Grade Level: 5 (3-5)
Time Required: 30 minutes
Expendable Cost/Group: US $0.00
Group Size: 6
Activity Dependency: None
Subject Areas: Biology
SummaryIn this activity, students participate in a series of timed relay races using their skeletal muscles. They compare the movement of skeletal muscle and relate how engineers help astronauts exercise skeletal muscles in space.
Engineers need to understand how the human body works in order to design devices to help our bodies. In particular, engineers working at NASA need to know how astronauts' muscles work, so they can examine how microgravity affects their muscles.
After this activity, students should be able to:
- List the three types of muscles and identify each as voluntary or involuntary.
- Explain why exercise is important to maintaining healthy muscles.
- Describe how engineers and our muscles work together as a team.
- Practice using a clock to measure time.
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within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.
Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.
All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).
In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.
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Each group needs:
- Copy of the Relay Worksheet
- Clipboard (or students can use a hard-cover book)
- Pen or pencil
- Stopwatch (or if a clock with a second hand that the whole class can see is available, this will work instead)
Worksheets and AttachmentsVisit [ ] to print or download.
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As we have learned, we all have three types of muscle in our bodies: skeletal, cardiac and smooth muscle. Cardiac muscle is found in our heart, and keeps our blood pumping throughout our bodies. Smooth muscle is found in hollow organs, such as our stomach. Smooth and cardiac muscles are called involuntary muscles, which means we cannot control them just by thinking about it ─ you cannot tell your heart to beat or your stomach to digest!
Skeletal muscles are called voluntary muscles – they are the only muscles that we can control by thinking about them. Skeletal muscles are attached to our bones by tendons, and they help our bones move. Skeletal muscles are the ones we use to kick a soccer ball, dance or even simply hop up and down! Some skeletal muscles that we use frequently are our biceps (teacher: point to upper front arm), triceps (teacher: point to upper back arm), and our quadriceps (teacher: point to front of thighs).
Biomedical engineering is one type of engineering. Biomedical engineers design things to help take care of our bodies. They can help us stay healthy or help fix us when something in our bodies goes wrong. One really neat place that biomedical engineers get to work is NASA. These engineers get to help take care of the astronauts before, during, and when they get back from their trips to outer space. These engineers need to know how our bodies and our muscles work, so they can make sure the astronauts are in tip-top shape.
When astronauts travel into outer space, they are in a microgravity environment, which means that there is almost no gravity at all. Engineers have to understand how muscles work so that they can understand how microgravity affects the astronauts' muscles. Engineers and scientists know that microgravity leads to muscle atrophy (which means the astronauts' muscles get very weak; see Figure 2), so they design special exercise machines to help the astronauts exercise and stay strong.
Exercise helps the astronauts stay healthy while in outer space and kids and grownups stay healthy here on Earth! As we get old, our muscles get weak, just like the astronauts. But, if we exercise, we can help our muscles stay strong. Strong muscles are very important because our muscles allow us to do all the fun and important things that we want to do on a daily basis ─ from snowboarding, to playing basketball, to swimming with our friends.
Another very important thing about muscles is that they work in teams – and so do engineers! Today we are going to do some exercises and relay races to practice working in teams and learn more about our amazing muscles.
Before the Activity
- Gather clock and clipboards (or books) and make copies of the Relay Worksheet.
- Clear the classroom to make room for the relay races or find an appropriate area outside.
With the Students
- Describe the three types of muscles (skeletal, smooth and cardiac).
- Explain the difference between involuntary and voluntary muscles. Explain which muscles are involuntary and which are voluntary. Ask the students to tell their hearts when to beat (they can't!) and to tell their stomachs to take a break from digesting (which they also won't be able to do).
- Explain that skeletal muscles are the only muscles we can control by telling them to move.
- Practice moving some skeletal muscles: ask the class to reach up as high as they can towards the ceiling; touch their toes; hop on two feet; hop on one foot; wiggle their toes; and other similar demonstrations.
- Talk about the importance of exercising and the role engineers play in helping astronauts stay healthy (see Introduction/Motivation section).
- Explain that engineers work together in teams, and so do our muscles. Tell the students that today the class is going to run some relay races to practice working together in teams and use their skeletal muscles.
- Break the students into groups of 6 by counting off. Pick one student to be the record keeper for the group.
