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Heart Engineering Activity

Jeff Dodds


This is an activity which works well at the end of a human heart discovery unit. It could be classified at the synthesis level of Bloom's cognitive hierarchy of learning. Students use their knowledge of the human heart and create a new heart with slight variations in anatomical structure. Students are given a story about an alien nation who suffer from hearts which fail early in their lives. The students are asked to design an artificial heart which will help the aliens extend their life expectancy. Students can make their artificial hearts using an array of materials.

Preparation and Materials:

Very little preparation is needed!! The students are presented with a story (I have included the story I have used) which will establish a central purpose for the assignment. Along with the story, students are given the anatomy specifications of the alien heart (I have included my heart anatomy specifications). Finally the students need some materials to build their artificial heart. I definitely recommend Play Doh in an array of colors. It is important to remind your students not to mix the Play Doh unless you want your Play Doh to resemble a Greatful Dead T-shirt. Aside from the Play Doh, I use what ever I can find to represent other structures of the heart like pipe cleaners or wicke sticks to represent arteries or veins.

About the Assignment

I give this assignment to students at the end of a heart unit because it allows the students to use their currents knowledge of the heart and apply it to a new situation. I give the students a handout which includes the story, alien heart anatomy and the method of evaluation. I do not give the students a lot of personal direction or attention because I want them to rely on themselves to develop their artificial heart. It important to provide students with alien heart anatomy which is similar to that of humans but not so close to human anatomy that they can model their alien heart out of textbook pictures. Further I ask to student to draw and color their heart from their model, label the heart using their own (UNIQUE) terminology, and provide a written description on how blood would flow through their heart (heart mechanics).

Teaching Tips for the Assignment:

Very often this is a fun day for me, the teacher because I have a grand time watching the students enjoy learning. I found as I present this assignment to students, they look at the assignment then look at me with confusion. Reason, their minds are having trouble creating. When I get those looks of confusion, I tell the student to at least try and make the heart according to the anatomical specifications. As extra incentive I give a reward to the student who designs the most original heart. It is also important that their heart works mechanically!! Students will commonly put structures where ever they please. In this situation, the student's creative process is in motion but they are missing the other point of the assignment. Students must understand they have basic freedoms in their heart's design, but they do have to produce an artificial heart which would work mechanically. As a teacher I want to examine each alien heart. During the examination I have the student tell me how blood would flow through their heart. A variation to this method of assessment would be to have the students individually talk about their heart to the whole class. Further assessment comes from heart drawings, heart labeling (using their own terminology), and a mechanical description.

THE ACTIVITY (as given to my students):

It is the year 2500. The Plant Earth has discovered many new planets which contain life. Some life forms are almost human-like aside from a few features. Your star-ship has just landed on an undiscovered planet. Unfortunately when the star-ship entered the planet's atmosphere a grand ion charge zapped your star-ship's power supply. To repair your star-ship, you need to find the mineral reggeti. You decide you will lead your crew in a search for the substance. In a short time you meet a human-like alien colony calling themselves Xyphoids. Your crew is excited to meet this population because you hope they know how to located reggeti. In brief time you discover the alien population can speak your language so you inquire about reggeti. To your surprise the leader knows where the mineral can be found, but he will only you show on one condition. The Xyphoids, ever since their known existence, have hearts which fail at a very young age. For years they have tried to invent an artificial heart without success. The alien population knows your technology is more advance than theirs. They will lead you to the reggeti source if you can successfully make an artificial heart for their population.

Xyphoid anatomy:

  • 3 chambers in their heart
  • 2 heart valves
  • 1 lung
  • 3 major vena cava entering the heart
  • 2 pulmonary arteries
  • 3 pulmonary veins
  • 2 arteries leaving the heart to supply the body with blood


  1. Use the PlayDoh and other materials to make a CROSS SECTION (cross section means to leave an area of the heart open so the teacher can observe your internal design) of the heart which corresponds to the Xyphoid anatomy. The heart must work mechanically (meaning the your creation must be able to pump blood to the one lung and bring it back to the heart. Further your valves must be placed in logical positions). (REMEMBER don't mix the PlayDoh!!!)

  2. Draw your heart creation in the space below or on the back of this page (color is encouraged)

  3. Label your valves, veins, arteries, chambers and other structures (use original terminology)

  4. Describe (use your unique heart labels) how your heart will work mechanically. Describe how it will move the blood to the one lung and out the rest of the body.

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