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BSIE 2010: Session 15

Paul Grobstein's picture

Brain, Science, and Inquiry-Based Education
K-12 Summer Institute 2010



  Session 15

Case Study: Regulation of Human Heart Rate

Ingrid Waldron

Ingrid Waldron, Professor of Biology and of Women's Studies at the University of Pennslyvania, and her colleagues have made available on Serendip a rich array of "hands-on, minds-on" activities in biology for precollege classrooms. See Hands-on Activities for Teaching Biology to High School or Middle School Students.  This morning, we'll be trying out one of these, Regulation of Human Heart Rate, and then discussing both how this might be modified to fit particular classroom contexts and how Ingrid's general approach relates to our conversations about science, inquiry, co-construction, and conversation.  After the discussion, post your thoughts about this session in the forum below. 

Ingrid participates in a Google group "group is designed for the community of high school Biology teachers in the School District of Philadelphia to share questions, concerns, experiences, or ideas about teaching the school district's core curriculum."  One can join by logging into Google, going to, and clicking on "Apply for membership".  



Susan Dorfman's picture

An Adaptation of a Heart Rate Lab Activity by Igrid Waldron

Colleagues, While searching files for middle school activities to share with Jack, I found this lab from Dr. Waldron that I adapted for the school  year 2008-09. I hope you find it useful for your science classes.




Regulation of Human Heart Rate

Adapted by Susan Dorfman from

Dr. Ingrid Waldron, Department of Biology, University of Pennsylvania, copyright, 2005


                                                            Part 1



Why do you need to have a heart?  Why do you need to have blood circulate to all the parts of your body?


How does your heart pump blood?   What is a heart beat?


Does your heart always beat at the same rate? 


List some activities or stimuli that you think may increase a person's heart rate.  An activity is something a person does, and a stimulus is an input from the environment around a person.



Why would it be useful for the heart to beat faster during these activities or in response to these stimuli?



Are there any activities or stimuli that you think may decrease a person's heart rate?




Measuring Heart Rate Accurately


Each time the heart beats, blood is pumped into the arteries.  As the blood surges into the arteries during a heart beat, each artery stretches and bulges.  This brief bulge of the artery is called a pulse.  You will be measuring heart rate by counting the number of pulses in the artery in the wrist in a 20 second interval. 


To feel the pulse, find the artery in your partner's wrist.  Place the tips of the first two fingers of one hand on the palm side of your partner's wrist, over toward the thumb side of his or her wrist.  You may need to press quite firmly in order to feel the pulse of blood which each heart beat sends through the artery.  Don't use your thumb to feel the pulse in the wrist, because your thumb has a pulse of its own. 


To measure heart rate, count the number of pulses in 20 seconds.  Multiply that number by 3, and you will have the number of heart beats per minute.


After you have practiced taking heart rate, it is important to check the accuracy of your heart rate measurements.  Work in pairs using the following procedure to test and improve the accuracy of heart rate measurements.


(1) Choose one person in your group to be the subject and one person to measure the pulse count in the wrist. Look at a watch with a second hand to time a 20 second interval.. 



(2) Try to improve your technique, and repeat step 1 with the person who was the subject switching to become the partner measuring the pulse.



Designing Your Experiment


Discuss how you could test your ideas concerning activities or stimuli which may increase or decrease heart rate.  Choose a hypothesis that your group would like to test in your next lab class. Write your hypothesis here.









Plan your experimental procedure. 


Try to keep everything constant, except for the one stimulus or activity you want to test.  This will allow you to measure the effect of the stimulus or activity you are testing, and minimize confounding effects due to any other factors that may influence heart rate.  In designing your experiment, remember that heart rate can be affected by minor physical activity such as changing seats, so you need to keep this type of factor constant in order to assess the effects of your experimental stimulus or activity.


Plan to have each person in the group be a subject in the experiment, in order to see whether different people have the same heart rate response to your stimulus or activity. 


In the space below, describe the procedure for your experiment.  Be specific about what you plan to do to your subjects (the stimulus) or what you want your subjects to do (the activity).  Specify when and how often you will measure heart rate; you will need to measure resting heart rate two or three times before your stimulus or activity, and you will need to measure heart rate during and/or after your stimulus or activity. 


