10 Days of Science with Math: Investigating Lung Capacity

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Starting today, each of my posts will be activity ideas on using math with science. Today is devoted to experimenting with lung capacity. Obviously, this is a great lesson for those of you studying the human body and specifically the respiratory system, but really it’s a great lesson on exercise and health as well. Feel free to use this any time not just when it fits in with your curriculum.

For this activity you will need:

  • a balloon (one for each child participating)
  • a ruler
  • a stop watch (for the exercise portion if needed)
  • data chart for recording information

What to do:

  1. After you have stretched out a balloon and made sure your kids can blow it up easily, have a child take a deep breath and blow as hard as he can into the balloon to blow it up without taking another breath. Make sure the child holds the air in the balloon when he’s exhaled completely.
  2. Have another person shape the balloon in to more of a sphere shape and measure the diameter of the balloon and record it in a chart.
  3. Determine how many trials you want to do at this level and do it again until you are finished recording.
  4. Exercise! Beforehand, choose a standard exercise that the children will perform- could be 10 jumping jacks, running in place for a set time, etc.
  5. Have the child take a deep breath and blow into a balloon again.
  6. Measure the diameter of the balloon in a sphere shape. Repeat for the number of trials you’ve chosen.
  7. Calculate the volume of a sphere.

Once you’ve calculated the volume of the sphere, you have the lung capacity of your lungs! You can compare the numbers before and after exercise and see how it affects lung capacity. This would be a great opportunity to follow the relationship in a graph. Be sure to ask your student which type of graph would display this information the best.

As with any math you do with science, it’s really important to draw conclusions once you’ve put the data in a form that makes it easy to interpret the results. Do you see a relationship or not? Does this agree with what you expected to happen?

There is another way to do this lab exercise which involves displacing water in a 2 liter bottle that is put under water to fill. You insert a tube into the water and into the bottle and blow into the tube. The air going into the bottle will displace the water. Knowing that completely full there is 2L of water in the bottle, you can cap off the bottle and pour the water that is left into a graduated cylinder. This would give you an accurate volume as well once you subtract the difference. I like to keep things simple when I do experiments because less things can go wrong. That is sort of a rule of thumb I have just because I’ve had to hold down a large classroom of students with miserably horrible results. Whenever that happens, I find a better, more efficient way of doing the lab. If you want to mess with the liquid volume/air displacement method, just do a Google search on lung capacity activity and you’ll find more specific instructions. I found many of them were qualitative observations only, but it’s easy enough to get the numbers on this one if you choose. And I hope you’ll choose since we want to do math in our science!

I’m sorry this #5 post is late…I hope to have another posted tomorrow sometime. Stay tuned for another fun-filled science with math activity!

Be sure to visit these brilliant women during our 10 days adventure between November 7th-18th! I love these ladies and we know you will too.

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