Summer Greetings from the Western Regional Director

23 Aug
A message from the HAPS Western Regional Director, John Jackson.

A greeting from the HAPS Western Regional Director, John Jackson.

The family (aka, the “rolling nut-house”) and I recently returned from a 4800 mile Odyssey wherein we headed westward to hang out in the redwood forests of Northern California, visit Crater Lake, and otherwise rendezvous the with the sea otters in our extended family somewhere in the tide-pools south of Coos Bay.  Although there were no Cyclops, nor Scylla & Charybdis to content with, we still saw a great deal of the local wildlife, and were introduced to the taste of some new (to us) microbrews.  And we just missed ya.

I’m somewhat of a committed extrovert — my wife, not so much.  My kids, well, like any smart kids, they take after whoever is giving out the high sucrose treats.  So, although I would have found a great deal of joy in knocking on your classroom (or condo) door to say hi as we were passing through your town, my lovely wife’s normalcy in initiating encounters with people we don’t know super well, over-rode the chance to share a hug, or a beer and a smile as we rolled through your town.  And perhaps that’s all right — as there wouldn’t have been any warning, and there you would have been trying to say hello to a large bald guy with his blond entourage whilst your hands were fresh out of the afternoon’s wet lab demonstrations — or we would have been knocking on the front door just as you cracked your last beer to enjoy at the end of your long summer day getting ready for the fall semester.  

There are some BIG trees in northern California! Or else those kids are tiny...

There are some BIG trees in northern California! Or else those kids are tiny…

“But we’re HAPSters!” I try to explain to The Missus, who looks at me as though I just suffered a minor infarct to Broca’s area and didn’t articulate the worldview she was observing.  “Just ’cause you hide from the people in your national organization doesn’t make that behavior the norm, you know.”   The kids, anticipating from which side of the front seat the next KitKat piece is going to fly, stare off at the street signs distractedly, awaiting resolution of the momentary tension.  

And like Lewis and Clark (and Stanley and Livingston), we moved on, and missed a potential rendezvous.  My bad.  

However, like Stanley and Livingston, (and Lewis and Clark, 99 years ago this past week) — we will get a chance to rendezvous — perhaps near your city at a Western Regional HAPS conference. Or maybe, it will have to wait until the splurge of the spring semester-ending HAPS Annual Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

Family road trips--- a great way to refuel before starting a new teaching term.

Family road trips— a great way to refuel before starting a new teaching term.

But if WE missed crossing paths — one thing is still sure —unless you’re one of those folks who is taking or getting a sabbatical break this fall, the students are upon us.  Medical students have already been handed their white coats in white coat ceremonies all over the nation this past week.  Undergrad lab kits will soon be doled out as well, and people will be trying to recall exactly what did José Bowen say about printing and handing out your syllabus?  (Don’t worry– you can look it up because it is all in the HAPS-Ed conference issue that was just released this week. There are lots of good ideas there, even if you haven’t been paying attention to the list serve over the past couple of months.)

As you head back “into the trenches,” remember to smile.  Teaching is tough work, which is why you were picked to do it. The students need what you have to give them; and society desperately needs to the students to “get it.”  So: no pressure — just the fate of the world hanging in the balance in the next couple of weeks.  It’ll help you forget that when we rolled down 101, or I-5 or I-15, or US 2 or Oregon 138, or US 97, we could have, would have, should have stopped in, but we just missed ya.

But I look forward to seeing you again soon.

Cheers!

Jon

Jon Jackson is the HAPS Western Regional Director and a fellow in the History & Philosophy of Science at the Institute for Philosophy in Public Life.  You can follow his fellowship project on the Philosophy of Nutritional Biology “Are We What We Eat?” at  http://www.whyradioshow.org/CurrentFellows.aspx.

Musings from your President-Elect

17 Aug
A message from the HAPS President Elect, Terry Thompson.

A message from the HAPS President Elect, Terry Thompson.

Musings on an August summer afternoon from your HAPS president-elect: Rocking on my front porch with a tall glass of ice tea; watching hummingbirds and butterflies also enjoy our medicine wheel herbal garden; knowing I should instead be weeding said garden. While many of us teach in the summer as well, I hope everyone had a chance to fit in some great adventures or at least the opportunity to relax in a hammock and read something totally unrelated to school. We’ll all be sharing our “what I did over summer break” stories soon with colleagues as we try to get back into the rhythm of a new Fall semester.