List of Specific Numbered Steps in Your Procedure



















Your teacher will check your plan for your experiment, and make any suggestions that could improve the experimental procedure.  Discuss these suggestions and, if you decide to make any changes in your experimental procedure, incorporate these changes in your description of your procedure.



Getting Ready to Do the Experiment


If you need to bring anything to do your experiment next time, decide who will bring the necessary materials or equipment.


Make a data sheet to collect the data during your experiment next time.  The data sheet should include places to record the

  • names of each student in the group
  • resting heart rates (pulse counts) for each subject before the stimulus or activity, as well as the heart rates during and/or after the stimulus or activity
  • anything you notice which might affect the results, for example, other things which may be happening in the room during your experiment or changes in each subject's mood during the experiment.


If you complete these activities before the end of the period, you can begin the Hypothesis and Methods sections of your poster.  (See below.)


Part 2


Doing Your Heart Rate Experiment


Review your experimental plan from last time, and carry out the experiment for each subject in your group.  Record your data in the data sheets that you prepared.



Analyzing Your Results


Discuss the best way to analyze your data in order to test your hypothesis.  You may want to use one of the following methods of analysis.


(1) For each subject, calculate the difference between the resting heart rate and the heart rate during or after the stimulus or activity.  Make a table which shows these change in heart rate values.  Calculate the average change in heart rate for all subjects in the experiment, and record this average in the table.


(2) For each subject, graph the resting heart rate and the heart rate during and/or after the stimulus or activity. Calculate the average resting heart rate and the average heart rate during and/or after the stimulus or activity.  Graph these averages.  Be sure to label both axes of any graph that you make.


Each student should analyze the data and attach the table or graphs you have prepared.


Do your results support your hypothesis?  What conclusions can you draw from your experiment? 





Each group should prepare a poster on their heart rate experiment.  This poster should explain your hypothesis, the basic procedures you used, your main results (summarized in a graph and/or table), and your conclusions.                                                                                         




Geneva Tolliferreo's picture

2nd Wednesday AM & PM

Yesterday I spent all the computer time of the day 'playing' Sudoku.  The results were progressively encouraging.  By the afternoon, I began to realize that the more I played the more I began to 'see'.  The game

Paul Grobstein's picture

Alternative approaches to inquiry

Yes, as Ashley says, "inquiry" means different things to different people and it was wonderful to have Ingrid here to provide her perspective and a rich and clear example of how it plays out in practice.  Ingrid and her colleagues have put a lot of thought, time, and effort into a "hands on, minds on" approach and it is enormously valuable both in itself as well as for the contrasts it offers to other approaches, and so as incentive for further inquiry into "inquiry."  Some thoughts along those lines to mull further ...

One thing that struck me is the distinction Ingrid made between "lecture/discussion" and "inquiry activity," which tends to equate inquiry with hands-on activity.  My own sense is that "inquiry" can take place (or not take place) both in the context of "lecture/discussion" and in the context of "hands-on activity."  We have, I think, spent the last week and a half engaged in "inquiry" even though there was relatively little "hands-on activity."  From this, I'd be inclined to define inquiry as that which goes on when people examine their current understanding, find things that challenge it, and construct new understandings.  That can occur in a laboratory or hands-on context but equally in a conversational context.  Being able to teach in an inquiry fashion (minds on) without necessarily making it it "hands on" may help with the problem that Ingrid noted about it being hard to develop hands on experiences for some materials one wants to explore, and with the bigger problem of time/equipment demands for hands on sessions.  And serve as a counterbalance to the tendency that Keith noted, to move toward teaching science out of kits.   

Along these lines, what also struck me was Ingrid's emphasis on being thoughtful about the objectives of one's teaching, and on matching teaching style/methods to the objective.  "Hands on" teaching is better for teaching process than it is for teaching content.  And it is particularly good/essential if one wants students to become familiar with the rigors and problems of experimental research.   One might raise the same issues about "inquiry."  If one is primarily concerned with conveying content, one might be better off with something other than an inquiry approach.  Content can be delivered more efficiently without the time required by an inquiry approach, and perhaps even be stablely learned if one follows content delivery with practical experiences that move content knowledge into the unconscious.  If one's primary educational objective is to further develop inquiry skills, then though it seems to me there is no reasonable alternative to taking the inquiry approach and taking the time needed for it.

