Biology

Engineering a Model of the Reproductive System

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Every school year, I drag having to teach the reproductive system to my students. Not because I don’t enjoy the topic but rather because it means I spend my whole day talking about what is sex and what is not sex. Yet, as soon as I start the unit, I am quickly reminded of the importance of my job in guiding children’s understanding of their reproductive system. They have lots of questions and I am always happy to share the chillax science behind human sexuality. And of course, when it comes to teaching the topic I get excited about the new opportunities to make it fun and engaging. After all, we learn best with a multi-sensory approach that help us process, store, and retrieve pertinent information. So, in this blog post, I share with you a simple engineering project that will help your students concretely think about the anatomy of the reproductive system for structures often attributed to males and females.

I will walk you through a model for a human with a vulva genital and a model for a penis genital. You can make these models out of materials you most likely have at home already. In addition, you can display these models to go along your instruction. If you choose to modify the materials please leave a comment and share your ideas.

Notice how simple they are? The picture on the left represents the female reproductive system and the one on the right a male reproductive system.

Scientific models are fun to make and help children think about engineering as a powerful learning tool.

Female Reproductive System

For this model, students will need:

  • yarn (red is best although I didn’t have any and used green)
  • resealable or plastic bag
  • 2 straws
  • aluminum foil
  • 1 rubber band
  • scissors
  • and diagram of outer and inner labia

How to Build the Model

The process for building the model is very easy. Start by taking two bendable straws and making slits on the end closest to the bendy part. Do this to both straws. The slits will represent the fimbriae structures and the straws will represent the fallopian tubes.

Then, insert the straws in the bag by cutting a slit on each corner. Make sure the “fimbriae” are facing outward. Using aluminum foil crumble two pieces into two balls and attach the “ovaries” to the fimbriae.

Using red yarn (or any color available) fill the uterus (bag) with the inner lining (yarn) and close the bag with a rubber band. The rubber band will represent the cervix. Make sure there is some bag left under the cervix to represent the vaginal canal.

Finally, draw the outer and inner labia (including the vaginal opening) and insert the paper in the bag. I included the clitoris, urethra, and vagina. Mine got a little torn but I think you get the point.

Once the model is finished, pull out the string to model menstruation. Then, re-insert the string to model the uterus relining during the cycle.

Male Reproductive System

For this model, students will need:

  • aluminum foil
  • styrofoam ball
  • string
  • 1 pipe cleaner
  • tape
  • diagram of penis

How to Build the Model

Constructing a model of a male’s reproductive system is equally simple. Start by cutting two pieces of string that are the same length. Then, tape one of the ends to secure it. These strings will represent the spermatic cords.

Using two equal pieces of aluminum foil crumble them into balls to represent the testis. Then, attach these to the loose ends of the string. Once those are properly secured attach them to a styrofoam ball that will represent the human’s bladder.

Using the same kind of string but about half the size carefully place it in between the long strings on the bottom of the styrofoam ball. This short string will represent the urethra. Add then another aluminum foil ball to model the prostate gland. This gland should be directly connected to the bladder to show proximity and connectivity to the urethra.

You are almost there! Using two equal size pipe cleaners spiral them and tape them to each side of the styrofoam ball. These pipe cleaners will simulate the seminal vesicles in the reproductive system. Finally, using a ziplock bag (scrotum) insert the “testis” inside and using paper, draw, cut and tape the penis to the urethra. How easy is that?

Once the models are finished use them as teaching tools. Students can:

  • Explain each structure and its function
  • Compare and contrast the two reproductive systems
  • Engineer a new model with other materials that may better represent each structure
  • Explain menstruation, erections, and ejaculation

I hope you find these models useful to help children learn about the reproductive system.

Additional Teaching Resources

Here are a few additional teaching resources I have vetted for you. And don’t forget to check out my previous blog post about how to respond to the question, where do babies come from? for more ideas.

Have fun building these models! If you want to be notified when I post more chillax science ideas please subscribe to my blog.

Note: This model, I believe, was first developed by an author who’s book is no longer in print. Hence, I have not been able to verify this creative attribution.

Reizelie is a former homeschool parent and a trained science and Montessori teacher with a passion for curriculum development. She loves learning and teaching and on her spare time she helps families create home environments that enrich a child's learning. Reizelie has a PhD in science education and has been working in the field of education for the last 19 years. She loves helping teachers, schools, and homeschooling families improve their science curriculum in ways that are authentic to scientists' work.

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