Ideas for a Unit Study on the Human Body

Boy, am I excited about this one!  Max is still on the fence – he’s concerned that we’ll be looking at pictures of intestines and hearts, bless his little worried heart.  I intend to make this unit as fun as can be while we learn all about how complex and wonderful and mind-boggling our bodies are!  These few resources highlighted below are the beginning of my search for the next six-week period of schooling.  Next week is off (hooray!).  We both need that week to reassemble ourselves.  After that we’ll be trying hard to avoid pictures of intestines at all costs.

I majored in pre-med in college and then did a few years of bench research for a university, for a hospital, and for a pharmaceutical company, all in the area of immunology.  I’m particularly excited about unveiling the way our immune system works to Max – just because it’s so cool.  I hope he thinks so, too.  I need to remind myself that he’s only ten and probably isn’t all that jazzed about the major histocompatibility complex, or antigens, or how an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay works and why it is important.  This is going to be a GREATLY simplified look at how we are put together and what amazing things our bodies do without us even being aware of the goings on most of the time.

I wrote a post on Slim Goodbody (John Burnstein) not too long ago (here) – we saw him recently in our city and really enjoyed his approach.  His main message was to encourage kids to be good to their bodies.  I purchased his activity book when we attended the show, so we’ll begin with it, but the first books listed below are his new publications tailored for 9 to 12 year olds – they look great!

I have not selected the exact materials we’ll be working with, but have narrowed the options down. Fortunately, there are many very good books and games available, so enjoy yourself while perusing.

Click on the pictures to link to Amazon and other places for more information:

By Slim Goodbody, John Burnstein

Let’s hope there are not graphic pictures of the intestines in here!

John Burnstein (Slim Goodbody) also has two others about the respiratory system and the nervous system available on Amazon.

This one is already on our shelf, about to be unveiled!  I LOVE Brown Paper School publications, so am looking forward to using this very much.  In fact, this would be probably all we would need along with a few supplementary materials to cover a pretty thorough introduction to the human body.  Here is a post about other Brown Paper School products – they come highly recommended by many sources and are popular among homeschoolers.  If you’ve never heard of them, go take a look!

Later……we started it and so far so good!  Thorough, entertaining, and factually accurate.  What more could you ask for?

Good introduction to cells and their structures.  Written by Frances Balkwill – she has written several books for kids about the body.

Also written by Frances Balkwill; this one will be helpful in explaining how our bodies fight infection – the immune system!

Looks fiendishly fun, although I can already see that I’ll need to put a book cover on this book…….  The product description says, “The Body Owner’s Handbook is the guide you simply can’t live without. You’ll discover a range of fantastic features you didn’t even know you had, including: an auto-repair function, a built-in cooling system, top-of-the range sensory equipment, and rear gas and waste disposal. So you think you can stomach the sick side of science? This mad manual shows you how to get the best from your body machine. Get the lowdown on the pluses of pus, the vitals of vomit and the science of snot. With trouble-shooting tips, terrific tests and curious quizzes, The Body Owner’s Handbook is bursting with info! Science has never been so horrible!”

Just because DK books are visually pleasing.

Head to Toe Science:  Over 40 Eye-Popping, Spine-Tingling, Heart-Pounding Activities that Teach Kids about the Human Body by Jim Wiese.  This will get kids moving and at the same time engage some scientific inquiry.  Lots of experiments and investigations about our bodies.

If you have some time to assemble these, they could be very helpful.

Okay, to be honest, Mrs. Frizzle’s voice kind of grates on my nerves, so we haven’t done too much with The Magic School Bus series.  I would prefer to read this book over watching the corresponding DVD.  Lots of families love this series – wish I could cope with Mrs. Frizzle a bit better……

Here is the DVD that goes with the book:

The Magic School Bus:  Journey into the Human Body GAME (hooray!)

“Young Scientists bend bones, make joints, map taste buds, expand lungs, build a stethoscope, measure lung capacities and heart rates, perform the iodine starch test, spin glitter, simulate synovial fluid, create a human body poster, and much, much more.”  Recommended for ages up to ten.

Ooooo.  Might have struck gold, here.  This is an interactive DVD that gets kids involved in the study of the human body.  Created for grades 4-8 and meets National Science Standards, so that tells me it might be a bit more thorough.  I don’t necessarily buy into standards, but that’s just me.  Includes short (5 minute) practice tests that are multiple choice, songs, excellent 3-D models, which in and of themselves probably make this DVD worthwhile.  It helps to see the workings of the human body in 3-D.  Note that a motive for producing this DVD is to help kids improve their abilities to take standardized tests, so take that into consideration.  Overall I like it and will look for it or order it.