I was also interested in Ingrid's flagging the "garbage in, garbage out" problem, and its relation to Keith's earlier story of a class getting hands-on results different from those in a textbook. Methodological rigor is one way to deal with the "garbage in, garbage out" problem, and Ingrid appropriately emphasized its usefulness and value in the hands on context.   An alternative way to address this is a "co-constructive dialogue" approach, one that sees any (and all) stories, both individual and collective, not as "accurate" or "misinformation" but rather as grist from which are constructed by generative conversation new and different understandings.  That approach relies not on some particular methodology or person to correct "misunderstandings" but rather on the dynamcis of intrapersonal and interpersonal exchange to move existing understandings, both individual and collective, to new ones.  While methodological rigor may be a preferred approach in particular contexts, it seems to me the conversational approach is more generally useful and that developing the skills of a conversational approach is an essential element of helping everyone become better inquirers.

Lots grist for further thought in all this.  Very glad to have Ingrid help us more clearly define the issues. 

Susan Dorfman's picture

Comments on a sample lesson

Ingrid Waldron’s demonstration lecture and discussion/inquiry activity approach to teaching reminded me that the one resource teachers do not have in their education “toolbox” is time enough to employ co-constructive dialogue and inquiry based activities throughout their curricula. Teachers work under the constraints of standards; curricula predetermined outside the classroom, and standardized testing as a tool to evaluate both students and their teachers. They do not have the time to develop content through co-constructive dialogue and inquiry based hands-on activities for every topic required for the grade level or specific subject.

Until education in this nation loses its dependence on standardized testing to evaluate both students and teachers as well as to determine academic progression, teachers will not have the time to create classroom environments where students have time to ask the questions that allow their unconscious stories to provide the input to elicit responses, from their teachers and other students, that are necessary to revise their unconscious stories. This takes time.

Until education in this nation prioritizes content to reduce the amount considered necessary and recognizes process for the important role it plays all through life, teachers will not have the time to develop the structure in which to allow co-constructive inquiry as the primary educational methodology.

Each year, our science department faculty set aside a few meetings to coordinate the science curriculum from grades 1 to 12. We choose a topic, such as change in free energy or Delta G, and plot out how the topic is discussed at each grade level.  From this exercise, we see the spiraling and adjust our discussions and activities to enable smooth transition from grade to grade. The process usually begins with the grade in which the topic is most essential; in the example of Delta G, it is grade 10 chemistry. Perhaps this year, I will suggest a slightly different approach where we prioritize topics in an effort to streamline the curriculum and reduce the number of topics to allow time for a more inquiry based environment. Our science department consists of innovative and open minded faculty. Three members, other than me, have attended Summer Institutes, so I think that I will have many allies in this goal.


jpfeiffer's picture

Morning and Afternoon Thoughts...

The lesson this morning was much of a review of a human physiology class that I took in high school. I originally liked the idea that we were beginning the lesson with a larger meta-question of: what is the optimum combination of inquiry approaches to teaching with teacher-directed lecture discussion? I also liked the idea that we were actively participating in an experiment and thus one example of inquiry.

Although the experiment allow us all to take part in an active form of inquiry working together in groups, I thought that some of the time could have been used in a slightly different way. As the lecture was concluding because of time constraints, it almost seemed as though we were finding ourselves abruptly interrupting a rich dialogue taking place.

I really resonate with what Ashley said about having a particular knowledge in order to complete the lab today and how much of the information presented in the lecture, although extremely insightful and interesting, was not necessarily required to understand the experiment. Now, of course I found the content of the lecture that Professor Waldron presented highly interesting, yet at the same time I can honestly say that I was not able to recall much of the information that I learned and if I needed to recall information for the lab I would not be able to do so.

Now, unlike Ashley I did take biology in freshman year of high school, as well as AP biology, marine biology, human anatomy and physiology, Biology 101, 102 at Bryn Mawr and Biology and Public Policy, also at Bryn Mawr. With this being said I did have a little more background so to speak with this topic, yet I was still unable to recall much of the information that was presented in the lecture. Therefore, a longer lecture would have been greatly valued if the lecture coincided with the lab. 