- Tell the students that each student must walk (or hop or jump) a certain distance, then come back and touch the hand of the next student before they can go. The record keeper should write down the starting and ending time for each race. The students should run four relay races: hopping on one foot, jumping on two feet, walking forwards, and walking backwards.
- When all the races have been run, the group should work together to figure out the total time for each race, and the total time for all four races.
Atrophy: To waste away or decrease in size.
Biceps: Skeletal muscles found in the upper arm.
Cardiac muscle: Involuntary muscles located in the heart.
Involuntary muscle: Muscle that does not respond to thinking about movement.
Quadriceps: Skeletal muscles found at front of your thigh; also knows as quads.
Skeletal muscle: Voluntary muscles attached to bone.
Smooth muscle: Involuntary muscles located in the hollow internal organs.
Striated muscle: Muscle that appears to be striped – both cardiac and skeletal muscle are striated.
Tendons: Tough tissue that attaches skeletal muscles to the bone.
Triceps: Skeletal muscles found at the back of the upper arm.
Voluntary muscle: Muscle that responds when thinking about movement.
Know / Want to Know / Learn (KWL) Chart: Before the lesson, ask students to write down in the top left corner of a piece of paper (or as a group on the board) under the title, Know, all the things they know about muscles. Next, in the top right corner under the title, Want to Know, ask students to write down anything they want to know about muscles. After the lesson, ask students to list in the bottom half of the page under the title, Learned, all of the things that they have learned about muscles. Ask students to name a few items and write them on the board.
Activity Embedded Assessment
Worksheet: Have the students record their observations on the activity worksheet; review their answers to gauge their mastery of the subject.
- Help students calculate their total time for each race and all four races and answer the questions on the Relay Worksheet. Ensure that students understand that the muscles they use for walking, hopping, and jumping are all skeletal muscles.
- Create a list or a graph on the chalkboard showing the total times (from all the groups) for each relay race. Discuss which type of race was the fastest/slowest.
Know / Want to Know / Learn (KWL) Chart: Finish the remaining section of the KWL Chart as described in the Pre-Lesson Assessment section. After the lesson, ask students to list in the bottom half of the page under the title, Learned, all of the things that they have learned about muscles. Ask students to name a few items and write them on the board. (Possible answers: there are three types of muscles; muscles help us move and do fun things; there are cardiac, smooth, and skeletal muscles; skeletal muscles are voluntary; cardiac and smooth muscles are involuntary; muscles work in teams; engineers help take care of astronauts; exercising helps our muscles stay strong; etc.)
Concept Reflections / Journal Writing: Have the students reflect on the relays they just did, and write a journal entry on their thoughts. Have them write three to five sentences on what they learned today about muscles that would help engineers design exercise equipment for astronauts in space. Have them use the following vocabulary words in their reflection: muscle, voluntary, engineer, astronaut, exercise.
If racing outdoors, be aware of the possibility of dehydration.
Room/area must be cleared of objects that students could run into or trip over.
Make sure all the relay teams can clearly see a clock (or supply stopwatches for each team).
If time allows, have the students work as a team to see how they could improve their times. Do they have any ideas? Continue to reinforce the idea of voluntary muscle and how they can control when their skeletal muscles move. Remind students that engineers work in teams to understand muscles and design ways for astronauts to keep their muscles strong in space and to counteract microgravity (little or no gravity).
- For upper grades, discuss the role of biomedical engineers in the space program. Discuss cultural attitudes towards exercise and the role of exercise in preventing muscle atrophy. Discuss how developing healthy habits now can help prevent problems in the future. Calculate the average race time per person for each race.
- For lower grades, discuss what life would be like without our muscles. Remind them of all the things we would not be able to do without the presence of muscles. Talk about why teamwork is so important.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, http://www.fitness.gov/
National Aeronautical and Space Administration, Space Research, The Office of Biological and Physical Research, "Pumping Iron in Microgravity," January 22, 2004, http://spaceresearch.nasa.gov/general_info/pumpingiron.html
Copyright© 2004 by Regents of the University of Colorado.
ContributorsAbigail Watrous; Denali Lander; Beth Myers; Malinda Schaefer Zarske; Janet Yowell
Supporting ProgramIntegrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder
The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education and National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. 0338326. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the Department of Education or National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.
Last modified: March 11, 2022