Sue Rolf and Jean An Keen: Is There a Doctor in the House

First-Place Winners: TMA Excellence in Science Teaching Awards

Sue Rolf and Jean Ann Keen - Dunbar Primary, Lufkin, Texas
Is There a Doctor in the House? - Bring In A Specialist
Sample Lesson

Lesson Overview

This multifaceted lesson plan is designed primarily for first- and second-grade students, but it can be adapted for use in any elementary grade.  Although the time frame for the project is nine weeks, it can vary depending on how  in-depth the class would like to experience the study.  The children participate in this science lesson that goes way beyond 'playing doctor' as they investigate the roles of many specialists in the area of medical science and integrate this learning with knowledge of the parts and functions of the human body.  Under the guidance of a dermatologist, the class then delves into a three- to six-month original research project dealing with moles as related to melanoma and sunburn and changes in mole counts.  This component of the project includes some valuable family involvement.  Having been inspired by the whole-group research project, the students then choose their own topics related to the human body and do authentic independent research in small cooperative groups.  All information that has been learned is then presented as the class opens its doors to the other classes on campus, the school administration, the community, and the parents for a highly creative culminating experience - the Mini Medical Museum.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this project the student will be able to:

  • Become familiar with higher level science vocabulary;

  • Be aware of career choices in the world of medicine;

  • Define the roles of specialists in the medical community;

  • Research scientific information using books, articles, and the Internet;

  • Identify parts and functions of the human body;

  • Choose a topic to research;
  • Set individual goals;
  • Organize research;
  • Construct creative products for research presentation;
  • Compare and contrast information;
  • Integrate science and math in calculations about moles on the body;
  • Predict outcomes of research;
  • Analyze data and construct a class graph;
  • Work cooperatively in a small group setting;
  • Understand the prevention aspect of medicine;
  • Document references; and
  • Continue ongoing research projects independently.

Materials Used

  • Science books and children's literature,

  • Internet search engines,

  • Large chart paper for recording data on graphs and charts, and

  • Bulletin board paper for transforming the classroom into a Mini Medical Museum

Methods of Implementation

The first phase of the project begins as the children study body parts from the tip of their toes to the top of their heads.   The class learns from informational literature, science books, Internet search engines, and even fact/fantasy books such as The Magic School Bus Inside the Human Body by Joanna Cole (ISBN 0 590-41427-5).  In conjunction with the study of each part of the body, a doctor specialist visits the class as guest speaker/consultant.  The students learn a medical vocabulary that goes above and beyond the ordinary, and they are inspired by this glimpse of career choices that include  podiatrist, orthopedic surgeon, pulmonary specialist, cardiologist, anesthesiologist, neurosurgeon, ophthalmologist, and dermatologist.

The second phase of the lesson takes learning to higher levels as the class becomes involved in a whole-class research project in the area of dermatology. Our class worked hand-in-hand with dermatologist, Matthew Rowley, MD, who helped our class design this original research project.


First Week

  • Student counts moles on each forearm (wrist to elbow) at school and chart their location on a diagram for student and parents to keep
  • At home, student and parents count moles on entire body (head to toe, including scalp), and chart their location on a diagram for student and parents to keep.

Second Week

  • Students divide their total body mole counts by their forearm counts. That number will be the student's "forearm mole factor."
  • Class graphs on a two-axis graph each student's forearm mole factor, listed alphabetically by last name.
  • Class calculates the average number of forearm moles and the average total number of moles.
  • Class divides the average total body mole count by the average forearm mole count.  That number will be the class average forearm mole factor.
  • Class determines how many students' forearm mole factors are nearly average.
  • Class tries to answer the question, "Is the forearm mole count a reasonable way to estimate a person's total body mole count?"


Third Week

Student investigates family history of melanoma.  Immediate family is sibling or parent. Close family history is grandparent or aunt/uncle, and distant family history is cousin or great-grandparent.

  • Student grades family history:  Immediate family history (4), close family history (3), distant family history (2), and no family history (1).  Use only the highest number as the student's family history factor.
  • Student and parents estimate the total number of sunburns received so far and write down a single number.
  • Dr. Rowley determines student's Fitzpatrick skin type.  An example is skin type II:  burns easily, tans with effort.  Skin types are I-IV and will be assigned a numerical value in descending order (skin type I = 4).

Fourth Week

  • Class calculates class averages for family history grade, number of sunburns, and skin type.
  • Student recalls his or her total body mole count.
  • Class recalls the class average total mole count.
  • Student uses bar graph to compare his or her mole count, family history grade, number of sunburns, and skin type with class averages.
  • Students divide their total body mole counts by their forearm counts.
  • Class discusses relationship of mole count to family history of melanoma, sunburns, and skin type.


Sixth Month

  • Students recount forearm moles and document locations of new moles on diagram.
  • Student and parent recount moles on whole body and document locations of new moles on diagram.
  • Class calculates the total increase in moles for the class.
  • Class discusses the increase in number of moles with Dr. Rowley.