My thoughts stray to another summer “weeding” task I always try to do – dig through my Round Tuit file. Growing up, I remember my father always seemed to have handy a wooden nickel with “TUIT” engraved in one side. It would promptly come out in response to our typical childhood retort when trying to put off a chore. You can still buy them today.

Need a Round TUIT? They look like this!

Need a Round TUIT? They look like this!

When I started teaching full-time, I got in the habit of keeping a Round Tuit file folder. During the rush of Fall and Spring semesters, I throw any new A&P developments, neat tidbits, and teaching strategies in the file to save it for later and the attention it deserves. Of course, now I also have an electronic Round Tuit folder. It is great for all those emails and web links that seem to come right after I’ve finished teaching a particular topic.

Of course, David Evan’s What’s New on the HAPS-Listserve goes in that file after a quick timely review, so I can dig deeper at leisure and incorporate current ideas into my next term. Two of my other favorites to put in my Round Tuit are the HHMI Biointeractive News and the Nobel Prize Monthly. For teaching ideas independent of content, I also add the Teaching Professor’s Faculty Focus.

If you aren’t familiar with any of these free resources, I’d recommend you subscribe, and don’t worry about having “one-more-thing-to-deal-with” – create your own Round Tuit file for guilt free stashing now and leisurely “weeding” next summer break, after the Atlanta HAPS conference.

What are some of the other great sources of ideas out there that you’d throw in your Round Tuit file? Share your favorites with everyone in the comments.

Here’s bidding farewell to summer break and wishing everyone a fantastic start to your fall semester!

We’re Baaaaack!

14 Aug
A message from the HAPS Communication Committee Chair, Wendy Riggs.

A message from the HAPS Communication Committee Chair, Wendy Riggs.

Greetings everyone!  Just as you are all gearing up for the fall term, so is the HAPS Communication Committee gearing up to bring you news and updates from the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society.

We’re excited to bring HAPS out of summer break and back online with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and even Instagram. Hunt us down on those social media venues and start following our weekly updates, which will keep you in the know.

This fall, we’re going to play with some new blog-er-ific ideas.  Instead of coordinating a single blog theme for the term, we are recruiting awesome HAPSters to compose various pieces on topics of their choosing.  We will publish these new pieces on MONDAYS (except for when we publish them on FRIDAYS, like today, because the blog-master (that would be ME) is trying to stretch out her summer just a bit more!), so you can look forward to a Monday morning treat from the HAPS Blog.

We’d also love to encourage conversation around the blog posts. Please let us know what you think of the topics we’re choosing and if you’re feeling really ambitious, we’d love to have you contribute a post or two.

Finally, we are excited to begin a “Best of the Blog” column in the peer-reviewed HAPS-EDucator.

Check out the 2015 Conference Edition of the HAPS-EDucator.

Check out the 2015 Annual Conference Edition of the HAPS-EDucator.

This column will run in every issue and will feature the term’s most popular posts.  While there will be several criteria to help us decide which posts “win” the honor of being published in our journal, one of the criteria will be the amount of conversation generated by the post.  So if you really like what someone has to say, please leave a comment indicating your approval.

So check back next Monday (I promise…I will publish the post by MONDAY!) for a game-changing piece from HAPS President-Elect, Terry Thompson.  I can tell you that her post really is game-changing, because when she sent me the draft 2 weeks ago, it immediately changed my game.  What fun!

Interested in composing a blog post or two?  Contact Communication Committee Chair Wendy Riggs (wriggs@hapsconnect.org) for more information.

2015 Summer BLOG BREAK!

15 Jun
A message from the HAPS Communication Committee Chair, Wendy Riggs.

A message from the HAPS Communication Committee Chair, Wendy Riggs.

Greetings HAPSters!

It was another awesome Annual Conference at the end of May and the Communications Committee had a great meeting at the conference.  We now have more than 20 fired up members, raring and ready to rock your HAPS bloggin’ world…starting in August.

