class studio session guidelines posted on the board.

2.  Assist students in selecting appropriate text resources for their work--this is consistently the area where they need the most support from you as the classroom teacher/expert. 

3.  You will find that students are highly engaged in this activity.  They enjoy learning about the human body, have adequate resources to help them, and the process of creating colored diagrams of each system provides an extended opportunity for slow thinking, collaboration, and questioning among students as they work at their lab tables or desks.

In general, I prefer to hang back and allow students to problem solve issues that may come up for them.  In each individual situation, I assess how long is appropriate for them to work through a problem on their own before coming over for more direct support.  When I do that, I use specific questions to help them navigate the issue as much as possible:

  • What seems to be the biggest challenge happening for you right now?
  • Have you tried...?
  • Would it be helpful if we...?
  • What about trying...?
  • What do you think about doing…?

3.  Over the years, my students have created interesting and individualized approaches to this project.  Check out my short video showing you just a few of their creations! In general, I was open and flexible about what the dolls looked like visually, my rubric mainly focuses on the expectation of which organs to draw/name/define and all of these different variations addressed those expectations.

The Classroom Flow: Wrapping Up

10 minutes

1.  As the class ends, ask students to turn to an elbow partner and briefly discuss the following prompt:

What is the most important thing I need to do tonight for this project? 

The purpose here is to help students set intentional goals for themselves within a larger project timeline.  As you circulate around the room, ask students to share out their conversations and make suggestions based upon the following ideas:

  • Do you have the templates you need to complete your drawings?
  • Do you understand the basic anatomy of each system?
  • Have you included the appropriate labeling for each system?
  • Do your system drawings include the correct anatomical structures?

2.  Ask students to clean up their work spaces and return class materials.

3.  Keep in mind that this lesson series does not have to be completed within three days.  If you prefer to give students more studio time in class or simply allow for an extended deadline, you can save Day 3's share out session until later in the week or unit.  I prefer complete Days 1 and 2 at the end of one week and then have Day 3 at the start of the following week.  This allows students to have a weekend to complete any additional work on their paper dolls after two solid days of class collaboration time together.

And now on to Day 3!