Curricular Unit: Aging Heart Valves

Contributed by: VU Bioengineering RET Program, School of Engineering, Vanderbilt University

A female doctor listens to the heart of a male patient.
Understanding the heart, and knowing what to listen for in diagnosing heart conditions, is critical for providing life-saving patient care.
Copyright © Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


In this unit, students learn about the form and function of the human heart through lecture, research and dissection. Following the steps of the Legacy Cycle, students brainstorm, research, design and present viable solutions to various heart conditions as presented through a unit challenge. Additionally, students study how heart valves work and investigate how faulty valves can be replaced with new ones through advancements in engineering and technology. This unit demonstrates to students how and why the heart is such a powerful organ in our bodies.

Engineering Connection

When engineers design solutions to problems, they first gather information—background information about the system they are working with, testing and analysis data that they collect from various materials, and information from experts more familiar with the subject. To design medical devices, technologies and procedures, biomedical engineers must understand how the human body functions, as well as how disease and disorders affect the body. In addition to knowledge gained through education and experience, engineers use problem-solving skills every step of the way in designing devices, tools, products, structures and processes that improve our society.

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.

  • Technological innovation often results when ideas, knowledge, or skills are shared within a technology, among technologies, or across other fields. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Give feedback on this alignment...
  • The design process includes defining a problem, brainstorming, researching and generating ideas, identifying criteria and specifying constraints, exploring possibilities, selecting an approach, developing a design proposal, making a model or prototype, testing and evaluating the design using specifications, refining the design, creating or making it, and communicating processes and results. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Give feedback on this alignment...
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Unit Overview

Challenge Question

Your grandmother, who has been a non-smoker and relatively healthy throughout her life, has recently noticed that she is becoming increasingly short of breath as she does simple things, such as climbing the steps in her house. She has also noticed that her heart rate increases when she does mild exercise, such as walking to the mailbox or going upstairs. What could be causing this? Is it just due to her getting older? Is there reason to be concerned? What can be done to help her?

Unit Schedule


Michael Duplessis; Janet Yowell; Carleigh Samson; Victoria Lanaghan


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2011 Vanderbilt University

Supporting Program

VU Bioengineering RET Program, School of Engineering, Vanderbilt University


The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under National Science Foundation RET grant nos. 0338092 and 0742871. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the NSF, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.