Author: Daniele Brioschi

Start date: 27/03/2020

From our previous lesson, we learned the structure of our respiratory apparatus, and some of you told me “There is a bifurcation in our throat! Why doesn’t the food enter the trachea going into the lungs?”. It was a great question! In our throat there is a mechanism that prevents food going into the lungs and allows air going into the larynx. How does it work? Imagine being a biomedical engineer; what structure could YOU design? 

This activity started in this way, during an online lesson with my 12 years old students. I didn’t answer their questions but I proposed that they are biomedical engineers for a day and have to design their own artificial epiglottis. I created a simple model of the human throat using a shoebox.

I asked students to design a structure with recycled materials to be installed on the bifurcation model, above the esophagus and larynx. The structure should allow food (marbles in the model) to go into the esophagus and not enter the larynx. In addition, the structure has to allow air to flow freely through the respiratory tract.

During the lesson we followed the steps of IBSE method in this way:

  • 5 minutes to think individually and make the design in their own science notebook
  • 25 minutes to work in small groups, to share ideas with group mates, to choose just one idea and to present it on Jamboard
  • 15 minutes to see and debate all together the ideas of the other teams
  • After the debate each student made a model with a shoebox realising the idea of the group and testing it, making videos and photos.  
  • During the next lesson each group shared the project and the results of the experiment made with marbles.
  • We discussed the pros and cons of different models, all together.

New questions were raised: Which project was more efficient? Which one works also with water? Is the air allowed to flow freely or did some mechanisms reduce the passage?

Finally, we watched an interesting video about the real human epiglottis.

This activity was inspired by another one about heart valves, presented on the TeachEngeneering web page.

I liked the activity because:

  • It started with the students’ curiosity
  • I didn’t immediately give answers, and students looked for them. So they thought, debated, designed, shared, and tested their ideas.
  • We were able to use the IBSE method also in quarantine, and students were being involved in all steps of the activity
  • We answered some questions, and since we made new questions. The research can continue!

End date 03/04/2020