Miracles of the Heart

6, 7, 8

Students learn about the scientific contributions of African American inventors and scientists. They view a film about Vivien Thomas and a breakthrough surgery in 1944.

Lesson Rating 
PrintTwo Fifty-Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • research African-Americans inventors.
  • identify specific health issues.
  • express in written or verbal formtheir feelings about the importance of overcoming adversity.
  • identify the significance of collaboration and perseverance for the common good in their school and community.
Home Connection 

Students will ask parents/guardians or relatives how they may have been impacted by the segregated practices of the past. Students may also inquire about "heart disease" in the family. Students may check for hereditary patterns.



  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Read aloud "A World Without Black People" as students follow along with their own copies. Lead a discussion about the poem.

  2. Put the words segregation and blue baby on the board. Ask students if they know what these words mean.

    Have them write the following definitions that are applicable to the movie:

    • segregation: the policy or practice of separating people of different races, classes, or ethnic groups, as in schools, housing, and public or commercial facilities, especially as a form of discrimination.
    • blue baby: an infant baby born with cyanosis as a result of a congenital cardiac or pulmonary defect that causes inadequate oxygenation of the blood
  3. Place the word philanthropy on the board and ask students to help define it from what they might have learned in past lessons or from past experiences. Philanthropy: the giving time, talent, and/or treasure, or taking action, for the common good.

  4. Show students a model of the heart or a picture of a heart. www.lsa.colorado.edu/essence/texts/heart.html.

  5. Construct a KWL chart on the board, while the students do their own worksheet (handout) matching the information shared and discussed

    • What they already know about a heart
    • What they want to learn about a heart
    • What they learned about a heart.

  6. Have the students go through the various science text(s) and other resourses at their disposal to validate what they already know about the heart, and find answers to what they want to know about the heart, then have them complete the KWL handout.

  7. Encourage students to discuss how one might say that a heart and philanthropy might in some way be connected.

  8. During the movie: Either watch the entire movie as a group activity or divide the movie into segments with questions for each segment. Be sure to set the purpose for viewing.

    After viewing the movie, have students reflect, using their journal, on the following questions:

    • What is the primary message of the video?
    • How did the video impact your feelings regarding segregation?
    • What did you learn from the video?
    • How did each main character show examples of philanthropy?
    • In what ways were Blalock and Thomas heroes.

Have students complete their reflections on their KWL chart and compare the before and after learning outcomes.

Journal prompt: Imagine that you have a very special talent that could save the lives of many people. However, because of laws and traditions you are not able to share these talents/skills with others. Discuss your feelings in your journal about this issue. After a few minutes, allow students to share their entries. Then discuss the challenges that many African-Americans faced in the 1930's especially in the fields of medicine and health care. Have students write interview questions for Thomas and Blalock. Be sure that they include questions regarding the theme.

Cross Curriculum 

Teacher can contact local hospitals/health agencies to investigate ways in which students can help in ahealthy heart initiative. Teacher can contact the AHA for additional lesson plans and activities. https://www.heart.org/en/professional/educator. Students can participate in a health walk/run to raise money for heart research. Students can participate in a "Jump Rope for Health" activity. (See website above.)


Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.1 Define philanthropy as individuals and organizations providing their time, talent, and/or treasures intended for the common good throughout history and around the world. Give examples.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Discuss why some animals and humans will sacrifice for the benefit of unknown others.
      2. Benchmark MS.4 Describe the characteristics of someone who helps others.
    2. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Describe the importance of hearing all voices in a community and respecting their right to be heard.
      2. Benchmark MS.5 Discuss examples of groups denied their rights in history.
      3. Benchmark MS.6 Describe <i>social class</i> and its role in a nation's history.
    3. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark MS.12 Identify the dilemma of minority rights in a pure democracy.
      2. Benchmark MS.2 Define civic virtue.
      3. Benchmark MS.3 Identify the relationship between individual rights and community responsibilities.