Freshman students in Dr. Steven Elmer‘s KIP 1500 course, Foundations of Kinesiology, recently completed a unique assignment to learn how the lungs and respiratory systems of animals work. Students worked in small groups to build three-dimensional animal models to demonstrate how the lungs function during movement. Groups built models of either a kangaroo (bipedal mobility model) or a horse (quadrupedal mobility model). Students were able to find most of the parts they needed to construct their animal models in local hardware stores.
“Collecting all the parts was hard, because it was not entirely clear as to what exact size and dimensions we needed,” explains Erin Seppala, a student in Dr. Elmer’s Foundations of Kinesiology class.
All students used the same model to construct their animal’s “lung.” A syringe served as the thoracic cavity, and a balloon was tied inside the syringe to serve as the lung. A plastic tube was then connected to serve as the trachea. The rubber end of the syringe’s plunger worked as the diaphragm muscle (the major muscle for inspiration, or drawing air into the lungs).
Once the animals were complete, students manipulated their models to observe how hopping and running affects breathing. “I learned that animals can have different and unique ways of breathing,” explained Robert Dwyer, a student in the class.
“I learned that animals can have different and unique ways of breathing.” Robert Dwyer, student in KIP 1500
By using the three-dimensional models they built in the classroom, students found that kangaroos exert less energy to breathe when hopping than when standing still. Rather than relying on contraction of the diaphragm muscle to move air into and out of the lungs (also called “inspiration” and “expiration”), air is pulled into the lungs and pushed back out of the lungs as the internal organs “flop” within the kangaroo’s body during the hopping movement.
By manipulating the legs of the horse model, students observed how this moved air into and out of the lungs. For example, when the forelimbs were stretched forward this helped to increase the volume of the thoracic cavity, decrease thoracic pressure, and aid in inspiration. When the forelimbs struck the ground and the hind limbs moved forward this facilitated a decrease in the volume of the thoracic cavity and a decrease in thoracic pressure, aiding expiration.
Students not only investigated how the lungs and respiratory system work but they also learned the importance of good group communication and problem solving. Students were reminded that when things get hard, it’s important to remember to just have fun with the project. Several groups emphasized that the activity had helped them to learn how to problem solve and improvise as a team when something didn’t go the way they had planned.
“Building a model using parts helped us to visualize and understand the unique way horses and kangaroos breathe in accordance with their athletic ability,” group members Sarah Dix and Sarah Miller explained.
This hands-on activity was inspired by two papers published in the journal Advances in Physiology Education (Giuliodori et al., 2009, 2010). Dr. Stephen DiCarlo of Michigan State University, a coauthor of both papers, was able to mentor Dr. Elmer on the use of these physical models in the classroom to promote active student learning.
This is an edited version of an original story by KIP undergraduate student Lily Hart.
Giuliodori, M. J., Lujan, H. L., Briggs, W. S., & DiCarlo, S. E. (2009). A model of locomotor-respiratory coupling in quadrupeds. 33(4), 315-318. doi:10.1152/advan.00057.2009
Giuliodori, M. J., Lujan, H. L., Janbaih, H., & DiCarlo, S. E. (2010). How does a hopping kangaroo breathe? , 34(4), 228-232. doi:10.1152/advan.00050.2010