How does your heart rate?

How does your heart rate?

Cowens, John

February – heart month – is a terrific time to incorporate healthy heart activities into your curriculum.

The heart fascinates kids: they hear references to it because of Valentine’s Day, many of them watch the various medical dramas on TV and they sometimes hear of Grandma or a neighbor having a heart attack. I wanted my students in grades 24 to have some understanding of how the heart really works… and to give them some solid lifetime exercise habits at the same time.

I designed this lesson for my students in grades 24 so they would see and feel the effect exercise has on the heart. This lesson is a Direct Instruction lesson because the students need guided training while learning to take their pulse.

My students engaged in physical activity and observed the effects it had on the heart and the body in general. While doing this activity, they identified possible reasons why changes in the body occur.

First, students measured their heart rates by counting the number of beats (pulse) per 15 seconds. This time was chosen for grade-appropriateness. Students may not be able to count a full minute, or do the math required to calculate the pulse per minute. By using a fi-action of a minute, this lesson can easily tie in to a real-world mathematics lessons. The following goals that I have listed met all of our science standards.


1. Students will understand the process of scientific inquiry and technology designed to investigate questions, conduct experiments and solve problems.

2. They will know and apply the concepts, principles and processes of scientific inquiry.

3. They’ll collect data for investigations using scientific process skills, including observing, estimating and measuring.

4. They’ll achieve and maintain a health-enhancing level of physical fitness based upon continual self-assessment.

5. They will be able to assess individual fitness levels.

6. Finally, they’ll be able to describe immediate effects of physical activity on the body (e.g., faster heartbeat, increased pulse rate, increased breathing rate).

Student objectives

When asked, students should be able to:

1. Correctly measure their heartbeats (pulse) within a “10 point” range, during a performance of physical activity.

2. Demonstrate an understanding of the effects of exercise on the heart through accurately recorded data and multiple descriptions of the effects on the body.

3. Identify one reason why the heartbeat increases with different activities.

Getting started

You won’t need a lot of materials for this activity. Neither will your students. Materials for the teacher consist of a watch with a second hand, a bell and a transparency of the data collection sheet. This transparency will be used for group discussion during closure.

Your students will need basketballs, (one for each pair of students) and the data collection sheets. Make sure a large area is available for student use. If this area happens to be in your classroom, move the desks to the sides of the room. Once the area is cleared for action, you’re ready to begin.

Chances are a great many of your students will have little or no experience with taking someone’s pulse. This calls for a demonstration on your part.

I start by doing some jumping jacks and continue until my heartbeat increases. I then take my pulse and, by huffing and puffing a bit, I let the students know that the exercise has definitely had an effect on me.

Next, I demonstrate what is meant by “taking one’s pulse.” I explain that my heart rate is also called my pulse and I show the class how to measure your heart rate by using only two fingers. I identify the pointer finger and middle fingers as the ones to use, and show the area on the wrist where a pulse can be taken. Although the pulse can also be taken from the neck, I felt it would be easier for demonstration purposes if all students could actually see the place from which they were reading their pulse. I spend some time modeling taking my pulse from my wrist to be sure that all students can find the pulse “area” on their own wrist.

The pulse should be taken by counting the beats for 15 seconds. I usually have my students take their pulse twice just to make sure that they have an accurate reading.

Guided practice

I usually ask for volunteers to come to the front of the room to demonstrate finding their pulse. This “show-and-tell” enables them to help others who have not been successful in locating their pulse. One of my students had the great idea that we make a small pen mark on the wrists of those students having a bit of trouble so they can practice taking their pulse during the day.

1. I double check to be sure that children know which two fingers to use when taking a pulse.

2. I ask a few questions so I can be sure that children are leaning towards the conclusion that exercise does increase one’s pulse.

3. I go over directions with the students for completion of the data collection sheet:

a) Put your name on the paper

b) Predict what you think you resting heart rate will be and write that number on the sheet

c) Measure your resting pulse rate, then write it down

d) Predict what you think your pulse rate will be for various activities listed (jumping jacks, bouncing a ball, etc.) and write down those numbers

Tell students that after measuring their pulse rate they should write down some of the observations they made about their body when they were exercising. They should also write down one reason why they think their heart rate increases during exercise.

Independent practice

Much independent practice covers the same activities we completed in the guided practice. However, I most often have the kids work with a partner in independent practice. They learn to take someone else’s pulse as well as their own, and they can make visual observations more easily.

I suggest that the students engage in jumping jacks, sit-ups, hopping on one foot, etc. and that they continue this activity until they’re sure they have an increased heart rate. They then take their pulse for 15 seconds.

I tell them to allow at least one minute before beginning the next activity, to ensure an accurate reading. During the oneminute wait time between activities, they should be recording observations they have made on the effects the activity had on their body or on their partner’s body. I keep circulating through the room during this time, assensing students and providing help as needed.

Select 10 students and record their predictions and their actual pulse for each activity on the overhead version of the data collection sheet. Once all the data is recorded, ask the students if they felt their predictions were accurate, and why they were correct or incorrect. Which activity produced the highest and lowest heart rates and why. We always discuss breathing while exercising and it’s a perfect lead-in for me to a lesson on the respiratory system.


Roseanne Uzzi, Brooklyn, NY

John Cowens teaches science at Fleming Middle School, Grants Pass, OR, and is a Teaching Editor of Teaching K-8. E-mail:

Copyright Early Years, Inc. Feb 2001

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