So be ready, because things are going to get fun when we come back.  And if you’re interested in chiming in on the blog-channel, give me a holler.  My contact info can be found on the HAPS website.  We’re even planning to partner with the HAPS-EDucator to publish a “Best of the Blog” series in each edition.  That means that if you publish a blog post that is picked as a “BEST,” your work will be published in our peer-reviewed journal!  That’s bound to make some people happy!  And we’re always happy to have new members.  The ComCom (as we affectionately call ourselves) is a very active and friendly HAPS committee.

It is an exciting time of year- because it is SUMMER.  Glory days…I hope you are all enjoying some time off.  See you in August!

The skeleton Krewe (Kevin O'Mara- Flickr)

Even though this Skeleton Krewe isn’t a bunch of HAPSters in San Anatonio…it might as well have been!

HAPS Grants and Scholarships

25 May
A message from Bob Crocker, co-chair of the HAPS Foundation Oversight Committee.

A message from Bob Crocker, co-chair of the HAPS Foundation Oversight Committee.

If you’ve ever wondered, “DO I QUALIFY FOR A HAPS FOUNDATION SCHOLARSHIP OR AWARD?” this blog post is for you!

Would you like to take a HAPS Institute Course, enhance your knowledge of A&P and possibly earn some graduate biology credits?

If your answer is YES, then you are qualified to apply for a HAPS INSTITUTE SCHOLARSHIP, which provides the tuition for one credit for one HAPS Institute course. This scholarship is awarded quarterly. Due dates for applications are Nov 15, Feb 15, May 15, and August 15.

Could you use some funding to implement an innovative and/or alternative pedagogy into your A&P courses?

Yes? Then you are qualified to apply for one of our FACULTY SCHOLARSHIP GRANTS. Grant recipients are strongly encouraged to present their project results in the form of a workshop or poster session at the annual conference following completion of the project. You may receive an award up to $1500. The due date for applications is December 1.

Are you a student member of HAPS looking for funding to support a research project or enrichment activity outside your home institution?

Yes? Then you are qualified to apply for one of our STUDENT GRANTS. Grant recipients or their faculty sponsors are strongly encouraged to present their project results in the form of a workshop or poster session at the annual conference following completion of the project. You may receive an award up to $750.  The due date for applications is December 1.

Have you discovered an innovative use of technology to engage your undergraduate students in human anatomy and physiology?

Yes? Then you are qualified to apply for THE SAM DROGO TECHNOLOGY IN THE CLASSROOM AWARD of up to $500 to attend the HAPS annual conference. Award recipients are encouraged to conduct a workshop featuring technology in education innovations at the conference. The due date for applications is December 1.  Two awards are available, both sponsored by ADInstruments.

Are you a full time faculty member in your first five years of teaching anatomy and physiology who would like to network with seasoned A&P professionals?

Yes?  Then you are qualified to apply for the ROBERT ANTHONY SCHOLARSHIP for new instructors in A&P. The award pays for registration fee at the annual conference.  The due date for applications is December 1.

Are you a contingent faculty member who would like to network with other A&P professionals? (We define a contingent faculty member to include part-time faculty, temporary contract length faculty, and faculty teaching at more than one institution to achieve full-time employment.)

Yes?  Then you are qualified to apply for the CONTINGENT FACULTY SCHOLARSHIP . The award pays for registration fee at the annual conference.  The due date for applications is December 1.

Are you a graduate student or postdoc who would like to attend and present at the HAPS annual conference?

Yes?  Then you are qualified to apply for the HAPS GRADUATE STUDENT/POSTDOCTORAL TRAVEL AWARD. The award is a $400 travel subsidy and the conference registration fee is waived.  The due date for applications is December 1.

Do you have an exceptional A&P student you would like to see recognized?

Yes? Then you should nominate them for the PRIMAL PICTURES AND HAPS SCHOLARSHIP . The award provides $1000, and up to $1100 in travel expenses, and registration at the HAPS annual conference. This scholarship is sponsored by Primal Pictures. The due date for nominations is February 3.

Do you know an exceptional A&P educator who demonstrates the core values of HAPS you would like to see recognized?

Yes? Then you should nominate them for the HAPS-THIEME EXCELLENCE IN TEACHING AWARD. This provides a $1500 cash award and registration at the HAPS annual conference.  This award is sponsored by Thieme Publishers as part of their partnership with HAPS that includes a 30% discount on all their products for HAPS members and their students. The due date for nominations is January 1.

