Students are introduced to the respiratory system, the lungs and air. They learn about how the lungs and diaphragm work, how air pollution affects lungs and respiratory functions, some widespread respiratory problems, and how engineers help us stay healthy by designing machines and medicines that support respiratory health and function.
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 Standard Network (ASN), a project of JES & Co. (www.jesandco.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.
Click on the standard groupings to explore this hierarchy as it applies to this document.
- Colorado: Science
- b. Develop, communicate, and justify an evidence-based scientific explanation regarding the functions and interactions of the human body (Grade 7)  ...show
- International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
- G. Advances and innovations in medical technologies are used to improve healthcare. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- Next Generation Science Standards: Science
- Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- List several causes and effects of decreased respiratory system function.
- Describe technologies that engineers have designed to improve the health and function of the respiratory system.
Lesson Background and Concepts for Teachers
The Respiratory System
|adenoids:||Lymph tissues at the top of throat. The entire lymph system carries fluid to the body and aids it in resisting infection by filtering foreign matter (such as germs) and producing cells (called lymphocytes) to fight harmful germs. If adenoids become enlarged they may interfere with breathing and are sometimes removed.|
|alveoli:||Very small air sacs that are the final place air goes when breathed in. Blood passes through capillaries that are embedded in the alveoli walls, taking up oxygen from the air and giving off carbon dioxide.|
|bioengineering:||The use of artificial tissues, organs or organ components to replace damaged or absent parts of the body, such as artificial limbs and heart pacemakers. Source: The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English, http://encyclopedia.com/doc/1O999-bioengineering.html|
|biomedical engineer:||A person who blends traditional engineering techniques with the biological sciences and medicine to improve the quality of human health and life. Biomedical engineers design artificial body parts, medical devices, diagnostic tools, and medical treatment methods.|
|bronchial tubes:||When the windpipe reaches the lungs it splits into two main tubes, one to each lung. The tubes divide again into each lobe of the lung, and then continue to divide even further.|
|bronchioles:||The smallest subdivisions in the bronchial tubes. At the end of the bronchioles are air sacs, called alveoli.|
|cilia:||Very small hairs that line the bronchial tubes. Their wave-like motion carries mucus up and out into the throat. The mucus catches and holds much of the dust, germs and other unwanted particulate materials that find their way into the lungs, and releases them from the body by coughing and sneezing.|
|diaphragm:||A strong wall of muscle that, when moved downward, creates suction in the chest that draws in air and expands the lungs. The diaphragm separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity.|
|engineer:||A person who applies his/her understanding of science and math to creating things for the benefit of humanity and our world.|
|epiglottis:||A tissue flap at the entrance to the windpipe that closes during swallowing, preventing food or drink (destined for the esophagus and stomach) from entering the lower respiratory tract.|
|esophagus:||The vessel that leads from the mouth and throat to the stomach.|
|lymph nodes:||Small, rounded structures found against the walls of the bronchial tubes and windpipe. They produce disease-fighting white blood cells and filter out harmful microorganisms and toxins.|
|mouth:||The secondary entrance of air into the respiratory system.|
|nose:||The primary and preferred entrance of outside air into the respiratory system. The hairs inside the nose serve to clean the air of particulates before it enters the deeper parts of the respiratory system.|
|ribs:||Bones that both support and protect the chest cavity and lungs.|
|sinuses:||Hollow spaces in the bones of the head with small openings that connect them to the nose. The sinuses help regulate temperature and humidity of incoming air, as well as serving to lighten the bone structure of the head.|
|throat:||The passage that collects outside air from the nose and mouth and moves it down toward the windpipe. Also called the pharynx.|
|tonsils:||Almond-shaped lymph nodes in the wall of the throat. They fight unwanted germs and can become infected.|
|voice box:||A structure at the top of the trachea (windpipe) that contains the vocal chords and is the source of voice sounds caused by moving air. Also called the larynx.|
|windpipe:||The passage that leads from the throat to the lungs. Also called the trachea.|
- Polluted Air = Polluted Lungs - Students use balloons, straws and plastic bottles to make model lungs that include diaphragms and chest cavities, enabling them to see how air moving in and out of the lungs coincides with diaphragm movement. Teams also design and create prototype face filters that could be worn to reduce the amount of air pollution entering the respiratory system.
- What does the respiratory system do? (Answer: Gas exchange.)
- What different parts make up the respiratory system? (Answer: Mouth, nose, larynx, diaphragm, lungs, etc.)
- What might make the respiratory system not work as well? (Answer: Constricted pathways, polluted air, less volume, etc.)
- You are a molecule of air outside of the body, just about to be inhaled. From the point-of-view of the air molecule, describe what happens to you as you enter the body's bloodstream. You may use a diagram, but support the diagram with detailed descriptions of what is happening. Describe in detail what each part of the respiratory system does to you after you enter the body. Make sure to include these parts of the respiratory system in the description: Nose, throat/epiglottis, larynx (voicebox), trachea (windpipe), bronchial tubes, cilia, diaphragm, alveoli, capillaries.
Lesson Summary Assessment
Lesson Extension Activities
Additional Multimedia Support
Asthma. American Lung Association. Accessed December 16, 2008. http://www.lungusa.org/lung-disease/asthma/
Dictionary.com. Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. Accessed December 16, 2008. (Source of some vocabulary definitions, with some adaptation) http://www.dictionary.com
Downs, Martin F. Artificial Lung Closer to Clinical Trial. Reviewed November 25, 2002. WebMD, Inc. Accessed December 16, 2008. http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/features/artificial-lung-closer-to-clinical-trial
How Lungs Work, The Respiratory System. American Lung Association. Accessed November 3, 2010. (interactive flash presentation shows diagram and description of parts of human respiratory system, titled, "Would You Like to See How I Breathe?"; scroll down the page to find it) http://www.lungusa.org/your-lungs/how-lungs-work/
Lamb, Annette and Johnson, Larry. Respiratory System: The Basics. Last updated December 2001. 42eXplore. Accessed December 16, 2008. http://42explore.com/respsyst.htm
Marcus, Mary Brophy. Breakthroughs in Artificial Lungs Could Assist in Transplants. Updated January 30, 2008. USA Today. Accessed December 16, 2008. http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2008-01-29-artificial-lungs_N.htm
Respiratory System. Last updated August 8, 2007. Wikipedia Free Online Encyclopedia. Accessed August 12, 2007. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Respiratory_system
Rodriguez-Cruz, Edwin. Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation. Last updated June 14, 2006. eMedicine, WebMD, Inc. Accessed October 13, 2008. http://www.emedicine.com/ped/TOPIC2895.HTM
Jay Shah, Malinda Schaefer Zarske, Denise W. Carlson
© 2008 by Regents of the University of Colorado.
Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder
Last modified: March 2, 2015