We have this book, too, and I’ve been saving it for this unit.  The first part of the book is called, “Exploring Yourself” and you learn about your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, hands and brain with silly activities and experiments.  Should be lots of fun to work through – I think Max is going to really like this resource.

As I run across other ideas, books, games, I will add to this post.  For now I feel like we are off to a good start with whatever I choose from the materials highlighted here.  And I have to remind myself………Max is ten!  I’ll try to go easy on him while we work with a subject that I get excited about :).


See? There had to be more……..I did a post on The Mysterious You series a few weeks ago and remembered that several of those books would fit nicely in this unit study, too.  Here’s one of the books.  You can refer back to the post if you’d like to take a look at the whole series.

Here’s another really fun book by Jay Hosler called Optical Allusions:

Jay Hosler is one of my favorite authors.  He has a wild sense of humor and shall we say, ‘a unique perspective’ on all things scientific.  “OPTICAL ALLUSIONS is the cure for all those clamoring for a painstakingly researched, scientifically accurate, eye-themed comic book adventure. WRINKLES THE WONDER BRAIN has lost his bosses’ eye and now he has to search all of human imagination for it. Along the way, he confronts biology head on and accidentally learns more about eyes and the evolution of vision than he thought possible. And, as if a compelling story with disembodied talking brains, shape-changing proteins and giant robot eyes wasn’t enough, each tale is followed by a fully illustrated, in-depth exploration of the ideas introduced in the comic story. Following in the tradition of the author’s first two books, Clan Apis and The Sandwalk Adventures, Optical Allusions uses humor and adventure to weave an unforgettable story about the wonders of seeing.”

“From blistering bee stings to pus-filled pimples, this eye-popping book takes readers on a virtual tour of all of the grossest, gooiest, and most fascinating events that bodies have to endure. Featuring incredible 3-D graphics that reveal the action and body’s response in microscopic detail, Ouch! Combines kid-friendly gross-out value with cutting-edge anatomical and biological expertise.”  The book also comes with a CD that contains videos and supplementary material.  Looks grossly engaging!


Clue Finders

Well, it all started with Carmen Sandiego, which led to me paying attention to the software company, which led to me looking up said software company, which led to finding all of this OTHER software…..this is how it always happens!  Following these trails is exciting because the end result is usually good.   Mapless, no global positioning system – just hunting for out-of-the-ordinary materials to make our school days more creative and fun.

The Learning Company produces a few noteworthy products for sure.  We have thoroughly enjoyed chasing Carmen Sandiego hither and yon all over the globe, learning world geography along the way.  She’s just so darn slippery!  Kind of like those games in Las Vegas, if you ask me – she’s rigged to get away every time.  The Learning Company is responsible for the Carmen Sandiego games and here are some others to hopefully get you and your kiddo excited:

[Click on the pictures to get more information and to read reviews]

Learn Essential Subjects in an Egyptian Adventure!

  • Math – Multiply the two numbers on the sign above each jeep to figure out which one can make it all the way to Cairo.
  • Reading – Build reading comprehension skills as you interpret reading passages and earn valuable Cairoglyphs to gain your next clue.
  • Geography – Master U.S. and world geography as you help ship packages around the world. Can you locate the city west of Denver?
  • Vocabulary – Learn antonyms, synonyms, and homonyms as you move blocks of stone one at a time to complete a sentence.
  • Science – Develop your knowledge of mass, force, and angle to construct a bridge across a river. Watch out for the crocodiles!
  • Math – Solve math problems with decimals as you stack the correct column sections to build a miniature palace.
  • Word Problems –  Solve word problems to gain access into a mysterious ancient pyramid. More adventure awaits inside!
  • Spelling – Spell your way across the chasm to stop the evil archaeologist before he takes over. Be careful, one wrong letter can spell disaster!

***UPDATE AS OF 3/24/10Well, I had high hopes for the above-mentioned software.  I purchased it used on Amazon and we have stumbled upon some computer glitches.  We are able to get maybe 15 minutes into the adventure and then the computer crashes.  We’ve tried two different computers (Windows platform), to no avail.  I’m really disappointed!  I may contact The Learning Company to see if the problem can be resolved because what I saw of the game so far I really liked.  Math, geography, history…….Max was having fun while it lasted.  So, read the reviews and decide if you want to give it a try.

A tsunami, a lost island and a volcano ready to erupt add the adventure to this edition – this is probably the one we would start with.

