4 ways to explore cardiac science in the classroom

Since 1964, February has been officially recognized as American Heart Month. For the entire month, efforts are made everywhere to raise awareness of heart health. 

For teachers, it’s the perfect time to intertwine concepts in cardiac science and health in accessible ways that will help students understand the organ that beats inside all of them and how important it is to keep it healthy. 

In this post, you’ll find discussion and activity ideas for exploring heart anatomy, physiology, and health topics throughout February and beyond. 

1. Explore the anatomy and physiology of the heart 

With the use of heart models show students visually what a heart looks like and how it functions.

Take the time to give students a refresher on heart basics by reviewing the heart’s anatomy and physiology through the use of visual aids and fun facts that they may not know. With the use of heart models such as this jumbo model, this life-size model, or this pumping heart model, show students visually what a heart looks like and how it functions using both mechanical and electrical components. 

Point out the location and explain the function of parts of the heart like the pulmonary vein, left atrium, left ventricle, aorta, pulmonary artery, vena cava, arteries, and veins. Facilitate further discussion about the heart by sharing these fun facts:

  • A student’s heart is roughly the size of their fist (demonstrate this by having students hold out their hands and form a fist).
  • Most women’s hearts beat faster than men’s (encourage students to listen to each other’s hearts using stethoscopes to find out for themselves).
  • Your heart beats about 4,000 times each hour, 100,000 times each day, and 35 million times in a single year.
  • Your heart circulates the blood supply about 1,000 times each day.
  • Your heart pumps the equivalent of 5,000 to 6,000 quarts of blood per day.
  • If the blood vessels in your body were joined end to end, they would circle the earth two and a half times.
  • You could drive a truck 20 miles using the energy created by your heart in one day.

2. Make learning about cardiac science fun for the entire class

Bring a bit of fun to your classroom with activities, experiments, and games that are designed to teach students the science of the heart in an engaging, hands-on way. 

Bring a bit of fun to your classroom with activities, experiments, and games that are designed to teach heart science.
  • Give students supplies to build functioning DIY heart models to visually see the blood pumping action of a heart. To build a model, each student will need a glass jar, water, red food coloring, a balloon, scissors, tape, and two plastic bendy straws.
    • Have each student cut their balloon where the neck starts. 
    • Add a few drops of food coloring to a cup of water. After filling the jar with the colored water, stretch the balloon over the mouth of the jar and make sure it’s as flat as possible.
    • Poke two tiny holes into the balloon cover that are about an inch apart and place a straw in each hole. 
    • Take the neck of the balloon and wrap it around the end of one straw and tape it in place to prevent water and air from going into or out of the straw. 
    • Lightly press onto the balloon lid and watch it pump the colored water, or “blood,” like a heart. 
    • To avoid making a mess, place the jar on a tray before students start pumping the “blood” in their models. 
  • Get students moving and checking their heart rate with a simple activity. Instruct them to lie on the ground and count their heart rate for 15 seconds and multiply that number by four to get beats per minute. Students should then sit in a chair and take their heart rate again and after one minute take it again. Finally, instruct them to stand up as quickly as possible and repeat the process, taking their heart rate immediately and then again after one minute. They should notice that their heart rates return to a resting rate after one minute. This activity is designed to help students to understand heart rates and how blood pools in the lower half of the body when sitting up or standing up, making the heart pump faster to return the blood.
  • Give your students time to play and learn cardiac science with the Nasco Heart Game. The game, designed for two to six individual players or teams, reviews heart anatomy and physiology, both diagnostic and assessment. The game helps students learn the basic principles of cardiac assessment, how to correlate diagnostic data to anatomy and physiology, trace circulation of blood, identify the anatomical components and normal regulatory mechanisms of the heart, and identify normal electrical conduction of impulses through the heart. 

3. Teach students the science behind heart disease

Assist your classroom discussions with visual aids such as a 3D artery and heart disease displays.

