Curricular Unit: Our Bodies Have Computers and Sensors

Quick Look

Grade Level: 6 (5-8)

Choose From: 3 lessons and 5 activities

Subject Areas: Biology, Life Science, Science and Technology

Photo shows a Japanese robot called DER 01 that looks amazingly like an Asian girl with long hair, stylish clothing and realistic body shape and parts. A diagram of the human body with lines throughout, identifying nervous system parts such as brain, cerebellum, spinal cord, and plexuses and nerves.
One way to look at the human body is as if it was an amazingly sophisticated computer system with sensors.
Copyright © 2006 Persian Poet Gal, Wikipedia (left), 2005 Gnsin, Wikimedia Commons {PD} (right)


Students learn about the human body's system components, specifically its sensory systems, nervous system and brain, while comparing them to robot system components, such as sensors and computers. The unit's life sciences-to-engineering comparison is accomplished through three lessons and five activities. The important framework of "stimulus-sensor-coordinator-effector-response" is introduced to show how it improves our understanding the cause-effect relationships of both systems. This framework reinforces the theme of the human body as a system from the perspective of an engineer. This unit is the second of a series, intended to follow the Humans Are Like Robots unit.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Comparing neuroscience and engineering shows us the functional similarities between the human brain and human-made computers, sensors and robots. Electrical, mechanical and biological engineers apply mathematical principles similar to those used in human brains and systems as they devise improved robots, computers and sensors. With the growing popularity of the biological engineering and systems neurobiology fields, engineers are becoming more involved in human body research involving efforts to replicate the functioning of many of human systems. For example, engineers are designing walking robots with artificial organs, such as heart and liver, and bio-sensors, such as for detecting sugar levels for diabetics.

Educational Standards

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 (

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.

NGSS Performance Expectation

MS-LS1-8. Gather and synthesize information that sensory receptors respond to stimuli by sending messages to the brain for immediate behavior or storage as memories. (Grades 6 - 8)

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This unit focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Gather, read, and synthesize information from multiple appropriate sources and assess the credibility, accuracy, and possible bias of each publication and methods used, and describe how they are supported or not supported by evidence.

Alignment agreement:

Each sense receptor responds to different inputs (electromagnetic, mechanical, chemical), transmitting them as signals that travel along nerve cells to the brain. The signals are then processed in the brain, resulting in immediate behaviors or memories.

Alignment agreement:

Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural systems.

Alignment agreement:

  • Students will develop an understanding of the characteristics and scope of technology. (Grades K - 12) More Details

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  • Students will develop an understanding of the relationships among technologies and the connections between technology and other fields of study. (Grades K - 12) More Details

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  • Students will develop an understanding of the attributes of design. (Grades K - 12) More Details

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  • Describe how new technologies have helped scientists make better observations and measurements for investigations (e.g., telescopes, electronic balances, electronic microscopes, x-ray technology, computers, ultrasounds, computer probes such as thermometers) (Grade 5) More Details

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  • Advances in technology often result in improved data collection and an increase in scientific information (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Explain the interactions between the nervous and muscular systems when an organism responds to a stimulus (Grade 8) More Details

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More Curriculum Like This

Brain is a Computer

Students learn about the similarities between the human brain and its engineering counterpart, the computer. Since students work with computers routinely, this comparison strengthens their understanding of both how the brain works and how it parallels that of a computer.

preview of 'Brain is a Computer' Lesson
Middle School Lesson
Reflecting on Human Reflexes

Students learn about human reflexes, how our bodies react to stimuli and how some body reactions and movements are controlled automatically, without thinking consciously about the movement or responses. In the associated activity, students explore how reflexes work in the human body by observing an ...

preview of 'Reflecting on Human Reflexes' Lesson
Middle School Lesson
What Is a Sensor?

Students gain a rigorous background in the primary human "sensors," as preparation for comparing them to some electronic equivalents in the associated activity. Students learn the concept of "stimulus-sensor-coordinator-effector-response" to describe the human and electronic sensory processes.

preview of 'What Is a Sensor? ' Lesson
Elementary Lesson
How Do Sensors Work?

Through six lesson/activity sets, students learn about the functioning of sensors, both human and robotic. The overall framework reinforces the theme of the human body as a system with sensors—that is, from an engineering perspective.

preview of 'How Do Sensors Work?' Unit
Elementary Unit

Unit Schedule

Conduct the lessons and activities in the following order:

  1. Lesson 1: Brain is a Computer --> Activity 1: That's Hot! Robot Brain Programming
  2. Lesson 2: Humans and Robot Sensors --> Activity 2: Commanding a Robot Using Sound --> Activity 3: Hearing: How Do Our Ears Work? --> Activity 4: Sound from Left or Right?
  3. Lesson 3: Reflecting on Human Reflexes --> Activity 5: Pupillary Response & Test Your Reaction Time

A table lists lesson or activity title and estimated time required. For example, lesson 1: Brain is a computer (3 sessions, 50-minutes each) followed by activity 1: That's Hot! Robot Brain Programming (30 minutes).


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2012 Curators of the University of Missouri


Sachin Nair, Charlie Franklin, Marianne Catanho, Satish Nair

Supporting Program

GK-12 Program, Computational Neurobiology Center, College of Engineering, University of Missouri


This curriculum was developed under National Science Foundation GK-12 grant number DGE 0440524. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: February 12, 2018


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