Grade 5 Science: Human Organ Systems and Dissecting Frogs

I cut the top of my thumb yesterday slicing up a lime for shrimp skewers on the BBQ. This morning, I went to open a new band-aid and, for some reason, the band-aid had frogs on it.IMG_0752

This reminded me of an event Science Timmins facilitated as a culminating activity for my Grade 5 science class in November 2013. We dissected frogs at the conclusion of our Human Organ Systems unit. Or, as one of my students put it, “digesting frogs.” In his defense, we had just been learning about digestive systems!

Why frogs? A frog’s anatomy is similar to that of a human being’s anatomy; that is, we both have the same types of organ systems, but of course a frog’s is much simpler than ours. Screenshot 2015-07-11 12.45.42

MHHE’s Virtual Lab: Virtual Frog Dissection provides students with an opportunity to virtually compare both interior and exterior anatomies of frogs and humans. This website also contains audio instructions; a great accommodation for those students who have difficulty reading, or for those students who are auditory (as well as visual) learners.

Dissection Day

The students were so excited for this activity, and for every day leading up to Dissection Day, they would talk about it or ask if it was actually happening (to this day, the students still talk about it and ask if they will have the opportunity to do it again)! When the day finally came, they were beside themselves. Antoine Garwah outfitted each student with goggles, dissection kits and smocks, so they looked like proper scientists. We had prepped their “stations” (their desks) with drop cloths (plastic tablecloths from Dollarama, aka an educator’s second home), and each student had an aluminum tray for the frog to lay in during the procedure. IMG_2366 (1)

The frogs were transported to us in a big white bucket, and each student took turns to pluck his/her frog from the bucket with some squeals and, for some, after a few attempts! IMG_2375 (1)

This is the structure (more or less) that we followed on the day: Science Timmins Frog Dissection Structure (1)

Each and every student took part in actually making incisions in the frog’s body, as instructed by Antoine, and then worked diligently in identifying each organ system as they came to it. I will tell you that a few of the students had to go out to the hallway to take a breather in between sessions, but I was surprised at their collective stamina! This was definitely their first foray into this type of activity, and I know that they all believed they were scientists that day.

Here is a parent letter I had drafted prior to our activity, to ensure that each student had consent to participate. It is a fully editable Google Doc, so please use, edit and share should it benefit you and your students.

For the Animal Rights Activists (or the squeamish!)

The Frog Dissection app for both iOS and Android provides a decent alternative to the real thing; and also offers an accommodation for those students who have moral or ethical objections to dissecting animals. iTunes sells it for $3.99, while the Android version is $5.17 as this post goes live. 

Ontario Grade 5 Science Expectations from Understanding Life Systems: Human Organ Systems

The following are the Big Ideas taken from the curriculum:

  • Organ systems are components of a larger system (the body) and, as such, work together and affect one another. (Overall expectations 2 and 3)
  • Organ structures are linked to their functions. (Overall expectations 2 and 3)
  • Systems in the human body work together to meet our basic needs. (Overall expectations 2 and 3)
  • Choices we make affect our organ systems and, in turn, our overall health. (Overall expectations 1 and 3)

By the end of Grade 5, the students will (Overall Expectations):

1. analyse the impact of human activities and technological innovations on human health;

2. investigate the structure and function of the major organs of various human body systems;

3. demonstrate an understanding of the structure and function of human body systems and interactions within and between systems.

IMG_2384 (1) IMG_2385 (1) IMG_2393 (1)


Building Bridges with Virtual Researcher on Call

When I taught Grade 7 Science, I used Virtual Researcher on Call in my classroom to help with my Structures unit. Professor Francesco Tangorra from Algonquin College was the resident expert on call, and if you ever have the chance to work with him, you won’t be disappointed!

The following is an excerpt from an article by Cheryl Ricco (a principal at NCDSB) from Leaders and Learners magazine reporting teacher Melissa Lavoie’s Virtual Researcher On Call aka VROC classroom experience…

I Think I Can, I Think I Can, I Think I Can

“One way elementary educators in the NCDSB stay on track with preparing students for the 21st century is through the integration of the creative process with trad- itional STEM subjects. In fact, it is through the creative process that teachers of science, technology and math encourage their students to be critical thinkers.
Melissa Lavoie, teacher at St. Paul Elementary School and O’Gorman Intermediate Catholic School in Timmins, Ont, for example, uses the creative process in sci- ence and math. To assist in the instruction of a structures and stability unit in her Grade 7 science class, Lavoie uses a program called Virtual Researchers on Call (VROC) to expose students to potential careers in STEM fields.

According to their website, VROC is “a set of educational programs that connect knowledge partners (college and university professors and professionals) in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math with Canadian students in elementary and secondary schools for real-time, interactive learning opportunities.”

After teaching specific concepts about structures and stability, Lavoie introduced Prof. Francesco Tangorra from Algonquin College in Ottawa to her students via software provided by VROC. By “beaming” into Lavoie’s classroom, Tangorra introduced himself, the work he does at Algonquin College and how the concepts they were learning about would help them in the field of civil engineering.

He also outlined the unit activity which would have students competing against each other in a Popsicle stick and white glue bridge building challenge. The three criteria for the design project were economy, efficiency and elegance. Students not only had to use math and science knowledge to construct their bridge, they had to be creative in its design to produce a beautiful, yet functional, design.

“The connection that students are coming to realize is that… art is integrated within construction. It is an integral part of the very function of a bridge. The colours and materials used also enhance the aesthetics of the bridge, as bridges often make a statement in the space they are in,” says Lavoie.

Lavoie and Tangorra then gave the students a few days in small groups to construct their bridges with the understanding that Tangorra would assist in judging the projects and also provide feedback to the students with regards to why and how the bridges strained or collapsed. The students absolutely loved the interaction. They were engaged and attentive.

In essence, Lavoie’s use of the VROC program helped students who generally see art as a separate subject come to see it as an integral component to projects in STEM fields. As a result, all students could value the learning taking place.”

Here is a SlideShare presentation of Leaders and Learners magazine, Winter 2014-2015 edition (scroll to pages 24-26):

Science Timmins

Antoine Garwah is the founder of Science Timmins, and he and his wife Lorraine have brought forth exciting learning opportunities for students in Timmins and the surrounding areas for many years. They bring science to life and provide hands-on activities for students to “play, discover and learn.” Stay tuned for more news about their most ambitious endeavor to date: the interactive Science Village, scheduled to open its doors in the Fall of 2015! The first big exhibit to hit the Village? Dinosaurs! The dinos will be in Timmins from September ’15 – January ’16.

Virtual Researcher On Call (VROC)

VROC is an organization that connects knowledge partners – college and university professors and professionals in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – with Canadian students in elementary and secondary schools, for real-time, interactive learning opportunities. I have used this service to connect Grade 7 Science students with a University of Ottawa organic chemistry professor as we were learning about Pure Substances and Mixtures. As well, we connected to a professor in the Construction Engineering Technician / Civil Engineering Technology programs at Algonquin College, where he helped to judge a popsicle stick bridge competition in a Structures and Mechanisms unit.