Keep in mind- the HAPS Foundation is our foundation. The recipients of all these grants, scholarships, and awards are deserving HAPS members. They are selected by their colleagues- also HAPS members.

To read more about these scholarship and award programs, go to the grants webpage.

Our endowment grows solely through the contributions of our members. Please consider making an online donation. Donations of any amount are welcome- we can all make a difference!

Busy couple of weeks

20 May

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, as I participate in Valerie O’Loughlin’s online HAPS-I course and get ready to attend the annual HAPS conference.  Valerie’s course deals with the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), a subject that should be near to the heart of every one of us who teaches A&P.  Murray Jensen’s latest post on the value of lectures online and classroom time for active learning fits right in with the main ideas of the HAPS-I course, too.  So, I’ve had a lot to cogitate on, particularly since my summer course begins the Monday after HAPS, and I have about 100 students for 2 straight hours a day, 4 days a week for 5 weeks, plus supervising the labs.

It turns out that many scholars in education research have known for years what I’ve personally discovered, that students don’t learn best when we just tell them stuff.  Even telling them in a brilliant, organized, integrated and even entertaining lecture is not optimal for their understanding and retention of information.  Even if they think it is, and get huffy if you ask them to learn things on their own.  It also turns out that reading books isn’t sufficient, either.  I quickly gave up trying to simply read the assignments in Val’s course, and instead started writing outlines of the main points of the chapter.  Hmm, that sounds eerily like something I might have suggested to my own students.

So, I’m eagerly looking forward to 4 days packed with information and strategies to improve my teaching skills.  And, to those that can’t join us in San Antonio, my condolences.  May the anticipation of the next edition of the HAPS-Educator, which will have summaries of the convention sessions, console you.  And, if you have any great ideas for me to implement starting June 1 I’d love to hear from you!

See you in San Antonio!

18 May
A message from the ComCom

A message from the ComCom

The countdown is ON…HAPSters will meet in San Antonio for the Annual Conference in less than a week.  So check these things off your “To Do” list and we’ll see you in Texas!

  1. Download the conference app, which lets you plan your schedule and provides live updates during the conference.  Get the HAPS APP now—everyone’s doing it!  (Thank you Wiley for making the app possible!)
  2. If you’re a First-Timer, you’re going to LOVE IT!  You might want to check out the Annual Conference Guide for First-timers. You’ll find a bunch of helpful information here.
  3. The conference kicks off Saturday night with an Opening Reception (complete with the famous SHIRT SWAP!) from 8-10pm.
  4. First-timers get some special treatment bright and early Sunday morning for a delicious breakfast and camaraderie from the past HAPS presidents as well as the steering committee members.

If you want to see more, check out the 2015 Conference Program.  The week will be packed full of great conversations and LOTS to learn.

See you in San Antonio!

Skully in San Antonio

Let’s go!

A Few Thoughts on the Utility and Futility of Lecture

11 May
A message from HAPS Central Regional Director, Murray Jensen.

A message from HAPS Central Regional Director, Murray Jensen.

Professors of anatomy and physiology have vast stores of knowledge that they spew, via monologues, to well-conditioned students who sit obediently in uncomfortable chairs while feigning attention and sometimes amusement.

I am indeed a critic of lecture.  Historically, lecture has played a central role in all higher education, and especially in the biomedical sciences.  But with advances in classroom technology, such as the scale-up classrooms (http://scaleup.ncsu.edu/), and research on effectiveness of instructional strategies on how people learn science, there is less and less reason to lecture.  Research now clearly shows that students in active learning environments outperform students in the traditional lecture setting (Freeman, et. al., 2014).

But there is still a place for lecture.  YouTube!

Over the past few years I’ve been writing POGIL curriculum for entry level A & P students, and during that time I’ve had the need to review topics such as inflammation, thermoregulation, blood pressure regulation, and many .. many more.   Historically, I would use books for such endeavors, and I do indeed still use books … a bit – but not nearly as much as I used to.  I now do what most all students do – go to the Internet.

It started several months back when I was once again trying to figure out the events that lead up to ovulation; the physiology of the LH surge and, more specifically, the conditions required for the switch from negative to positive feedback.  I first looked at a few familiar textbooks, then a few old notebooks, and finally – well – I just Googled it.

