No Ordinary Coronary

NSTA Press, Science Scope article - Authors: Brandolyn Patterson, Bryan Flaig, Tammy Cook-Endres
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Lesson/Lesson Plan , Article
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.


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In this lesson, students become bioengineers, trying to effectively and safely restore “blood flow” through a model clogged artery. Background work, including dissection ideas, provides students with an understanding of circulatory system anatomy; it also piques their interest in heart disease and current technologies to combat it. The teacher establishes a problem: blockage of a coronary artery! Students see the model clogged artery (frosting in a plastic tube) and come up with ideas for clearing the artery, also generating goals and constraints for the process. With a set of pre-determined materials, students create and test their method of clearing the artery, done by pouring water through the tube and measuring flow rate. Students then evaluate project designs, peer-review each other’s work, modify designs, and retest. Wrap-up (assessment) is done through a report or poster-session, and students argue for which designs are best based on evidence in relation to the established criteria.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 6
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

MS-ETS1-1 Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
In the lab activity the class discusses and determines the criteria for success and constraints, particularly those imposed by working with an actual person. The authors also constantly note the importance of reminding students of possible impacts on the person of dislodging the entire clog (stroke, for example), which limits possible solutions. The teacher should ensure that students follow those suggestions and do some additional reading/teaching (perhaps led by students) to ensure that they understand the biological underpinnings of the criteria and constraints being set up (or needing to be set up).

MS-LS1-3 Use argument supported by evidence for how the body is a system of interacting subsystems composed of groups of cells.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on the conceptual understanding that cells form tissues and tissues form organs specialized for particular body functions. Examples could include the interaction of subsystems within a system and the normal functioning of those systems.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the mechanism of one body system independent of others. Assessment is limited to the circulatory, excretory, digestive, respiratory, muscular, and nervous systems.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students are asked about how the heart works in concert with or in coordination with other parts of the circulatory system to ensure blood flow, and about how other body systems are affected when they don’t receive proper blood flow. These are important content connections to the engineering activity of unclogging an artery, though the means are less specified for how teachers would support learning this content and building toward an argument as suggested by the PE. The lesson could get more into the cellular nature of blood, arteries and the heart, linking that learning to circulatory system problems such as clogged arteries. A link is provided to a youtube clip of heart cells beating in unison, but that doesn’t directly relate to the engineering activity. It might make more sense to see videos (or simulations) of what comprises blood to support discussions of the importance of continual blood flow to all body systems. Then students could use that understanding/evidence in their argument formulation. The lesson asks students to build claims for how to clear the artery from the evidence from the heart cell video, a connection which is a bit tenuous. A video more focused on artery or systems anatomy might be more useful in that regard.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The activity connects well to this practice, asking students to design and re-design a solution, considering particular criteria and constraints. Throughout, it will be important to emphasize those criteria and constraints. When peers review each others' work and ask about effectiveness, a link to criteria and constraints should be made. And, when student write up their results and answer the questions, connections to the criteria and constraints determined by the class should be part of that write up. Currently, they do have to write in relation to the constraint of patient health/safety, arguably the most important, but not others. Instead of students being asked, "How well did it work?," they should be asked, "How well did it work in relation to the established criteria?" Notably, the authors emphasize that any changes to students' procedures/designs should be documented. They suggest a novel method for documenting: videotaping this design process and having students explain the reason for the changes as they go. That ‘s a nice support for ELL students as well.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
This is a key engineering-related practice. As the authors emphasize throughout this article, this application of scientific ideas needs careful consideration and reminders throughout the lesson. It’s easy for students to get lost in the engineering task and forget that what they’re doing is being done inside of a person and will have potential adverse consequences. As they design, construct and test their tool and process, they should do so with the biology of the artery, the blood and entire circulatory system in mind.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
As mentioned with the ETS performance expectation, students discuss criteria and constraints up front in this lesson; however, this connection could be more explicit throughout the lesson, particularly in determining success. An understanding of possible anatomical and physiological damage that could result from poor solutions connects well to the idea of needing to use scientific principles and other relevant knowledge.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
This lesson briefly touches on the idea that specialized heart cells work together to move blood through a body. It could go into more depth on the need for oxygen delivery to the cells body and how the circulatory system works together to accomplish that, including why cells need oxygen and what happens when they don’t have it. Students do this background work at the beginning through some research, videos and/or dissections. It might be worth establishing the problem they’ll work on (a clogged artery) before this background work in order to generate student engagement and a need for the understanding up front.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The functioning of the circulatory system, and this activity modeling one part of that system to explain clogged arteries, is a part of the lesson. But, this lesson could do more to explicitly discuss the clogged artery model and process of unclogging it within a system context, particularly considering the limitations of this model and what it can and cannot demonstrate.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Overall, this lesson includes excellent connections to engineering practices and scientific learning, connecting to disciplinary core ideas and practices within both science and engineering. The science could be a little more explicit in parts, and the engineering design could better connect back to criteria and constraints. The crosscutting concepts of system modeling also clearly relates to the student work in this lesson, making this lesson three-dimensional based on the NGSS.

  • Instructional Supports: The supplemental lesson materials include fairly comprehensive handouts, rubrics, assessment ideas, and teacher support, including a day-by-day planner for teachers. These materials can be found at these sites: Rubric on elements of the engineering process: Student activity packet, including a guided-inquiry worksheets and reflection questions: Teacher information, great day by day outline of how this lesson could flow:

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Includes a peer-review rubric and further ideas for assessment, though they tend to emphasize engineering design elements and not the science learning, which limits the three-dimensionality of the assessments in relation to the NGSS.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: There are numerous links to videos and simulations that could support this lesson, though the lesson itself is not based on technological interactivity. For example, the lesson has students watch a “Sheep Heart Dissection” video and using an iPad app Explore the Heart in 3D.