Now that above is written in more of a hypothetical situation in which the experiment was highly related to the lecture. However, since it was not, I would comment that perhaps the time spent addressing the meta-question or people’s comments on the meta-question could have been elongated. Since for much of the past time in the institute during the summer institute has been built around conversation and open ended dialogue between the teachers here, I feel as though more time could have been allotted for that.

I greatly enjoyed having Professor Ingrid Waldron come visit and it’s a shame we could all not have continued on with the discussion of the meta-question in greater detail!


Mattie Davis's picture

A Lesson on Regulation of the Human Heart Rate

This morning, Ingrid Waldron was facilitator of a lesson entitled  "A Case Study:  Regulation of the Human Heart Rate".  She used lecture with discussion, and an inquiry activity.  She used lecture, visual aids, definition and function of unclear terms, diagrams, thought rendering questions at frequent intervals, plus hands on activities.  There was something for the visual, tactile, and auditory learner.  The lesson involved everyone in the classroom, inquiry, co-construction, and conversation.  It included a little something for most teachers and learners.  

RecycleJack Marine's picture

Open Ended Inquiry - Or Open Heart Surgery?

I enjoyed Ingrid Waldron's AM session. There was a lot of information about the human heart structure. I worried that we would be tested on the information, but it turned out to be less intimidating. I liked her graphics and I would like those exact charts for my classroom. Of course I do not know yet if they're applicable because I haven't yet starting teaching at my new job. In Ingrid's lecture there were many terms that we reviewed, but in the inquiry lesson, much of that lecture content wasn't translated (in my opinion) to the hands-on lesson. In past years, the FOSS or STI science kits were a separate curriculum that I used as Guided Inquiry, to meet state standards. It wasn't like, let'slearn subject concepts, then let's do a related hands on inqiury. It was one or the other. Now I am going to a school where they prefer hands-on activities, but they also want me to teach content. So my goal will be to teach the content using published textbooks, and to incorporate inquiry that's directly connected to the content.

joycetheriot's picture

Fighting Battles

The idea of convincing a distinct, an administrator or even another teacher to entertain a systemic change because you as an individual have come to a new pedagogical understanding is not reasonable. Your dedication to the students and your ability to accept required methodologies that have been adopted will generate trust and perhaps admiration over time. The new understandings that you have developed will surface in integral ways within the structured curriculum. Those that watch over the advancement of your students will soon come to trust you as a teacher and perhaps be interested in your ideas and methods in time. You will evolve into a different teacher as you learn more about “learning” and that will absolutely affect your students in a positive way.  


Jessica Watkins's picture

The Joys of Being "Loosey Goosey"

This morning's session with Ingrid Waldron seemed promising enough when she began with a "meta question": "What is the optimum combination of inquiry-based approaches to teaching and teacher-directed lecture/discussion?"  Her beginning lecture appeared very one-sided--we, the participants, listened as she pointed to a diagram of the circulatory system and and listed facts about the heart, veins, arteries, etc.  It was quite different from the type of inquiry-based discussion I have become accustomed to in the past week and a half, and I can't say that I enjoyed it.  To put it in Susan's words, we the orchestra was silent while the conductor gave instructions.  It would have been more beneficial to pause at different points in the lesson, discuss what was just said and ask for student opinions/questions.  

The turning point, at least for me, came when I attempted to answer one of her questions about the thickness of ventricle walls and answered incorectly.  Her response was to pick up on the part of my answer that was correct and try to rephrase the question so it incorporated this, then ask it in a different way.  I felt that this technique worked in our group setting because it did not induce any kind of embarrassment on my part, and the question was still left open for someone else's interpretation (in the end, Joyce triumped!).  Additionally, Dr. Waldron transferred more authority into the hands of her "students" by asking for participants to add to each other's answers.