Because the heart is a muscle, it can become weakened over time if it’s not exercised and treated with care. Physical inactivity, genetics, and unhealthy habits like smoking and poor diet can put anyone at risk for heart dangers such as heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, cardiac arrest, and more. It’s important for students to know and understand the dangers so they can make informed decisions and develop healthy habits.

Start the discussion with your students by sharing facts about the dangers that the heart faces, common symptoms and warning signs to be aware of, innovations in cardiovascular healthcare, and preventative measures that should be taken. 

  • Review the differences between heart disease and congenital heart defects, heart disease and a heart attack, a heart attack and a stroke, and a stroke and cardiac arrest. 
  • Raise the awareness of these dangers during class discussions but also give them knowledge of the science behind how and why these dangers occur. 
  • Talk about the innovations in cardiovascular health care that are being developed by scientists and researchers that will help treat heart disease like stem cell therapy, implantable defibrillators, robotic heart sleeves, 3D bioprinted heart tissue, artificial intelligence algorithms, and more. Extend learning by having students choose one of these innovations to research and report on.
  • Assist your discussion with visual aids such as a 3D artery and heart disease display, a set of three heart models, a four-piece artery model, and an artery blockage model. These will help demonstrate the concepts you’re discussing in an easier and more digestible way. 

Even though this information can be intense and scary for students to learn, think, and talk about, this knowledge is essential in helping them start to make heart-smart choices while they’re young so they can live long and healthy lives. 

4. Remind students that healthy habits are good for the heart

There’s science behind the claim that healthy habits can benefit the heart. It’s important for students to learn about not only the science of the heart but also healthy ways to improve their heart health. Both proper nutrition and maintaining healthy habits like getting regular exercise and managing stress levels can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and other dangers.

It’s important for students to learn heart-healthy ways to improve their heart health.
  • Eating a well-balanced and nutrient-rich diet is one of the major steps in giving the heart the strength it needs to function. Get students interested in heart-healthy foods they’ve never tried before. Bring in fresh ingredients, samples, and snacks for taste tests. Have each student test the food you bring in, have them write their thoughts on each one, and then facilitate conversation on what recipes can be made using the ingredients. 
    • After taste testing, get students learning and talking about nutrition and dieting by playing an interactive game show-style game called Nutrition Question Quest. The cards in the set include questions that cover six categories: nutrition knowledge, nutrients, food groups, minerals, nutrition-related illnesses, and heart-healthy dieting.
  • Encourage students to attempt to get regular exercise. Health experts say that students should spend at least 30 minutes or more every day doing a cardiovascular fitness activity that will increase their heart rate whether it’s playing sports, taking walks after school, riding their bike, and more. Give them the option to use this activity tracker to track their steps and their daily activity. 
    • Raising their heart rate is an effective way to keep their hearts strong and healthy. For a quick and fun activity, give students space in the classroom to do an exercise of your choosing and then have them check their pulse by putting their fingertips to their carotid artery on their neck. 
  • Teach students that managing stress will help the heart in significant ways. Pressures from school, work, and personal relationships can be stressful for many students and that stress can be damaging to their physical health. An excessive amount of stress that’s left unmanaged can have a direct effect on their heart and can lead to health problems like high blood pressure. Help your students manage their stress through practicing mindfulness in any way they can and sharing additional tips like eating healthy, getting regular exercise, and getting plenty of sleep at night. If you’re looking for more ideas, use this guide on teaching stress management to students dealing with pressures inside and outside of school. 

Teach students the value of being heart-smart

Finding ways to engage your students in lessons about the heart will help them not only understand concepts in cardiac science but also the importance of heart health. When you’re planning your lessons about the heart, use these discussion points and activity ideas as a starting point. The knowledge you share with them can inspire them to take a proactive approach to learn more about their hearts outside of the classroom.

Finding ways to engage students in lessons about the heart will help them understand the importance of heart health.

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