The Heartbeat of STEM

Posted 06/04/2022 by Jessica Kohout


Does your heart skip a beat when you think about STEM? If it doesn’t already, it will after you learn about the heart STEM project. “The Heart Project” is a great way to introduce your students to coding while teaching your students about the structure of the heart and flow of blood through the heart.

As an Advanced Placement biology teacher, I don’t always have the time to do as much STEM integration as I like. However, when the exams are over, I utilize as many of the STEM projects as possible. “The Heart Project” is a favorite of mine to go more in depth about the circulatory system, transport and homeostasis, but it also allows students to build electrical circuits and write a simple program to control the model.

Students become familiar with coding by using the easily accessible menu-based system within TI calculators. These activities are available using multiple platforms and languages: TI-Basic (TI-Nspire™ CX, TI-Nspire™ CX II-T or TI-84 Plus CE-T graphing calculators) and Python (TI-Nspire™ CX II-T and TI-84 Plus CE-T Python Edition graphing calculators). The activities available at (an American site) set up students for success by completing building skills with different challenges to help them become familiar with programming.

Activity with three different challenges

In “The Plumber: Modeling the Four-Chambered Heart for the TI-Nspire™ CX II Graphing Calculator” activity, students need to complete three different challenges to demonstrate the function of a heart.

In challenge 1, students set up a simple circuit using the breadboard on the TI-Innovator™ Hub and a red LED. They also need to write a program to get the LED to blink at a certain rate. To help the students that may be new to programming, comments are embedded in the Python editor page to provide support.
Challenge 1 set-up and heart Python editor page with coding hints identified.

Challenge 2 brings in modeling of the flow of blood through the heart by writing a program to blink four LED lights in a sequence to show the flow of blood through the heart starting with the right atrium and ending with the left ventricle. Students add in sounds after each cycle to beep like an EKG machine. They can also figure out how to speed up or slow down their cycles and to calculate heart rate.

Challenge 2 set-up and heart Python editor page with coding hints identified.

Challenge 3 is where students must put their skills to the test. This challenge models the autonomic nervous system. Students will need to write a program to show how the heart rate changes based on different external input. A Grove temperature sensor is used to modify the input, and students will need to write a program to increase the heart rate as temperature increases.

CChallenge 3 set-up and heart Python editor page with coding hints identified.

After using this activity with my Biology students, I had an idea to extend it and developed an end-of-year project for my students. Now that they were familiar with writing the code and setting up the heart to show both the flow of blood (LEDs) and calculating the heart rate, I wanted them to do some research on arrhythmias or when the heart does not beat as expected. The students researched the different types and causes of arrhythmia, put together a presentation, and modified their code to model how the heartbeat would change. It was a great way to end the year.

Texas Instruments’ STEM Projects give you a place to start with so many resources available to help educators with any level of experience integrating STEM activities into their classroom. For every project, there are teacher documents, student documents, completed programs, supplemental reference sheets on the programming language, and even videos to demonstrate the project. You can reach out to your local TI STEM Team for help. If you don’t have the equipment, you can even borrow technology and kits from the TI STEM Team!!

Don’t miss a beat and check out this STEM project.

About the author: Jessica Kohout has taught all levels of biology, from on-grade level to AP® and marine science, at Reservoir High School in Howard County, Maryland. She is a T³™ National Instructor and sees technology as a great way to help students make real-life connections with science. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @MrsKohout.