Mutant plant warriors (?) threaten to take over a town and it’s your job to protect it through sheer brain power!

All of these tap into math, reading, science, vocabulary, geography and spelling skills.  They are formulated for your PC or Mac and are not expensive.  Don’t forget to check eBay or your local homeschool co-ops – you might be pleasantly surprised at the inexpensive or free materials floating around out there!  Good luck on your hunt.

Science is in the Cards

I’ve put up several posts about science topics lately because there’s been a run of interesting items popping up while searching the corners of the world for entertaining and educational materials.  As they say, when it rains it pours!

Here are some playing cards with a science theme that looked interesting; therefore, criteria one has been met.  The item at large must at least look interesting!  These probably lend themselves more toward passive rather than active learning, but kids and grownups might find them quite likeable.

Click on the pictures for more information:

These are ‘regular’ playing cards embellished with a tad more information – all of the bones in the human body.  You can play any game you like.  The information on the cards might slow down play a little, but maybe that’s the point.  Available in English, French and Spanish, so you could technically work on two subjects at once!

Same concept here.  Every element is listed.

You can also find cards that illustrate guitar scales, chess moves and some self defense techniques.

Totally Gross, A Science Game

Played this for the first time yesterday and got a big charge out of it.  It’s quite silly; nevertheless, it covers a good cross-section of scientific concepts.  The ‘Totally Gross’ cards will have you tickling each other’s funny bone most assuredly.

I purchased the little travel game which comes in a metal tin.  It’s tiny and therefore cute (if I may use that word, please.)  Have you ever paid attention to how much the word ‘cute’ is thrown around?  Just place a puppy in your vicinity and you’ll hear what I mean.

The game is available as a regular-size game board, too.  I believe the travel game covers the same items – it just hums along faster and you can tote it around if you like.  You get some silly putty/noise maker stuff with the bigger game set, which reviewers said dried out in a hurry.

Yesterday in the game we hit upon gravitational pull, the purpose of belly buttons, the method which certain birds employ to feed their chicks, interesting birthing techniques of other animals and on and on.  More than once you’ll raise your eyebrows, say “GROSS!”, or get a good belly laugh!

The full-size game

This is the wee little tin version.

* As an afterthought…….the tin version is the perfect size to take along if you go to a restaurant; it’s a tame enough game, too, that you CAN play it in public without too much embarrassment, although you might need to lower your voice now and then when talking about mating habits or boogers.

Donate Rice to Stop World Hunger and Learn at the Same Time

Thank you, Tammie, for this resource.  The United Nations World Food Programme designed this concept and a website to help bring attention to world hunger, and more importantly, to put an end to it.  Your child can help right from your living room!  Your child can spend time on this site anytime, answer questions about many subjects (from chemistry to Spanish to geography to math and more), and for each right answer, ten grains of rice are donated to hungry people all over the world.  No fluff here, it’s the real deal.  According to the UN, a child dies every 6 seconds from hunger.


Today Max answered questions about vocabulary and geography and in the process earned 600 grains of rice.  That’s the best part.  Secondarily, he got to practice some of his language and geography skills.

The subjects covered are:  famous paintings, chemistry symbols, English grammar and vocabulary, world geography and capitals, French, German, Italian and Spanish, pre-algebra math and the multiplication table.  Within each subject you advance to harder levels to keep going.

If you answer a question incorrectly, FreeRice will ask the same question again later so you can try again.  Here’s a section quoted from the FreeRice site explaining how questions are chosen for you:

FreeRice has a custom database containing knowledge questions at varying levels of difficulty. There are levels appropriate for beginners and levels that will challenge the most scholarly professors. In between are levels suitable for students of all ages, business people, homemakers, doctors, truck drivers, retired people. everyone!

FreeRice automatically adjusts to your level. It starts by giving you questions of increasing difficulty and then, based on how you do, assigns you an approximate starting level. You then determine a more exact level for yourself as you play. When you get a question wrong, you go to an easier level. When you get three questions in a row right, you go to a harder level. This one-to-three ratio is best for keeping you at the ‘outer fringe.’ of your skills, where learning can take place.

In the vocabulary section, you can hear each word pronounced by clicking on the megaphone symbol next to the word – nice feature.

Companies sponsor banners on the FreeRice site; money from these banners help to purchase the rice that is then given to those suffering from hunger.  Another quote from the FAQ section:

FreeRice does not make any money from this. FreeRice is a website committed to the cause of ending hunger around the world. It is run entirely for free and at no profit. All money (100%) raised by the site goes to the UN World Food Programme to help feed the hungry. Sponsors make all payments to the UN World Food Programme directly.”

