Visible Pulse!

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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.

Visible Pulse

Student Worthiness

Tried and Trusted.

Primary biological content area covered

  • Human Body
  • Heart Beat
  • Pulse Rate and how it changes with activity
  • Blood Flow


  • straws
  • clay
  • paper and pens for charting
  • 3 watches or timers that measure seconds
  • Book about pulse rate. A good example is Hear Your Heart by Paul Showers


Visible pulse.JPG

Line graph, individual tables for charting each person's pulse rate, and one large table for the entire class.

Lesson plan

  1. Teachers will explain how students will measure pulse rates before and after activity.
  2. Initial inquiry into pulse rate knowledge, IE. "Do you know what a pulse rate is? Do you know how to find a pulse rate?"
  3. Separate students into pairs.
  4. Pass out clay and straws. Explain that we are going to look at our pulse rates while we are at rest. Ask them to find where on their necks their pulse rate is the strongest. Model if they are unsure where to look.
  5. Stick a straw in the piece of clay and have them place the clay on their necks where they find the strongest pulse. They may need a student or teacher's assistance.
  6. Pulse rate will be recorded for 30 seconds, counting the number of times the straw moves up and down.
  7. Record results on the chart provided for the "At Rest" category.
  8. Have students participate in 1 minute of jumping jacks to raise their heart rate.
  9. After students have jumped for 1 minute, have them take their pulse rate again.
  10. Record these results in the "Jumping Jacks" category.
  11. Give time for heart rate to slow down.
  12. Have students check final pulse rate. Chart results.
  13. Compile all results onto class chart. Leave space for absent students' results.
  14. Discuss the results with the students:
    • -What difference did you notice between being at rest and doing the jumping jacks? Between jumping jacks and your final heart rate?
    • -Were you surprised at what you found?
  15. Read a book for pulse rate connections.
  16. Talk about the book with the students in the remaining time.
  17. Have students put together a package for absent students.

Positives/Negatives & Tips for Successful Lesson

  • Regardless of whether the results turn out perfectly accurate or not, children really enjoy, have a lot of fun and end up learning a great deal through this activity!
  • Clay may not stick well, but it could be replaced with the extremely sticky tags used in a lot of physical therapy. These could be attained from a medical supplier, or better yet, from parents who are in the medical profession.
  • Movement of straw may not be clearly visible
  • Students breathing may affect the movement of the straw.
  • Be sure to make an educational connection with heart, blood and pulse rate.
  • Try to plan enough time to read book at the end of the lesson.
  • Plan time to compare results of the chart as a class.
  • Kids may have a hard time finding their pulse. Help them by finding it and putting the clay on the spot yourself.
  • Encourage kids to hold the edge of the clay on the neck without touching the straw so they can correlate the movement of the straw with the pulse rate their feeling through the clay. This will be more accurate than the kids "thinking" or guessing that the straw was moving when it wasn't and skewing the results.
  • Some kids are very knowledgeable on what pulse rate is and how it works!
  • Providing the students with diagrams in a textbook of the heart and ventricles helped them understand the movement of blood.

Math connections

  • This activity involves basic counting and charting as well as calculating differences in heart rates.
  • Students could use one large line graph to graph the increase in heart rates and then compare the results.
  • Students could compare the heart rates gathered during the activity and find the average heart rate for the class at rest, and after the jumping jacks.

Health Connections

  • Exercise
  • Heart health - could be great opportunity to talk about heart problems, so that kids become aware of the issues facing many individuals
  • Importance of physical fitness

Literature Connection

Hear Your Heart by Paul Showers and Holly Keller is a nonfiction picture book about heart rate and how it works.

Literary Acvivity-- Creech, Sharon, 2004, ''Heartbeat'', HarperCollins This particular book contains numerous simple poems, therefore students will become acquainted to them. For the activity, after the lesson in class in which some poems are read and looked at, students will be given the opportunity to write a simple poem as best as they can about physical activity/having a pulse. Students will bring their poems in the next day to share with the class.

Bloom's Taxonomy: Comprehension-- Students will understand and analyze the poems read to help understand the material better. -Students are predicting consequences and effects by being able to write their own poem about running (ex. They realize that the more physical activity they do, the higher their pulse rate will be.

Application-- Students will use the material learned in class to write their own poem.

Synthesis-- Producing new information (aka their poems) - Creation of an essay or a speech (a poem in this case) using patterns and structures.

Evaluation-- Students will share their poems with the class then hand them in. It will be graded well if it is suitable to the lesson of pulse/heartrate. It will also be graded on creativity, composition and precision.

Connections to educational standards

Vermont Grade Expectations

  • S3-4:41Students demonstrate their understanding of Human Body Systems by showing connections between external and internal body structures and how they help humans survive.

Vermont Framework of Vital Results Students...

  • 7.1.f. Use either deductive or inductive reasoning to explain observations and phenomena, or to predict answers to questions
  • 7.2.b. Design and conduct a systematic observation
  • 7.3.b. Look for evidence that explains why things happen; and
  • 7.3.c. Modify explanations when new observations are made or new knowledge is gained.

Next steps

The students can apply this in their own lives by noticing how they feel after certain activities. To take the learned experience a step further, students now know where and how to check a pulse if they are ever in a situation where a pulse rate is needed.

Citations and links

This activity adapted from: Zoom

Vermont State Grade Expectations can be found at the State of Vermont Department of Education website. [1]