Gas Exchange Lesson Plan

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by K. Rives Binford, 2015 Masters Capstone Project

The Denver Museum of Nature and Science has been working in collaboration with the Master of Science in Modern Human Anatomy program at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus to create an academic resource for high school students.  This lesson plan, developed by masters candidate, K. Rives Binford, utilizes materials from the DMNS Health Sciences Research Collection, which is available for viewing in the LUNA database, and the Human Histology sub-collection. 


Background info on the lesson plan:

The gas exchange lesson plan is an interactive lesson that is content-driven for high school biology students. It is fully online and therefore accessible anywhere. It meets next generation science standards in the Life Sciences discipline, focusing on the connection between structure and function in an organism. The core goal of the lesson is to communicate that the process of gas exchange happens throughout the body, by focusing on the vasculature in a variety of organs. In this way, the lesson plan follows the blood vessels from the heart to several organs via images of anatomical specimens from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science’s human anatomy specimen collection.  The images included range from a focus at the organ level, to cross section, and finally in histology. Please note that students will not need a background in histology to benefit from the lesson plan as it will be explained and annotations on the slides will allow them to visualize the blood vessels running through tissues shown that require oxygen. For example of this, see Figure 1 below. 



Figure 1: Capillary in skeletal muscle.



Step by step instructions for the gas exchange lesson plan

1. Yarn Demonstration Video

The lesson plan starts with a video introduction in which students will gain insight into how anatomy looks in cross section by demonstrating what a cross section is using yarn.  That video is hosted on YouTube, which can be accessed by clicking here.


2. LUNA Image Database: directed browsing of online images of human anatomy

The Denver Museum of Nature and Science's image archives are stored open access on the LUNA database. By searching for the category "health sciences" your students can access over 200 images of anatomical specimens.  These specimens, like the cross section in Figure 2, are not currently on display in the Museum’s health exhibit, Expedition Health, and have been made available digitally to increase accessibility. Students are prompted to freely browse these images, specifically looking for signs of blood vessels.  For a 45 minute lesson plan, allow about 10 minutes for this activity.



Figure 2: Human abdomen cross section, level of the liver



3. Gross Anatomy: from organ to tissue to cells

The second video, located here,  takes students on a journey of anatomy from macro to micro with an ongoing description of how to spot blood vessels and some connections to physiology. The video is just over 3 minutes, but allow 5-10 minutes for discussion. 


4. Gas Exchange Content PowerPoint

A slide-based presentation reviews the fundamentals of gas exchange, including notes on hemoglobin in red blood cells and a review of concentration gradients. The emphasis is on the blood stream carrying oxygen to organs and carbon dioxide away from organs, in this case a muscle located in the hand. The viewable notes contain talking points that can either help the instructor prepare to present, or allow students to self-direct their learning experience by viewing it themselves. There are 11 content slides, so lecture time could vary from 12-20 minutes depending on the lecturer and student engagement.


5. Group mini-project: creating a gas exchange poster

At the end of the lecture, students should be able to plot out the direction of oxygenated and deoxygenated blood flow.  These images of the lungs, heart, brain, liver, hand and kidney, are designed to be printed out as many times as needed.  Divide students into groups of 3-5, depending on your class size, and have one set of images per group.  They should also each have a poster board and both a red and blue marker and tape.  Allow each group to position organs as they wish and draw out a conceptual diagram that includes the direction of blood flow to and from each organ.  Here is an example of a well-executed poster.  This portion is malleable for differentiation/tiering within the classroom.  For example, the anatomy could be pre-positioned on a poster board to simplify.  Allow about 10 minutes for this project.

Online Links and Resources to Lesson Plan:


Yarn/ Cross section demonstration:


Luna Database:


Gross/Cross/Histo video:

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