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Author: Benjamin Joslin
Date: 01-16-12
Experiment: Beat to Beat
Age range: 4-13 year olds
Time frame: 45-60 minutes
To teach students about the role of their body’s circulatory system with
specific detail of the heart
To teach students how to measure their pulse using the radial or carotid
To teach students how certain activities (i.e. exercise vs. lying down) and
environmental factors (i.e. music) influence heart rate
To make the connection between the brain’s interpretation of music and the
heart’s response
Pen or pencil and paper
Different types of music (rock, jazz, classical, ect.)
Heart monitors* - A sensor that wraps around the individual’s chest and
sends live heart rate measurements to a computer program. Access to these
instruments is limited, but the experiment can just as easily be performed
without them. Watch monitors may also be purchased and are less
expensive than the strap monitors.
The circulatory system is a complex organ system in the body so it is
important to simplify the lesson for the appropriate age group including additional
information only when necessary. Using diagrams of the body, illustrate the
complete circulatory system including the heart, arteries, veins, capillaries, kidneys
and lungs. Teach the students that the main role of the circulatory system is to
transport oxygen, carbon dioxide and other nutrients to and from the body through
blood vessels. Describe key components of blood (RBC’s and hemoglobin, WBC’s,
and platelets) and their roles. Next, describe the basic structure of the heart and
include a conversation about the “Lub-Dub” sound doctors hear when listening to
their stethoscope. Begin to discuss various locations to measure pulse; carotid
artery, radial artery, ankle. Ask the students what activities could possibly raise or
lower heart rate. In the second part of the experiment, students will listen to
different types of music and measure their pulse. Ask students to make predictions
about what music will do to their pulse. Describe the auditory cortex of the brain
and how it is attached to emotion.
Part I. Finding Resting Heart Rate without a heart rate monitor
Step 1: Have all the students pair up and distribute a stopwatch to each pair.
Step 2: One student will start and stop the stopwatch while the other counts the
number of beats.
Step 3: Teach students the proper location to measure pulse with their index and
middle fingers. Have the student sit down and extend one arm out, palm upward
and hand relaxed. Using the index and middle fingers from the opposite hand,
gently place these fingers on the right side of the arm near the base of the thumb.
Step 4: After the student has found the right spot and their pulse, have the other
student start the stopwatch while the other students begins counting the beats.
Stop counting after 60 seconds and record this rate, the Resting Heart Rate.
Step 5: Switch partners and repeat the procedure. They can also count for 15
seconds and multiply that number by 4 to calculate their heart rate and practice
their multiplication!
Part II. Elevating and decreasing heart rate with various exercises
Step 1: If you have heart monitors, hand them out to the students and help them
put them on if they ask. If no heart monitors are available, the following steps can
be done using the procedure from Part I, using two fingers and a stop watch.
Step 2: Make sure the heart monitors are working properly with the software
before continuing. If a projector is available, a live display of their heart rate can be
visible for the class to watch.
Step 3: Have the class sit down for 1 minute and observe their heart rate on the
projector or computer screen. Have them compare it to the measurement they
found in Part I.
Step 4: Ask students to share their resting heart rates to see who has the lowest.
Step 5: Have the students stand up and show that the heart rate increased. Explain
that even the smallest of behaviors can change the heart rate.
Step 6: For 30-60 seconds, have the students jog in place. With the projector, they
should be able to watch their heart rate increase.
Step 7: Allow them to catch their breath, and show the decrease in heart rate over
Step 8: Have them lie on the floor and do a few pushups and crunches (maybe a
competition). Their heart rate should increase during this period of time.
Step 9: Wait for two minutes, using this time to talk more about the importance of a
healthy heart rate, then have them observe their heart rate. This is trying to show
the Recovery Heart Rate, which is usually taken after an extended period of
Step 10: Ask them to lie down on the floor for 1 minute and take deep long breaths.
They may also hold their breath if they choose. They should be able to observe a
decreased heart rate.
Step 11: When the students are back at their desk, ask them to take out a piece of
paper and a pen. Then have the boys subtract their age from 220 (220- age) and the
girls to subtract their age from 226. This approximate value is their Predicted
Maximum Heart Rate (+/- 10 beats).
Part II: Observing how color can affect heart rate
Step 1: Explain that the heart is not only affected by exercise, but our environment
too. For instance, suggest how their heart may feel before a test or near their school
Step 2: Hold up pieces of paper with a color on them for 1 minute. Observe whether
red increases heart rate and blue decreases it.
Step 3: Hold up different pictures of scenes (i.e. a barking dog, or a baby napping)
and see the effects of each picture.
Part III. Observing how music can affect heart rate
Step 1: Bring in an iPod or pull up a variety of songs on a computer. Students can
also bring in their own mp3 player or CD player with head phones. Popular songs
may work better by eliciting more of a response.
Step 2: For 30 seconds, play a song and observe their heart rates. After 30 seconds,
wait for 15 seconds before playing another song.
What happened?
The heart pumps blood throughout the entire body to deliver oxygen to the
muscles and help release carbon dioxide through the lungs (gas exchange). When
the body is in a resting state and its muscles do not need to be utilized, the heart
rate will be slower. However, during strenuous activity, the body’s muscles need
more oxygen to contract. To deliver that oxygen, the heart contracts faster thus
increasing the heart rate. How different music genres affect heart rate is more
complicated, but it most likely connected to the body’s release of adrenaline, a
hormone that circulates through the blood, in response to faster tempos.
Middle School Psychology Experiments,,
Can different music change your heart rate and does it change by gender?,
t_change_by_gender, 01-06-12
Heart Rate 101,, 01-06-12