DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
SPICEWOOD — At first, the Spicewood Elementary School fifth-grader went right for the lab assignment that included handling a pig’s heart. She gave it a few pumps, but then, when she ran her finger across the edge of the aorta’s entrance, she grimaced.
“Eww!” she exclaimed. But after a few seconds, the grimace shifted to a more curious expression, then awe as she continued to study the heart.
Welcome to nurse Allyson Black’s annual heart lesson. She started the lab several years ago in an effort to educate students about, not so much pig hearts, but their own. As February is American Heart Month, it’s a perfect time to tie in the lesson with the month’s theme.
While the pig hearts scattered about the science lab’s tables might be the main attraction, this is far from a simple, “Come-in-and-touch-a-heart” lab. Black gathered the students to the side of the classroom, where she goes over the various parts of the heart.
“How big is your heart,” she asked the fifth-graders.
“As big as our fist,” one student called out, but just as he did, most every student’s fists shot up to demonstrate.
The fifth-graders have been coming to the lab for several years, so Black expects them to know more than their younger counterparts. But she still quickly covered the basics (how many chambers does the heart have?) to more advanced (how many gallons of blood circulates through the heart each year?).
She pointed out that the heart is the, well, heart of the body’s double-circulatory system, which pumps blood through the lungs (pulmonary) and then, once it’s filled with oxygen, out to the body (systemic). And the blood makes the cycle about 1,000 times a day.
“That’s a lot of work your heart does,” Black told the students. “What are some of the things you can do to take care of your heart?”
Again the hands shot up as students rattled off ways to protect their hearts.
“Drink lots of water.”
Black nodded at the answers. “All very good and important,” she said. But then, she went a bit further, explaining that since the heart is a muscle, it needs exercise to keep it strong and healthy. Smoking, she added, causes the capillaries to constrict, forcing the heart to work harder to get blood through the narrower passages.
“You have to take care of your heart,” she said. “It’s got a very important job to do.”
Then, it was off to the tables and the waiting pig hearts.