STEM Club: Skeletal System

The bones in the human body make up the Skeletal System.  Bones serve several purposes. In addition to giving the body structure, they protect important body parts. For example, the skull protects the brain. The tissue inside bones, the bone marrow, makes blood cells and stores fat. Also, bones house nerves and work with the muscles to help us move.

We likely all know what a bone looks like from the outside. But what do they look like on the inside?  For this lab, I thought something new and fun would be to dissect a bone.

skeletalsystemFrom a local butcher, I obtained a bovine leg cut down the center to see the bone interior lengthwise. With a class of students, I would also suggest about 15 discs or cross-sections (about 1″ thick) for students to dissect and observe under the dissecting microscope. I, sadly, neglected to do this.

I had the students identify the following structures:

  • Femur shaft, head, and trochanter
  • Articular cartilage
  • Compact bone
  • Spongy bone
  • Red and yellow marrow

We were also able to locate and identify skeletal muscle, tendon, and blood vessels.

Anatomy of Bones

Bones are complex structures and they differ from species to species and by location in the body. The differences are mostly in the function of the bone, but there are some things that most bones have in common.

We often think that a bone is a solid structure. However, some parts of the bone are hard while other parts are very soft. Parts will look very different when examined closely – with a magnifying lens or microscope.

The bones in your legs, and in the legs of a cow, are made of both compact bone and spongy bone.  The exteriors are walls of calcium and other minerals. This compact bone runs the length of the bone and is designed to bear loads and protect organs. The larger the animal, the thicker the compact bone. There are small channels running through the calcium to carry blood and nerves to and from the marrow, but in general, the compact bone is not very porous.

The marrows of bones are complex yet can be broadly divided in two categories, red spongy marrow and yellow marrow. At the ends of bones, you find highly porous marrow, also called red spongy marrow. Spongy marrow serves as a home to stem cells that produce blood cells. Red spongy marrow is the hard honeycomb marrow that you have likely seen in some cuts of steak because the bones are often cut open by a bandsaw. Yellow marrow is the type you find in the center of femurs and other leg bones. It is mostly fat but is edible.

The entire bone is covered by a thin covering called the periosteum, which contains blood vessels, nerves, and bone-forming cells. 

Each end of the bone is covered with a cap made of cartilage.  The cartilage covers the part of the bone where there is a joint or place where two or more bones come together. The cartilage is white in color, is slippery and smooth, and enables bones to move without rubbing together. 

Bring it Home

The “activity menu” I described last week for homework seemed to have worked really well. While those who completed only the one required activity made the same choice, there were a few who did additional (bonus) activities. They were all able to share what they learned and as a result the group was able to make connections as well as review the material. We will most assuredly be using this approach again.

Menu Choices (choose at least one):

  • Memorize the 29 major bones in the body using the handout as a guide (available to newsletter subscribers)
  • Research the myth of the Achilles tendon. How did the tendon get its name?
  • Research Andreas Vesalius. Why is he called the ‘father of anatomy’?
  • Some of the main types of joints in the body are ball-and-socket, saddle, hinge, pivot, and gliding. On a chart, describe each joint and list an example of each. Make a display of real-life objects that resemble these joints.
  • Obtain some X-rays of broken bones from a hospital or clinic. You may also find some X-ray images online. Identify the bones in the X-ray. How do doctors treat broken bones?
  • Try the Bendable Bones activity in the handout (available to newsletter subscribers).
  • Create a board game using facts about bones and muscles.
  • Write and present a skit that teaches about good care of your bones and muscles.
  • Research and present an oral report on Scoliosis.

Next week, we will explore the Muscular System in depth. My kids loved creating a fun skit to demonstrate what they learned. You won’t want to miss it.

About Eva Varga

Eva is passionate about education. She has extensive experience in both formal and informal settings. She presently homeschools her two young children, teaches professional development courses through the Heritage Institute, and writes a middle level secular science curriculum called Science Logic. In addition to her work in education, she is an athlete, competing in Masters swimming events and marathons. In her spare time she enjoys reading, traveling, learning new languages, and above all spending time with her family. ♥

2 comments on “STEM Club: Skeletal System

  1. Pingback: STEM Club: Nervous System - Eva Varga

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