Breathing is absolutely central to survival, but as it's an unconscious process, people rarely focus on it. Classroom experiments are a good way to get students to think about their respiratory system and its function. Breathing experiments that allow children to participate can make learning more fun and interactive.
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You can replicate the functioning of the respiratory system with a few household items. Doing so will allow your students to see “inside” a virtual pair lungs. Cut the bottom off a clear plastic drinks bottle. Tie a knot in a balloon neck and cut a hole in the other end. Stretch the cut end of your balloon over the open base of your bottle. Place a length of straw into the neck of another balloon and secure with an elastic band. Secure the band loose enough so that air can flow through your straw. Place the balloon and straw into the neck of the bottle so the balloon hangs down inside. Use plasticine to make the opening at the bottle’s neck airtight. Pull the bottom balloon and the interior balloon should inflate, demonstrating the link between breathing, the lungs and the diaphragm.
This is an interactive experiment to measure lung capacity. Fill a sink or bowl half full with water. Then fill a plastic bottle completely full with water. Place your hand over the neck of the bottle, invert and place neck-down into the water in your sink or bowl. Take your hand away from the neck of the bottle. Because there is no air in the bottle, it will remain full of water. Insert one end of a piece of plastic tube into the neck of the bottle. Take a deep breath and blow into the tube for as long as possible in one breath. The exhaled air will displace water from the bottle into the sink. Measure the remaining water in the bottle -- however much was displaced is your lung capacity.
Science experiments can also highlight potential health dangers to the respiratory system -- of which smoking is one of the worst. Cut straws into 3-inch lengths and hand one length to each student. Ask them to run on the spot for a minute then breathe just through the straw while holding their noses. Then resume normal breathing. This demonstrates the difficulty patients with lung diseases such as emphysema have permanently.
Give each student a small pocket mirror. Ask them to hold it horizontally below their noses, just above their upper lips. Ask them to take a breath and exhale gently through their noses. Their breath will form two areas of condensation on the mirror, but one will be larger than the other, meaning one nostril is exhaling more air than the other. Repeat at a later point in the lesson and the larger area of condensation should be on the other side, under the other nostril. This demonstrates that the nostrils take turns in doing the lion’s share of the work.
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