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Biology In Elementary Schools is a Saint Michael's College student project from a course that ran between 2007 and 2010 and fully described in this book chapter. The student-created resources have been preserved here for posterity. Link under 'toolbox' for printer-friendly versions of the exercises. Click on handouts to print full resolution versions. Please see Wikieducator's disclaimer, our safety statement, and the Creative Commons licensing in English and in legalese.

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Primary biological content area covered

Students will learn how to take their own pulse and how their heart pumps blood.


  • Watch that measures seconds
  • Clothes pins
  • Data table handout for each student (see Figure 1)
  • Graph handout for each student (see Figure 2)
  • 2-3 crackers for each student
  • Oversized graph paper
  • Permanant markers


Students will be provided with two handouts, as can be seen on the right (Figure 1 & 2).

Figure 1 Click to see the full-size handout
Figure 2 Click to see the full-size handout

Description of activity

There will be a sheep heart available for the students to look at, so that they can see the different parts of the heart. It will be used to describe the process involved when the heart pumps blood to the rest of the body. Students will be taught how to take his or her pulse. They will then be comparing their pulses at rest to their pulse after doing several different activities. After recording their findings on a data table (see Figure 1),they will graph this recorded data(their heart rate after each activity.) The class will the share their data and calculate the average heart rate for the entire class after each activity was completed.

Lesson plan

  1. First begin by reading the book The Circulatory System or The Magic School Bus Has a Heart.
  2. Then using the plaster model of a heart, show the students each part of the heart and what its function is.
  3. Next show the students how to take their pulse and help them find it if they cannot find it on their own.
  4. Ask the students to take their pulse at rest first and have them record this number on their data table (see Firgure 1). Time them for 30 seconds, asking them to count the number of beats they feel. This number wil be recorded and multiplied by two to find the number of beats in 60 seconds (one minute).
  5. Next, ask the students to lie down on the floor for 1-2 minutes and then ask them to take and record their pulse rate, following the above procedure.
  6. After this is finished, have the students pinch a clothes pin for one minute. Have them measure their pulse for 30 seconds and record their finidings on the data chart (see Figure 1). Then ask them to multiply this number by two.
  7. Have the students measure and record their pulse (in the same fasion as above) in the data table (see Figure 1) after completing each of the folloing activities: eating a cracker, walking around the room for two minutes, and doing 20 jumping jacks.
  8. Once they have finished recording their data, the students can begin graphing this information on the handout they were provided (see Figure 2) and comparing each of the six heart rates they have recorded. Their data will be discussed and students will be asked if their heart rate went up or down as the activities got more strenuous.
  9. As an ending group activity, the students will each put their graph on the group, oversized graph paper. They will be given stickers and asked to place their recorded heart rate after each activity, in the appropriate place on the graph.

Potential pitfalls

Children may have a difficult time finding their heart rate, especially if they have never had to do it before. If students are having trouble with this, make sure to tell them that on your wrist, you can find your pulse (under the thumb). Be sure that students are using their index and middle finger to take their pulse, as their thumb also has a pulse. If they are still having trouble finding their pulse, then you may need to assist them. Since this experiment involves math, some students may also have trouble doubling their heart rate, to get beats per minute. Lastly, make sure to be aware of any food allergies present in class for the eating aspect of the experiment.

Math connections

Students will be multiplying their pulse for the 30 second increment by two to get their heart beats per minuite. Students will be making a data table (see Figure 1) of their individual results. They will record their base heart rate and then record their heart rate after performing each of the given activities. The students will then graph the differences in their pulse after doing these different activities. This will be done on a provided handout (see Figure 2) They will be able to see that their pulse rise as their activity level increases. Finally, as a group, students will graph their data on the oversized graph paper. Each student will place their initials on a sticker and place the sticker on the graph, indicating the level of their heart rate after each activity. If there is time, studets could aslo find the group's average heart rate.

Literature connections

  • The Circulatory System, by Darlene R. Stille would be a great literature connection to use with this experiment because it highlights the vital aspects of the circulatory system. This book is a great way for kids to connect what they learned through their heart rate experiments because it allows them to connect it to a larger system.
  • The Magic School Bus Has a Heart, by Anne Capeci would also be a useful literature connection to use with this experiment because in this adventure, Ms. Frizzle takes her class on a trip through the bloodstream and heart. This interactive book will help solidify concepts that were learned in this experiment, like the functions and parts of the heart.
    • Citations
      • Stille, Darlene R., 1998. The Circulatory System, Children's Press
      • Capeci, Anne, 2006. The Magic School Bus Has a Heart, Cartwheel Books

Health connections

By running this experiment, students will learn that by eating healthy, your heart will work more efficiently and as a result, your heart rate will be lower. In this experiment, it is also important to stress that although exercise increases your heart rate initially, it also makes your heart more efficient because it clears out any plaque that has built up over time.

Connections to educational standards

  1. Scientific Method 7.1
  2. Investigation 7.2
  3. The Human Body 7.14
  4. Arithmetic, Number, and Operations Concepts 7.6

Next steps

After running this experiment, it would be reasonable to solidify their learning of the heart by having stuents write a reflection on what they learned from this experiment and how it will help them in the future. This topic would also pose as a good lead in to a lesson on the circulatory system because the heart is its regulator.


The students seemed to have fun with this activity, and especially enjoyed laying down, eating, and doing jumping jacks. They did have a difficult time finding their pulse and, even when they found it, easily lost it. Many of the children needed help with this aspect of the experiment, and it was evident that some students miscounted their heart rate. This activity may have been easier to do with an older group of students, or with more adults in the room. However, students did really well with the math involved with this experiment, and rarely needed help. It should be noted that at one point during the experiment, a student passed out, although for reasons that are not thought to be related to this experiment, as she had been quite sick the previous week. Another setback that we encountered was an issue of time. Half an hour is definitely not long enough to get each activity done well with third and fourth graders. Some groups we unable to do a group chart while others barely finished their individual charts and still others completed everything. The groups varied greatly, in part because some students had more difficulty finding their pulse than others. I would say that planning on an hour would be a more reasonable expectation to ensure that the experiment gets done properly. This lesson is definitely better for students in the fourth to fifth grade range because at times it was difficult for students to find their pulse. A limited selection of students were able to find their pulse and come up with accurate numbers. A few times students would say they got 10 heart beats in 30 seconds, so it was obvious that they did not have an accurate read on their pulse. The sheep heart that we brought along in conjunction with our experiment really hooked the students and got them interested in what they would be learning. It was fun for them to see what an actual heart looked like and for them to say that they have touched a real heart. The graph was a good way for students to visually see how the different activities altered their heart rate and it also added a nice mathematical component. Overall, I would recommend this experiment for older children, but it is a very valuable experiment because it teaches students about heart health and the different chambers in the heart.

Citations and links

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8LK34hoVpU&feature=related "Pump Your Blood" song and lyrics on the St. Joseph's Asprin commercial.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3ZDJgFDdk0&feature=related Movie about the circulatory system.