Dr. Frankenstein – A Lesson on Organ Systems

GradXraye 5: Life Systems

Contributed by: Derek Totten

I was working late in the lab one night when ….

Big Ideas:

  • Organ systems are components of a larger system (the body) and, as such, work together and affect one another.
  • Organ structures are linked to their functions.

Inquiry Skills Used

This is a research activity using various primary and secondary reference sources.

Safety Considerations

Although this is designed as a take-home project, parents/guardians need to be present when gathering and assembling the materials.


This take-home project makes an excellent performance assessment for this life systems strand.  The students must have already covered enough material so that they have a good working knowledge of the major organs within the major systems.

What You Need

Household junk (e.g. plastic pop bottles, aquarium hose, cardboard rolls, sandwich bags, funnels, straws, glue, plastic cutlery, wood, containers, wire, safety pins, etc.)

Body built by students

What to Do 

  1. Students are given an assignment to build a 3-dimensional model of a human organ system. The following criteria may serve as a guide:
  • all materials are to be found around the house,
  • the model must consider all major organs of the organ system,
  • the model does not have to actually work but—functioning models may help students to achieve a level 4,
  • students may get help with the project but they must do most of the work,
  • tools are only to be used if students are supervised and trained on the tools by a parent (this includes hand tools).

2.With each model, a written component should be included that allows the teacher to understand:

  • the resources that were consulted,
  • the brainstorming and design process, and
  • how the student compares the form and function of the organs in their model to those of the real system.  (This final stage could take the format of either an oral or written presentation.)

3.If students need some real examples to get them going, try brainstorming as a class on what they could use if they needed the following:

  • a tube-like organ …(aquarium tubing, an old piece of garden hose or even a straw)
  • a sac-like organ…(a plastic bag or a sandwich baggie)
  •  an organ that filters.…( a coffee filter)

4.Students need to be reminded that the important part here is to recycle things from around the house that provide a similar function.

Summary Notes

One of the best examples I found while evaluating this assignment was a student who had a working model of the digestive system.  She used a funnel for the mouth, a plastic spoon for the tongue, a plastic hose for the esophagus, an inflatable ball for the stomach, garden hose for the small intestine, nylons for the large intestine, and a clothespin for the anus.  When I asked her why she had chosen the nylons instead of a larger hose, she replied that the nylons allowed the liquid in the waste to be removed!

Where to Go from Here?

Students can reflect on what did and did not work, as well as how the model could be improved upon in the future.  If you have overzealous parents double as professional project makers, then why not alter the assignment so that the students bring the materials from home and assemble the model in the classroom?

STSE Links

Knowing and experiencing about the function and structure of internal organs can help students to make informed choices and empower them to affect the cleanliness or healthiness of the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the foods they eat. Their models could be used to make presentations to people in power; having models at a presentation is a very effective media strategy for getting your point across.

Cross Curricular Connections


  • Design and implement an ad campaign that assesses the effects of social and environmental factors on human health (smoking, fast food chains, increase in technology resulting in obesity, exposure to sun, exposure to electromagnetic frequencies from cell phones, computers, etc.) and offers suggestions for ways individuals can reduce the harmful effects of these factors.


  • Use scientific inquiry/experimentation skills to investigate changes in body systems (e.g., heart rate, breathing, body temperature) as a result of physical activity (e.g., exercise, resting, eating).

Credit Where Credit is Due

This was adapted from the “Fiesta Science” workshop given by Lynn Young at STAO 1996.