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5th & 6th Grade Digestive System “Museum” Demystifies the Journey That Food Takes Through Our Bodies

Updated: Apr 20

It was a sight to behold – 40+ interactive models of digestive systems made entirely of recycled materials. No two were alike. One resembled a golf putting green, another a marble run. One even required a step ladder to demonstrate.

Marin Horizon’s 5th & 6th graders proudly showcased their digestive system models to our community on April 17, providing detailed presentations of every step that the food we eat takes on its journey through our body. This Digestive System “museum” was created not only to showcase learning, but to engage and educate its audience. 

A Desire to Succeed and Be Creative.

The Marin Horizon science program is project-based by design, which means that students learn through hands-on, extended projects that offer them a chance to be creative, and challenge them to think more deeply to meet requirements that are often complex. 

“Obviously, we want students to be able to read informational texts but I think there is a level of learning and understanding that happens when kids are doing,” said Science Teacher Nicole Rothschild.

She continued, “I think one of the best things about this kind of project is getting [students’] buy-in and excitement to learn. If we were just to give the kids a worksheet, they would do it because I asked them to, but they wouldn’t be as intrinsically excited. With this project, they just had a lot of desire to succeed and be creative, and  that’s what makes learning easy and teaching fun!”

So what exactly were the requirements? 

Here are the requirements that Nicole provided for each interactive model:

  • It must include four sphincters, demonstrate mechanical and chemical digestion, and peristalsis.

  • It should include key organs and processes:  the salivary glands, the stomach, the esophagus, the mouth, the small and large intestine, and the rectum. 

  • It should include interactive elements to engage their audience.

  • Lastly, the model should feature creative, innovative uses of recycled materials.

This last requirement is a nod to a key Marin Horizon tenet of environmental stewardship. No materials used were purchased, but instead were donated by the community, or found in student’s homes. 

Before diving into the project, students did do more traditional learning and research, including learning to use a microscope to first understand cell biology, reading texts and defining key processes and anatomy related to digestion, doing a lab to learn about how the enzymes in our salivary glands break down starch, and watching videos.

The three-week project combined human biology and STEM engineering. Through the process of breaking the process down into small parts, and thinking about what is happening at each level, students gained a deeper understanding of the human body. 

Students began by sketching out their model, and creating a plan for how to build it. While Nicole shared a few examples of what they might do, students were largely left to choose their own direction, and select their own materials.

“What I love about this project is that they’re learning while they’re also problem solving. Students had to grapple with how a laundry bottle representing the stomach doesn’t fit into the large intestine, or the marble doesn’t roll the right way. There’s a little bit of this two-step thinking: I need for it to represent something as well as serve a function – how can this fit together and serve as a metaphor for what this organ does.”

So, how did the students do? “The kids did a fabulous job. I was so incredibly impressed with them. They spoke so eloquently about the digestive system,” said Nicole.


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