Curricular Unit: Humans Are Like Robots

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

Photo shows a bi-pedal robot that looks like a man in a white spacesuit and helmet.
How are robots and humans related?
Copyright © Wikimedia Commons


Four lessons related to robots and people present students with life sciences concepts related to the human body (including brain, nervous systems and muscles), introduced through engineering devices and subjects (including computers, actuators, electricity and sensors), via hands-on LEGO® robot activities. Students learn what a robot is and how it works, and then the similarities and differences between humans and robots. For instance, in lesson 3 and its activity, the human parts involved in moving and walking are compared with the corresponding robot components so students see various engineering concepts at work in the functioning of the human body. This helps them to see the human body as a system, that is, from the perspective of an engineer. Students learn how movement results from 1) decision making, such as deciding to walk and move, and 2) implementation by conveying decisions to muscles (human) or motors (robot).
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

A major aspect of biological engineering and neuroscience is the ability to see the human body as a functioning, controlled system, similar to a robot. More and more findings show that mathematical principles similar to those used in robotics are extremely useful or even necessary for a complete understanding of the human body. In the fields of biological engineering and systems neurobiology, engineers are becoming more involved in human body research and efforts to replicate the functioning of many of its systems. Electrical circuits, motors, gears and controls are all taught in the electrical, mechanical, instrumentation and control, and biomedical engineering disciplines.

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.

Middle School Lesson
Are We Like Robots?

Students explore the similarities between how humans move and walk and how robots move, so they come to see the human body as a system from an engineering point-of-view.

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.

Elementary Unit
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.

Elementary Lesson

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.

  • Use a model to describe that animals' receive different types of information through their senses, process the information in their brain, and respond to the information in different ways. (Grade 4) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • 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) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
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Unit Schedule


Ajay Nair; Kalyani Upendram; Ashwin Mohan; Satish Nair


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2010 Curators of the University of Missouri

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: September 7, 2017