“Today we made pee….” 

Last summer I attended a workshop through the University of Illinois’s extension campus. It was called “Mellow Yellow” and it was simply wonderful. Not only did they refresh my knowledge of kidney function (and dysfunction), but they gave us several hands on activities that were ready to use with students. The concepts that tied it all together were osmosis and diffusion, making it a great way to hook freshmen general bio students (face it, they’re interested in pee).

But what I am sharing today is a simulation that I use with my Anatomy & Physiology students. Again, this is in no way my own creation…. But I tried it with my students for the first time this past week and not only did they like it a lot, but I saw so many “ah-hah light bulbs” going off over their heads that I’m convinced it’s too good not to share.

Students obviously have to have a basic understanding of anatomy and I gave them an internal kidney diagram to look at as we went throught it. You use cheap, easy to find materials. I listed the specifics in the doc at the end, but the beads in water represent different components within blood, cups for blood vessels, a bowl and Latch-hook canvas are the kidney parts. 

Here’s how it works: 

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Start with all the beads and water in the Renal Artery cup. Put the latch-hook canvas over the bowl (AKA the nephron and glomerulus) and pure the “blood” over it.

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Right away the large blood components (red blood cells, white blood cells, and proteins) are caught in the filter. Move those into the Renal Vein cup. 

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Use the correct transporter proteins (colored spoons) to move the glucose, amino acids, and some of the salt out of the kidney and into the Renal Vein cup. This models reabsorption by the body (AKA diffusion). Stress that each spoon can only move that one specific molecule… That’s how it really works! This will take the kids a while (I have them work in pairs), and they’ll be amazed that your body does this so quickly in real life. 

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Last step… I ask what’s missing from the “blood” in the Renal vein. Thankfully, most of them notice there’s no water! Use the pipette or an eye dropper to simulate osmosis and move water from the nephron to the renal vein. 

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And that’s it. What’s left in the bowl is urine! It travels through the ureter and into the bladder. I finish up by asking what would happen if the glomerulus had a hole and that brings us to the next lesson on dialysis…. Which I’m hoping to actually have time for in next year’s class! 

Here’s my document with all the instructions if you want to save it:  Kidney Simulation

Questions? Thoughts on how to make this better? Share in the comments! 

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8 thoughts on ““Today we made pee….” 

  1. Never get to the kidney..using this as my first day activity with senior A&P will help to review diffusion and I have some kidneys sitting around to illustrate…perfect hook. Thanks!!

      • Really well, I have my students always do the lab and figure things out and report out their findings before we discuss it. Basically what does the data tell you (if you teach physics or chem look into modeling program it is amazing!). So this was to give students a sense of how I operate and they thought it was cool and learned some things, not bad for day one. The only issue was the seed beads were too small to scoop out (my fault) but they got the idea! Thanks again for sharing!

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