Enough said.  Go play and help save the day! This is win-win.

Knowledge Cards – Cool!

A trip to the museum  today led us into the gift shop, which led me on a seek-and-find mission which led me to borrow a pen and scribble notes all over our museum receipt about what we were finding.  There are such terrific offerings available to help kids learn out there!  I really get excited about stuff like this!

Today’s post will feature Knowledge Cards, many of which are sponsored by Sierra Club and produced by Pomegranate.  Whether or not you subscribe to Sierra Club’s beliefs and practices, there is merit in these little decks of cards.  Here’s an example – click on each deck for more information:

Forty eight cards.  “No sooner have we solved one of the great mysteries posed by Earth’s oceans than another flummoxes us. We have come to understand the actions of tides, the sources of tsunamis, and—thanks to Ben Franklin—the trajectory of the Gulf Stream, but we still have much to learn about vent creatures, the Bermuda Triangle, and how global warming is changing salinity, currents, and animals’ migratory patterns. This well-researched deck of 48 cards will set you on the cutting edge of oceanographic knowledge, equipping you to quiz friends and yourself on everything from icebergs to sunken treasure.” Each deck appears to be priced at $9.95.

Some might consider this format of knowledge gathering as bits of trivia, not much more.  I disagree.  snippets of information can and do often lead to fascinating tangents for children, some of which can potentially develop into life-long interests.  This is more than stuffing facts into your head and besides, it’s nice sometimes to ingest things in little pieces and see what becomes of the information.

Note that these cards are produced in the USA, on recycled stock, and that part of the proceeds is donated to helping preserve habitats (for the cards that are sponsored by Sierra Club.)

Knowledge cards range in subject from environmental issues to US presidents to the human body, to weather, to space travel, chemistry, geology, Ancient Egypts…………on and on.  Here are a few other examples from this line by Pomegranate:

There are many, many more to pick from.  Might be fun to pull these out on a long trip or at the family dinner table for starters.  Or incorporate them into a unit study and see where they take you, kind of like going somewhere without a map.

Good old Amazon to the rescue – happy to report that many of these card packs are available used at greatly reduced prices!

“Fish” – A Game to Help Learn About Whales, Dolphins, Sharks and More

We are just beginning a unit study on the above animals, but we are attempting to broaden the scope of the study to include more than just the mammals and fish.  We started out today getting a sense of the ocean, how much of the Earth’s surface it covers, how much fresh water is available, checking out the water cycle, and learning about the ocean floor (the Marianas Trench is 35,000 feet deep!)  Max was impressed that Mt. Everest could be completely submerged in the Marianas Trench.  We are using a book that I picked up at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago called The Ocean Book:  Aquarium and Seaside Activities and Ideas for All Ages written by the Center for Marine Conservation; by all means, look this one up!  It is very thorough and engaging with many different activities to entice your child.  Sorry that the picture is so small – you can click on it to see the Amazon link. 

We played a game suggested in this book this afternoon called “Fish – A Card Game”.  It’s fun!  Give Max a game and he gets all competitive……… 

In a nutshell, you are playing ‘Go Fish’, but with pictures and words that you choose based on what you are studying.  I took a stack of index cards and cut each card in half.  On one half of the card I drew a picture of say, diatoms or a tail fluke.  On the other half of the card I wrote the corresponding word or term.  Yes, I had to look up what diatoms look like.  I’ll list the words/pictures we used below as these could be easily incorporated into a unit study about the ocean, marine life, marine mammals – whatever!  This is an easy game to apply to any subject and you can make it as easy or difficult as you wish.  I threw in some more difficult terms along with some very simple ones just to get us going.

To play:  deal each player four cards and well, play with the object of matching up pictures to words.  Go Fish!  Winner has the most pairs.

These are the terms we used:

algae, Nansen bottle, nautilus, trilobite, diatoms, shrimp, baleen plates, Humpback whale, Marianas Trench, jellyfish, Cetacea, sea urchin, Indian, Pacific, Atlantic Ocean, manta ray, sea anemone, lateral line, kelp, mermaid, coral reef, flippers, oil platform, octopus, dorsal fin, caudal fin, tail fluke, echolocation, harbor, wet suit, sea monster, eel, waves, Moby Dick, supertanker, oyster, starfish, submarine, oceanographer, pectoral fins, squid – etc, etc, etc – use your imagination and your research resources to pull terms.

Wins –  Mom (1), Max (0)