The search, of course, came up with thousands of web pages and hundreds of YouTube videos.  After trying a few different sites and listening to a few different professors, I found someone I liked – Professor Steven Fink from West Los Angeles College.  What caught my attention with Professor Fink is that he “popped” his cheek every time he mentioned the term “ovulation” – just like one of my own biology professors did.  Amazing – that one little bit caused me to pay attention and watch more intently.

Murray learns from Dr. Fink at double time speed during breakfast while reading the newspaper and enjoying his morning coffee!

Murray learns from Dr. Fink at double time speed during breakfast while reading the newspaper and enjoying his morning coffee!

Since that first video on the female reproductive system, I’ve watched several of Dr. Fink’s YouTube lectures (http://www.professorfink.com/), and they’re all good.  The production value may be limited, but Dr. Fink is an excellent communicator with a dry sense of humor and that much desired ability to put the audience at ease – even when the audience is watching on YouTube.

But I must admit I listen to most of his lectures at 2x speed while eating breakfast and reading the newspaper.  That 2x speed function on YouTube is especially handy; 60 minute lectures go by in 30 minutes – sweet!  (It’s like getting out of class early.)  And after teaching A & P for many years I really don’t need to listen to everything – I know most everything Dr. Fink is talking about.  But there are a few topics that catch my attention.  And when they do, I put down the newspaper and coffee, and review the important points once, twice, three times – as many times as it takes for me to figure things out. And I’ve found that the kitchen table, or maybe a comfy-chair, is more suited for learning than the traditional lecture hall.

So thank you, Dr. Fink, for advancing my understanding of human anatomy and physiology.

But wait.  Is this the end of our jobs?  Should every entry-level anatomy and physiology student listen to Dr. Fink?  Should on-line Dr. Fink replace in-person Dr. Jensen?  Is Dr. Fink thinking of world lecture domination? Possession of the golden laser-pointer?

No. We’re still needed.

Every HAPS member is regularly in charge of 20, 40, 100, 200, and sometimes more, students who are trying to learn a complex topic – human anatomy and physiology.  Learning concepts such as the physiology of ovulation is not easy, and simply saying, “go look at this web site” is terrible pedagogy – especially if it’s the only thing you’re doing.  I’m an advocate of short (10 minute or less) on-line videos that students can access 24/7 – videos that students can watch over and over again, videos featuring the same person that students see in the classroom.  Familiarity here is key.  Your students know you well.  They recognize your voice, your personality, your humor in both the classroom and on videos.  And this familiarity makes learning easier for them – they learn to learn from you.  (This is one reason substitute instructors often fail to promote learning – it takes time for students to learn who they are!  Substitutes cannot just step in and get the job done.)   Of course, it’s always useful to have supplemental materials such as books, journal articles, and web sites like Dr. Fink’s vast collection of lectures.

But don’t go overboard.  On-line learning, for most students, works best when it complements face-to-face educational experiences.  Classrooms and labs are still where the real (conceptual) learning takes place.  This is especially true when classrooms are active learning environments where educators interact with students to pose and solve problems that require inquiry.  But lectures, especially on-line lectures do indeed have a place in student learning.

Reference:

Freeman S, Eddy SL, McDonough M, Smith MK, Okoroafor N, Jordt H, Wenderoth MP (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America 111, 8410–8415.

Abstract available at www.pnas.org/content/111/23/8410.abstract

In Search of the Core Principles of Human Anatomy: RESPONSE

4 May
Bradley Barger

A message from Bradley Barger, graduate student researching anatomy education.

HAPSters spend a lot of time discussing the teaching and learning of anatomy and physiology.  Last week we had a post from Central Regional Director, Murray Jensen challenging the long lists of required structures in anatomy classes. Bradley Barger, graduate student researching anatomy education, responds.

This post contains two main points-

  1. Anatomy contains physics, sort of. The way anatomy is taught can emphasize this, or ignore this, each approach having some benefit.
  2. The “hot list” of anatomy terms is a bigger challenge than can be answered here, but before including any term on your “hot list” see if it meets at least one (ideally several) of the core principles defined here. Those anatomical structures that align with the core principles can be used as case studies to illustrate the underlying rules of anatomy, even if the deepest level of those rules (physics, chemistry and physiology) are not explicitly taught to students.

