Teaching a Unit on the Human Body Systems

Engage and excite students in learning about the different body systems

     As you know, I love everything science. A few years ago, I had an opportunity to teach sixth-grade science which made me really excited. I was used to teaching seventh-grade science, which in my district is physical science and includes a lot of abstract topics. Sixth-grade science is life science, a big chunk of that being the human body. I was super excited but needed to decide the best framework to introduce each body system to my students.



Below is the order in which I teach the body systems to my students. Please note that we cover a large majority of the body systems in my district but not every single one.

Body Systems:

  •            Body Organization
  •       Skeletal System
  •           Muscular System
  •           Digestive System
  •        Circulatory System
  •       Respiratory System
  •        Excretory System
  •        Nervous System
  •        Endocrine System
  •        Reproductive System


     Other systems that we do cover but briefly are the integumentary system (hair, skin, and nails) and the immune system. I usually throw in these systems when I have an extra day or two in-between units. 

Why choose this method?

         I feel that organizing and teaching our bodies in this way makes more sense. Starting with the unit on the body organization is important because it explains as to how small things within our bodies can grow into bigger things. That is, cells come together to make specialized cells. Specialized cells form tissues, and tissues form organs. A group of organs work together to build an organ system.

         This line of thinking makes more sense to the students and it allows them to better understand as to how our bodies grow and work.

         I like to first start off with what students already know and build on their learning. For this reason, I begin with the skeletal and muscular system first. From a very young age, children know about the bones and the muscles. So, from here we review and further go into greater depth of the types of bones and muscles, what they do, how they form, etc. Just as the skeletal system is the framework for our bodies, I feel that the bones and muscles are the framework for our unit.

         The next unit is the digestive system. This system is a good connection to the muscular system because the stomach is a smooth muscle and it operates without any thought. It is important to continually relate to how each system works with one another, and that they are not separate entities. After each unit, I ask students to link their learning to the previous body systems and see how the systems work with one another by keeping our bodies in line. Caution: This unit will lead to a lot of giggles when talking about how our body needs to eliminate the food we eat. I let my students let it out all at once for a minute. Their laughter and amusement add to their engagement.




      I teach the circulatory system next. This system links with so many other systems because blood flows all around our bodies, in and out of many organs. This has a natural connection to the respiratory system. In other words, once our bodies take in a substance, it eventually needs to release it.  This is why I believe the excretory system needs to be taught next.

     The final two units have to do with growth and development, the endocrine and reproductive system. I also like to leave these units to the end as they touch upon the reproduction which can lead to a lot of giggles. I feel at this point in the unit students are older, more mature, and have heard about other embarrassing things that our bodies do in which we don’t really talk about, so they are ready for this part of the unit and will have good questions. Just be informative and it will be OK, although I won’t lie, I do still dread the reproductive system chat! 😀

Tips, tricks, and exciting ideas to use to teach about the human body systems


Starting a unit:

         I am of the school of thought in needing to cover vocabulary before a topic. Not all of my students have the same knowledge and background. So to even the playing field, I like to make sure that they can at least identify the parts of each system. As a visual learner myself, when possible, I like to have anchor charts or posters that detail each word as a reminder. Studies show that the more times you see a word, especially when linked to a visual, the higher the retention rate. 

If you have a subscription to Brainpop, I highly suggest that you make use of it.  I LOVE showing their short video clips. No matter the age, students still love Moby, and the information that is given is really top notch. Usually I have a few extra minutes at the end of the class period and will show students a related video.

         One other source that I didn’t realize had science videos until the end of teaching this unit was Flocabulary. If you feel that Brainpop videos look too juvenile (even though they have really good information), then check out Flocabulary. It isn’t free, there is a small fee, but everything is done in a rap style format which the kids really like. Just like Brainpop, the videos are well-done and students walk away with a wealth of information.

        Webquests are a great way to add to a student’s background knowledge before discussing a unit. One of the websites that I love to include within my webquests is Kidshealth.org. In addition to the written information they include, Kids Health has short videos that are engaging, even for older students, and informative. It is free!

How to infuse technology to introduce the human body systems to your students


     Nonfiction texts are a great way to further student knowledge. They can detail and sequence each part of the system, how it works, and how it interacts with the other parts. The comprehension questions allow you to know if a student understands what they have read.



     Being a visual learner, I love to color and make things colorful. I know I am more likely to remember it. I like to have students complete doodle sketch notes to allow them to better retain the information. Studies show that students who color have a better retention rate because they are using both sides of their brains, which allow them to make more connections to the material. This activity will help students to further solidify their knowledge. 


Adding an arts integrated approach to the body systems with doodles and drawing


     Hands-on learning is what science is always about. Whether it is experimenting to see how digestion works, building a bone, or designing a structure to protect the human brain, students learn best through hands-on activities. Include as many as you can in your classroom to keep them engaged. 


Incorporating hands on activities to connect STEM to the human body systems



     Task cards and flipbooks will help further student understanding. Either of these methods are a great formative assessment to determine their level of knowledge. They allow for collaboration and creativity and students love them.

         Assessing students can be as simple (and boring) as a standard test, or as fun as a culminating activity. Having students create a wanted poster for parts of the circulatory system can make assessment fun for both you and them. They don’t realize that a poster is a form of assessment of their knowledge on the different parts of the system, how it works, and how it relates with the other parts. Plus, these posters look great hanging up!


Using different formative assessments to assess student knowledge of the human body systems



     I hope you have gained some ideas about the order of teaching the human body. Below is my bundle which includes everything discussed above and more. The unit also includes many digital options to help you differentiate amongst your learners.




         If you have any other tips, tricks, or ideas, please comment below!
      


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