The students then use the model for doing authentic research to extend to the third phase of the lesson, doing small-group independent research.  Yes, first- and second-graders can do authentic research and have a ball doing it when it is presented in a nonthreatening way.  The children work cooperatively in small heterogeneous groups to choose a research topic, set goals, gather facts, organize information, document references, and present the findings to others through creative products (such as a model, artwork, display board, survey, diorama, skit, PowerPoint presentation, demonstration, creative writing, mobile or experiment).

The fourth phase of the project finds the students presenting the products of their research in a Mini Medical Museum.  The classroom is transformed into a science fair of sorts, with each small group of researchers setting up a station to display its findings and  original products.  Students design an over-the-door entrance display similar to the human mouth entrance at the John P. McGovern Museum of Health and Medical Science in Houston.  The children wear surgical scrubs as costumes to add to the excitement of the activity.  The room becomes a living museum where the students eagerly assume the roles of teachers.  This is perhaps the part of the project where the most learning takes place!  The following is a suggested scenario of how the museum centers can look and a few examples:

Foot (Podiatry) Exhibit - Children set up shoe store with all types and sizes of shoes, foot measurement devices, inserts for shoes, Foot Facts display board, child-made graph of children's foot sizes, X-rays of feet,  collection of creative writing stories that group members have written about feet, Foot Care chart, etc.

Bones (Orthopedics) Exhibit - X-rays of healthy bones and broken bones displayed on the windows, a collection of crutches, leg braces, and casts for children to sign.  Information about skeletons on presentation boards. A taste test survey on different kinds of milk and other high calcium foods.  Real owl pellets to dissect and reconstruct the tiny bones of the birds' prey using a bone guide.

Heart (Cardiology) Exhibit - A Project WATCH board using children's artwork to teach the five preventable risk factors that cause heart and brain attack: Weight, Activity, Tobacco, Cholesterol, and High blood pressure. Toilet paper/paper towel roll stethoscopes and stopwatches for participants to check their heart rates before and after jogging in place. Favorite heart-healthy snacks can be graphed. Of course, a cow heart in a jar would be interesting for the brave at heart .

Lungs (Respiratory) Exhibit - Children set up an antismoking campaign with X-ed out cigarette ads.  A model of balloon and drinking straw lungs can demonstrate how the lungs function.  Children draw conclusions about the dangers of tobacco. 

Brain (Neurology) Exhibit - Brainteasers, optical illusions, and Mensa games.  Brain sculptures made from Sculpy II.  Diagrams of different animal brains can be used for comparing and contrasting brain size. 

Eyes (Ophthalmology) Exhibit - Eye tests on the walls in the center to test vision, depth perception, color blindness, and field of vision.  A vast array of eyeglasses and a mirror on display.  Researched information on the eye shown on eye mobiles. 

Anesthesiology Exhibit - A mock surgery suite for role-playing, with real and child- created equipment (such as breathing bag and tube) and the board game Operation.  Journals about surgery experiences are displayed. 

Pediatrics Exhibit - A pediatrician's office complete with details such as baby dolls, stethoscopes, and tongue depressors.  Facts about childhood illnesses shown in a PowerPoint presentation.  Children can graph data on the number of classmates who have had measles, chicken pox, and other childhood diseases. 

The culminating experience for the project is a Saturday family field trip to the John P. McGovern Museum of Health and Medical Science in Houston, where the children can extend their knowledge of the human body and show off what they have learned during the comprehensive learning experience.

Evaluation Tool

Students are evaluated through written science journals that record scientific findings, raise questions, and express thoughts and feelings about the whole class medical project.  Students receive a participation grade on the whole-class research project on moles, and a  grade for their ability to work cooperatively in a group setting.  Students also have the opportunity to evaluate themselves on the quality of the group work.  A grade is given on the independent research project based on points earned on the following rubric:

  • Sets research goals and meets them on a planning sheet - 10 points,
  • Research findings and conclusions are presented in written form - 20 points,
  • Organization of the research - 10 points,
  • Product originality - 20 points,
  • Neatness of product - 10 points,
  • Presentation of product (verbal skills) - 20 points, and
  • Sites at least three references for the research (one can be Internet) - 10 points.


This lesson grabs the attention of the students at the onset of the project and keeps them motivated through its duration.  The lesson is just as meaningful to the children as it is fun.  Children are naturally interested in their bodies, so this project meets them at the center of their world.  Any time that students are allowed to make some choices in their studies, their hearts and minds are captured.  The project enables the children to take some responsibility for their own learning and allows them to soar to unbelievable educational heights.  The project is full of high-energy learning activities that take into consideration individual learning styles and integrate many academic subjects across the curriculum.  Hands-on projects like this one not only thrill young learners but also inspire them to continue the learning process on their own.  The children are actively engaged in highly creative endeavors that challenge and make them fall in love with science.  We think the key to the project's overwhelming success lies in the fact that the students take on the role of teachers and actually teach what they have learned through their research to peers, parents, and the community. We are convinced that these students learn more from this project than they can learn from a year of textbook study or teacher lectures. 

Return to TMA Excellence in Science Teaching Awards - Home page

Last Updated On

September 09, 2010