The shapes, orientations, and interactions of anatomical structures are all based on physiology. Every structure identified in anatomy exists because of the physiological adaptations of the organism, so understanding the anatomy requires an understanding of the physiology, histology, cell biology and biochemistry, all fields with strong bases in physics. So anatomy may contain physics, it has just been buried under several layers of abstraction (or application).

Anatomy could be taught from a “bottom-up” approach where all the background knowledge of physics, chemistry, and physiology (the “rules” of anatomy) are learned first. In this approach, the anatomy of the organism is just the most visible part that solves all of the physical and physiological problems involved in maintaining life. Anatomy becomes a foregone conclusion once the rules of life have been established. However, anatomy is usually taught from a “top-down” approach. In this approach the anatomy of an organism is learned first, because it easy to see, touch and understand. Oftentimes this approach results in a memorization paradigm, because the “rules of anatomy” (i.e. chemistry, physics, and physiology) have been left out. Without understanding the rules, the anatomy of the organism seems like a needlessly complex series of tubes with arcane names, leaving many students baffled.

Because no anatomy course, or even an entire college career, has the time to teach anatomy from a true “bottom-up” approach, we have developed a series of core principles of anatomy that provide insights into the rules of anatomy, without the need for extensive instruction in physics or physiology. These core principles are designed to emphasize a deeper understanding of anatomy, and avoid the memorization problem that has plagued so many students (and instructors) in anatomy courses.

(Please note, this list is a first attempt at defining core principles of anatomy and was developed largely by myself at the 2014 HAPS annual conference in Jacksonville. I have since been in conversation with many other anatomy instructors and students in an effort to further develop this list, and have gotten some great feedback and recommendations, but we can leave that conversation until San Antonio.)

The core principles-

  1. Orientation– This is perhaps the most basic skill in anatomy and involves knowing which end is up. This skill also includes the relationships of nearby structures, and how they may interact.
  2. Spaces, solids, and coverings (linings)– In anatomy identifying three-dimensional (3D) solids is a relatively easy task. Finding the liver, hypothalamus, or biceps brachii are all easy tasks because they are solid objects that can be seen and touched. But often overlooked are the conceptually more challenging anatomical entities which exist as empty space, or as essentially two-dimensional linings of other structures. Students often struggle to understand the relationships between serous membranes and their cavities and associated organs, for example.
  3. Nomenclature– It has been said that learning anatomy is like learning a language, and the vocabulary is one of the more challenging aspects of this task. Nomenclature is included as one of the core principles because the names of structures are not arbitrary, even though it can feel that way to a novice student. If the names and meanings of words can be taught more explicitly, many of the problems in point 1 (orientation) become much easier to manage.
  4. Macro and microscopic relationships– This principle deals with the rules of anatomy more explicitly than the others, and is a great way to emphasize physiological concepts even in a pure anatomy class that may not otherwise include physiology.
  5. Visual Literacy– This principle deals with the ability to gain information from visual sources. Visual sources can include two-dimensional (2D) drawings, 3D models, or even anatomical remains. Many students do not know how to ‘read’ an image, and even advanced students struggle with converting their knowledge of 2D book images to 3D models or cadavers.

In response to the question about the foramen spinosum, I would argue that it is a good structure to include on the ‘hot list’. Teaching the foramen spinosum offers an opportunity to discuss many of the above principles, and relate those ideas to the rules of anatomy. First, the foramen spinosum is a space, and can serve as a valuable example of anatomical spaces, and their functions. As the foramen spinosum conducts the middle meningeal artery into the skull, it can also be used to teach principles of orientation and illustrate the fact that the skull is not a sealed chamber, but contains many passages for arteries veins and nerves, all based on the physiological needs of the organism. Related to orientation, students can see the groove for the middle meningeal artery leading directly to foramen spinosum, illustrating the interaction between the blood supply and the bones. The foramen spinosum can also be used as an example of nomenclature as its name directly relates to the appearance of the hole. Finally, learning any of the skull foramina teaches about visual literacy in that 2D book images can portray this hole in a variety of ways, and these images will look different to a real or model skull.

