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A Knife to the Heart

Subject: Life Science, History
Grade: 6-8, 9-12


Brief Description

Students investigate the history of heart surgery and create a time line showing the most important breakthroughs in cardiac medicine.


Students learn about some of the important people and events in the history of heart surgery.


heart, medical history, surgery, time line

Materials Needed


Lesson Plan


  • Organize students into pairs or small groups, and assign each group the name of one of these pioneers in cardiac surgery: Dwight Harken, Charles Bailey, Bill Bigelow, Walton Lillehei, John Lewis, John Gibbon, Dennis Melrose, Michael De Bakey, Christiaan Barnard, Adrian Kantrowitz, Norman Shumway, Randas Batista.
  • Have each group research print and/or online resources to learn about the life and accomplishments of its assigned doctor. Then ask each to prepare a written report about that doctor.
  • Create a time line on a classroom bulletin board. The first date on the time line should reflect the beginning of World War II. The last date should be the present. After groups present the individual reports to the class, have one member of each group write in marker on an index card the most important contribution its assigned doctor made to cardiac surgery. Then ask another member of the group to attach the index card to the correct spot on the time line.
  • Ask a volunteer to read the index cards on the time line. Ask: Are all the events in the right place on the time line? How do you know?

Extension: When students complete the time line, allow them to put their individual knowledge and vocabulary to the test by performing virtual heart surgery at the NOVA interactive Operation: Heart Transplant.


Evaluate students on the quality of their group reports and presentations.

Lesson Plan Source

Education World

Submitted By

Linda Starr

National Standards


Fine Arts:


Last updated 01/31/2012