Lesson: Challenges of Laparoscopic Surgery

Quick Look

Grade Level: 10 (9-12)

Time Required: 45 minutes

Lesson Dependency:

Subject Areas: Biology, Science and Technology

Two photos: (left) Three gowned and gloved people working over a human torso with a few medical devices puncturing it and many cables nearby, all watching a monitor showing tool movement and organs inside the abdomen. (right) Two students watch a monitor as they use their hands to control a remote camera and tools working behind a framed panel.
Figure 1. Laparoscopic surgery on the stomach, in real-life (left) and in a classroom simulation activity (right).


Students teams use a laparoscopic surgical trainer to perform simple laparoscopic surgery tasks (dissections, sutures) using laparoscopic tools. Just like in the operating room, where the purpose is to perform surgery carefully and quickly to minimize patient trauma, students' surgery time and mistakes are observed and recorded to quantify their performances. They learn about the engineering component of surgery.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Engineers bring their understanding of anatomy, physiology and surgery to collaborations with physicians and other medical professionals to develop procedures and tools for surgery. Engineers partner with surgeons to continually create, design, test and manufacture new tools and procedures that are the least invasive and traumatic for patients. This includes designing computer and physical simulators so surgeons and medical interns can practice technique, as well as specialty tools, equipment and cameras, not to mention nearly everything found in operating rooms, from lighting fixtures to computers and monitors to adjustable tables and disposable gloves.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Identify common laparoscopic tools.
  • Perform simple simulated laparoscopic surgical procedures such as stretching and dissection, tissue identification and manipulation, and suturing.
  • Brainstorm and generate concepts for new laparoscopic surgical tools that improve upon the state-of-the-art.

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 (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.

  • Models (e.g., physical, mathematical, computer models) can be used to simulate systems and interactions—including energy, matter, and information flows—within and between systems at different scales. (Grades 9 - 12) More Details

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  • Summarize, represent, and interpret data on a single count or measurement variable (Grades 9 - 12) More Details

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  • The use of tools and machines can be helpful or harmful. (Grades K - 2) More Details

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  • The use of technology affects humans in various ways, including their safety, comfort, choices, and attitudes about technology's development and use. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Social and cultural priorities and values are reflected in technological devices. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Summarize, represent, and interpret data on a single count or measurement variable (Grades 9 - 12) More Details

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Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [www.teachengineering.org/lessons/view/cub_surg_lesson01_activity1] to print or download.

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Pre-Req Knowledge

Present the associated lesson prior to teaching this activity.


Laparoscopic surgery (see Figure 1) is a surgical technique in which operations in the abdomen are performed through small incisions made in the abdominal or pelvic cavities. A trocar creates these incisions in the abdomen and provides a sealed conduit, using the cannula, for various instruments used to perform the surgery (see Figure 2). Typically, three incisions are made during each surgery: one for a laparoscope and two dedicated ports for the surgical instruments. The laparoscope consists of a telescopic lens system that is connected to an ex vivo video camera. Light is usually provided by a powerful bulb and is piped into the abdominal cavity via a fiber optic or gel cable. The abdomen is insufflated with carbon dioxide gas to create a region large enough to work in and view.

Two photos: (left) Two instruments. Both have long, slender rods attached to wide ends. The trocar has one pointed end and narrower rod. (right) Three instruments. All have scissors-like handles attached to long rods with small grasping or cutting tools at the ends.
Figure 2. Example trocar and cannula (left) and laparoscopic hand tools (right) used in laparoscopic surgery.
Copyright © 2010 Benjamin S. Terry, ITL Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder and (right) ignis, Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Laparoscopic_Hand_Instruments_001_JPN.jpg

In this activity, you will perform laparoscopic surgical tasks that are used to assess the validity and maneuverability of new innovative surgical tools using laparoscopic tools and a handmade surgical trainer. In the operating room, physicians perform surgery as carefully and quickly as possible to reduce trauma to the patient. In this activity, your surgery time and mistakes will be recorded to quantify your performance.


cannula: A surgical tube that is inserted into the body to provide a sealed conduit for surgical tools

ex vivo: Signifying outside the living body.

in vitro: Signifying in a laboratory or controlled environment.

in vivo: Signifying inside the living body.

insufflation: Pressurizing or filling with air. The abdominal cavity is insufflated prior to surgery to create a space for the surgeon to work in.

laparoscope: A camera attached to a long, slender light pipe that allows a laparoscopic surgeon to view inside the abdominal cavity without invasive surgery.

laparotomy: Open surgery on the abdominal cavity (surgery through a large incision).

suturing: A joining of the edges of a wound by stitching.

trocar: A specialized surgical knife used for creating small incisions for the introduction of a surgical tool through the abdominal wall.


Pre-Activity Assessment

Research: Assign students to research laparoscopic surgery on the Internet or at the library and answer the following questions:

  1. In what area of the body is laparoscopic surgery usually performed?
  2. Name three conditions that laparoscopic surgery is used to treat or diagnose.
  3. List five advantages and five disadvantages of laparoscopic surgery.
  4. Describe what the following tools are used for during surgery: cannula, trocar, laparoscope
  5. How many incisions are usually made when performing laparoscopic surgery?
  6. What gas is used to insufflate the abdomen during laparoscopic surgery?

Activity Embedded Assessment

Participation: Give students participation points for attempting the tasks.

Post-Activity Assessment

Reflection Writing & Brainstorming: Ask students to write paragraphs discussing the limitations and difficulties of laparoscopic surgery based on their experiences from this activity. Then have students brainstorm and discuss ideas for improvements that would increase the ease, efficiency and accuracy of laparoscopic surgery.

Additional Multimedia Support

Show students a 3:19-minute animation of laparoscopic surgery on YouTube. This 3D medical animation depicts the surgical removal of an appendix using laparoscopic instruments. The animation begins by showing an inflamed appendix (appendicitis), followed by the placement of the laparoscope. Afterward, one can see the surgical device staple, cut and remove the inflamed appendix. Then the abdomen is flushed with a sterile saline solution. See Nucleus Medical Arts's Laparoscopic Appendectomy Surgery for Appendicitis clip at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MAppEy9Umcg


© 2011 by Regents of the University of Colorado.


Benjamin S. Terry, Brandi N. Briggs, Stephanie Rivale, Denise W. Carlson

Supporting Program

Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder


The contents of these digital library curricula were developed by the Integrated Teaching and Learning Program under National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. 0338326. 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 25, 2020


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