A similar argument could be made for nearly any structure chosen, so how does this help us to define the ‘hot list’ of structures that a student should know? Maybe it doesn’t, but it at least allows for each structure taught in anatomy to serve more than one purpose, and hopefully help students to get away from the idea that “anatomy is all memorization.”

In Search of the Core Principles of Human Anatomy

27 Apr
A message from HAPS Central Regional Director, Murray Jensen.

A message from HAPS Central Regional Director, Murray Jensen.

HAPSters spend a lot of time discussing the teaching and learning of anatomy and physiology.  Check out this post from long time HAPSter and Central Regional Director, Murray Jensen.  Murray is trying to generate a bit of controversy about teaching anatomy and long hot lists that we require our students to memorize.  Just how important are all those names and structures?  Look forward to a retort from graduate student Bradley Barger next week.

After 25 years of teaching entry-level anatomy and physiology, I can safely say that I’ve begun to figure a few things out – like the importance of setting high expectations on the first day of class; you have to scare the kids a bit.  All HAPSters know that one.  Another thing I’ve begun to figure out is how to teach human physiology.  This is in large part due to the work of Joel Michael and his group who identified the core principals of physiology  (http://advan.physiology.org/content/33/1/10).    Energy flow, homeostasis, and a few other concepts set the stage for pretty much every topic in physiology.   I use Michael’s core principals to design my course, write curriculum, generate exam questions, etc.  It’s a powerful tool for those of us who teach entry-level physiology. Required Structures ListI also teach basic human anatomy, and after 25 years and a couple thousand students, I can say with confidence that I really don’t know what I’m doing.  I remember vividly the first human A & P course I taught.  Skeletal system .. skull anatomy…hmmm…what structures should be on the hot list?  Ethmoid? Of course. Sphenoid? Obviously.  How about the foramen spinosum?  Should that be on the list? To facilitate the decision process I used Rule One of Teaching – you teach the way you’ve been taught.  In deciding what structures to include on my own hot list, I simply went back to the notes I used as a student, “What did Dr. Ivan Johnson make me learn?” Turns out Dr. Johnson indeed had me learn the foramen spinosum; therefore it must be important, and so it went on my very first hot list for skull anatomy.   Twenty-five years later I still have my students learn the foramen spinosum.  Why?  The best I can do is “because I had to do it!” Blindly following Rule One is not professional.  I would like to do better.  Joel Michael’s core principles greatly improved my ability to teach physiology – his work established an epistemological foundation for physiology education.  Now when a student asks “why do we have to learn about vasopressin?” I can confidently answer that it fits into the bigger picture of how the body works, and vasopressin’s role in the homeostasis of sodium, water, and blood pressure.  Much, much more satisfying than responding, “Well…I had to learn it!” or even worse “Because it will be on the exam.” In the past few years I’ve been pushing my anatomy colleagues for answers.  What should kids learn about anatomy in my entry-level course? What should they learn first?  If a student wants a career in anatomy, what are the themes? What’s at the foundation of a conceptual understanding of human anatomy?  We’ve had some good beginning ideas: orientation, cavities, medical terminology, liquids and solids, layers have promise.  But there is nothing official at this stage – just some good conversations.  And nothing that helps me figure out if I should include the foramen spinosum on the hot list. Identifying the core principles of anatomy is a worthy quest, and HAPS leadership is looking into starting a task force to get things moving.  I’ve been working with Bradley Barger, PhD candidate in Anatomy and Cell Biology at Indiana University, and we’ll be hosting a workshop at San Antonio for others interested in the project. In pondering the task ahead, I think I’ve identified a significant question, but some background is needed first.  Dr. Ernest Rutherford, Nobel Prize winning physicist from way back, has a quote, “All science is either physics or stamp collecting.” I think Rutherford is correct – everything in science boils down to physics.  When teaching human physiology and thinking about Michael’s core principals, I see physics (e.g., diffusion, pumps, gradients, barriers, energy).  If students can comprehend some basic physics, then they can make some good strides toward understanding human physiology. My big question: Is there any physics in anatomy?   At this time I don’t see any physics.  I see terminology, orientation, embryology, and sometimes even design (gasp!) – but I don’t see physics. Disagree?  Disagree strongly? Well…make a list of your own core principles of human anatomy and come to the workshop in San Antonio.  Help me figure out if I should keep the foramen spinosum on my hot list.

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