Under the Next Generation Science Standards, there are several fourth-grade life science topics related to the human body. These include muscle and skeletal systems, eyes and vision, ears and hearing, and the brain and nerves. Once students have learned about these body systems as part of their regular fourth grade science education, this unit adds another layer that evolves into a focus on how we might help somebody who has a disability in one or more of these areas. Students will extend their learning of the human body as they apply the Design Thinking process to produce a piece of assistive technology.
Elementary-aged students have had some formal education of biology and it may be helpful to review what Connecticut students should know based on the life science standards for each grade level. In preschool through kindergarten, students learn to describe patterns of what plants and animals need to survive as well as identify common body parts. First graders make observations about heredity; such as young plants and animals look similar to, but not exactly alike their parents. Second graders learn the value of proper nutrition as well as study plants and animals from a variety of habitats. In third grade, students learn that organisms have unique and diverse life cycles that share a commonality of birth, growth, reproduction, and death. Fourth grade students learn more about internal and external plant and animal structures that support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction. They also learn that animals, including humans, receive different types of information through their senses that are then processed by the brain in different ways.
Informally, most students of this age range understand human biology based on common life experiences. They know that germs can make you sick. They know bones can break and cuts and bruises hurt, but they also heal. They know some people have disabilities that affect mobility, hearing, and sight. They may also be aware of Autism and other disorders that affect behavior. With this background knowledge in mind, this unit will build on what students should already know by the time they reach fourth grade. As students learn about specific parts of the body and how they work (muscles and bones, eyes, ears, brain, and nerves), they will also learn about some common disabilities related to that body part or system.
Muscles & Bones
Broken bones are a clear and easily approachable topic for students to understand and relate to. Some students might even have direct experience with broken bones. In this section, a scenario with a student trying to go about everyday classroom tasks with a broken arm or leg is ideal. Simple tasks like walking down the hall with a broken leg or trying to write on a sheet of paper with a broken arm can be a challenge.
Another ailment to consider is arthritis. Arthritis is the swelling and/or tenderness of the joints. Stiffness and joint pain are two major symptoms of arthritis. Students who have studied this ailment can design something to make a task easier for a person suffering from arthritis in their hands. Examples include a writing utensil that can be held and used with minimal pain, or a pill bottle that retains child safety features but is easier to open.
Partial or complete blindness, the lack of sight, is of course a major problem related to the eye. Students can try to build empathy for the blind by trying to perform a task, like walking down the school hallway, while blindfolded. They can then design a device or method for walking down the hall for those who are blind.
Another ailment related to the eye is color blindness. People who are color blind have difficulty distinguishing different colors, such as red-green (most common) or blue/yellow. This can make some classroom tasks difficult, especially when the identification of color is an important factor.
Not being able to hear can have a serious impact on communication with other people. In this scenario, student will role-play what it is like to not be able to use their sense of hearing. They will then create an assistive device to help somebody who is deaf in the classroom.