The inquiry-based activity involving pulse-taking was, I thought, an excellent way to make what we had just learned something tangible.  Many people, especially younger students, are tactile learners.  Feeling each other's veins pulse with life brought us closer to truly understanding the idea of "circulation."  Afterwards as we were discussing the advantages and disadvantages of a lecture-based lesson versus something more hands-on, Dr. Waldron seemed a bit uncomfortable when she gave a short laugh and admitted she has been "loosey goosey" in letting us run the experiments on our own.  In my opinion, she had nothing to be uncomfortable about.  Our "loose" session was informative and fun, rich and appealing.  What had seemed so distant on the screen came to life (no pun intended) because we were allowed to take the material to whatever level we wished and apply it in a way that we could understand individually. 

Dr. Waldron's lamentation of the fact that students working on their own often learn "misinformation" from each other (and her description of this as a "quality control issue") saddened me a bit because the usefulness of this "misinformation" was not recognized.  As we have discussed before in the institute, the brain learns through discrepancies between what it expects and what it observes.  "Misinformation" allows students' different opinions to be expressed so that none of them feel inadequate or unheard; a review session after the activity would solve the problem of students walking away "misinformed."  And who is to judge which students' thoughts are of lesser "quality" than the others?

Judith Lucas-Odom's picture

Lecture? Inquiry? A Little of Both?

This morning's conversation on the benefits of lecture and inquiry was a stimulating conversation.  The issue that was brought up this morning reminded me of how to implement ideas in the classroom or even in a school district.  I would think that as teachers grow professionally, they will be able to implement this conversation within the confines of the curriculum.  Easier said than done!  One way to implement this, I have found, is to have guidelines for the students and the administrators.  Allowing everyone to be on the same page can help.  When you are in your classroom, you can give the students the basic process by using the inquiry model. This model will include a limited amount of "lecture/Conversation".  This is the perfect time to get feedback/assessment of where your students are and this will guide how far you can take them in the initial inquiry.  This can also give you justification for why you are using in your class.  Inquiry should be an ongoing process not just a one time activity.  Careful planning and patience is the key.  My motto is "Less is More!"


cdivo39's picture


  Very interesting discussion and lecture on and what we feel are the best avenues of learning for our students.  Lecture vs. Inquiry..... which is better? I think in education we have to  use various modes of learning in which to communicate our thoughts and ideas to our students. 

Keith Sgrillo's picture

I think my thoughts do go

I think my thoughts do go right along with Regina's.  There needs to be a balance.  However, I think of the word balance not to mean  a 50/50 relationship, but one that has just the right amount of each to do the job effectively.  So I guess in my vision, it is not so much like a seesaw, but more like a recipe where you need a little of this and a little of that.  And like a recipe, the amount of each ingredient changes depending on your mood, guests, or pallet.  Changes will be made each time you try a new lesson.  In fact, I feel that if you are not adjusting your lessons, you are not truely engaged in the learning process.

Ashley Dawkins's picture

What is Inquiry?

What is inquiry vs. the connotations that surround it? It doesn't have to be this hands on process that doesn't get across much content. Here is an article outlining different types of teaching and learning, The Many Faces of Inductive Teaching and Learning.

GShoshana's picture

The Heart

I enjoyed the session about the heart this morning because it gave us the opportunity to see a lesson involving both lecture and hands-on activity.  It really showed us how an activity increases students' motivation to learn, which should be the teacher's goal.  The lecture in the beginning had too much information, though, and not enough conversation.  As an elementary school teacher I know that it is important to put whatever the students are learning into context (for example, by having them share their experiences with the subject) and discuss the information, not just list facts for them to absorb.  It is important to break up the lecture with conversation, discussion and activities.  This wil increase the concentration and excitement of the student if they are engaging in multiple types of learning.

Regina Toscani's picture

Inquiry vs. Lecture/Discussion


Ingrid was able to effectively demonstrate the need for both forms of education.  I agree with her statement that much of what students need to learn is best taught in a lecture/discussion mode.  However, the inquiry mode gives to the student more than just facts.  Inquiry based education is reaching the whole child.  It gives the child an opportunity to explore (within a predetermine format) and gain a new understanding of their world.  This exploration also increases the child sense of autonomy.  Increase autonomy allows the child greater freedom to become more engage with the world, which leads to more understanding, which leads to increase autonomy, and so on.


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