HAPS Teaching Tip: Anatomical Poetry

A message from Polly Husmann, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Anatomy & Cell Biology at the Indiana University School of Medicine where she teaches anatomy to medical, graduate, and undergraduate students.
A message from Polly Husmann, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Anatomy & Cell Biology at the Indiana University School of Medicine where she teaches anatomy to medical, graduate, and undergraduate students.

Inspired by the works of Allan Wolf (2003) and the HAPS annual meeting Synapse presentation of Judi Nath (2016), I wanted to encourage more creativity, and especially poetry, in anatomy.  Thus, in the Fall of 2016, I decided to give an extra credit assignment to my undergraduate anatomy students.

The Course
Anatomy A215: Basic Human Anatomy is a large (400+) undergraduate anatomy class most commonly taken by students that are interested in allied healthcare.  Many of these students have never taken an anatomy class before and may not feel that science is truly their forte’.  The course includes three fifty-minute lectures and two two-hour labs per week for a total of five credit hours.  The course has a total of eight hundred points available and is assessed using four multiple choice examinations for lecture and four examinations with short-answer identification questions for lab.  There are also ten online quizzes, also in multiple choice or matching format.  As such, there is very little room for more creative thought processes.  In addition, twenty points of extra credit are offered each semester.  Sixteen of these are given based on online practice assignments (also multiple choice or matching) that deal with each chapter of the book.  The remaining four extra credit points are then left at the instructor’s discretion.

The Assignment
For two of the discretionary extra credit points, I assigned my students to write a poem.  For the content of the poem, the students were given two options: 1) their favorite anatomical structure or region or 2) a reflective poem on their experience in anatomy.  The poem had to be an original work and was required to be at least eight lines in length.  Rhyming scheme (including presence or absence) was completely up to the student.  They were given ten days to complete the assignment (including the Thanksgiving break) and could turn in via either an e-mail or a hard copy of their poem prior to class.  Ultimately, 207 students turned in a poem.  The following poems are examples of the submissions for this assignment and, I believe, demonstrate the enthusiasm that some students show when given the opportunity to express their creativity (even when only a few points are offered in return!).  Next week we’ll share more!

The Chip I Digested
By Quaniqua Finley
When I ate the first chip
I knew it would be a trip
Down my esophagus, it felt like a rip
I should’ve known better when it burnt my lip
I tried to get some water, just needed a sip
I hopped around the table and through the door
When it ripped my throat, I fell to the floor
Grabbing my stomach the pain made me want no more
Churning and churning mixing about
After absorption I finally got the urge to push it out
What a relief, glad it wasn’t slow
Never again will I eat a Hot Cheeto

By Kyle Doyle
Its purpose is to line.
It is simple or stratified.
It often contains projections that are very fine.
Or it might even be keratinized.
It can absorb and secrete,
Or it can block like a barrier and part ‘em.
Such an incredible feat,
The numerous roles of epithelium.

Do you have a teaching tip you’d like to share?  You can do it here.

Nath, Judi. 2016. “More Than You Bargained For: RAAS and the Transcending Role of ACE Inhibitors.” In Annual Meeting of the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society. Atlanta, Georgia.

Wolf, Allan. 2003. The Blood-Hungry Spleen and Other Poems About Our Parts (Candlewick Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts).

Spelling: Why is this so hard?!

A message from Nichole Warwick, Clatsop Community College Biology instructor and member of the HAPS Communications Committee.

It’s always amazing to read the list serve posts that arrive in my email box throughout a term- and there seems to be a cycle to them. School starts, we talk about spelling and retention; the end of the term, and we share the interesting things students write on final exams.  September was no different, as peers across the nation shared their emphasis on spelling vs student missing the concept correctly. Some posts suggested it was a lazy student that did not value spelling as a skill.

spelling-2I routinely point out in my class that if a doctor calls for test on the ilium, you want to make sure it isn’t the ileum. This inevitably seems to get some snickers. But this conversation brought me back to when I was a student and the life long  struggle I have had with letters. To this day I misspell things, not because I don’t value it and trust me, it’s flat out embarrassing to ask your students if it “looks” right, but because my brain struggles with letters. Add a panic moment (much like a student on a lab practical) and all of a sudden I have vowels swirling in my head, almost jumping out of my brain at my eyes and spelling just gets difficult. I have moments where e and i, i and e seem to be revolving in my mind and I can’t pick which one comes first and which one comes second.

spelling-1As we master our discipline and become experts in the field, the absurdity of misspelling a word becomes evident. We talk about sloppiness and if a student values spelling. But if we recall what it is like to be a student, to be learning what may amount to the equivalent of a foreign language that is medicine, toss in greek and latin roots, the fact that the study of English from childhood is not very similar to the study of Spanish in which conversations occur on the roots of words, and we are not just teaching the human body; we are teaching language. How many of us have attended a Ken Saladin’s language talk at a HAPS Annual Conference and discovered issues in our own pronunciations? In some cases, the student may be so overwhelmed with what they have to learn, that they prioritize spelling at the end (unless it means points).

My class spends time on what a spelling error may be, versus a conceptual error.  I hold them accountable for spelling and it equates to points missed. They are told they cannot use “fibia” or “tibula” and get credit because this shows a concept error vs a spelling error, and as I continue to wage my own personal battle with spelling, I support them in theirs and recognize that spelling for the novice student may be a bit more complicated than laziness.

The Didactic Advantage of Using the Thiel Method of Embalming

A message from Adam Decker, human anatomy educator in the School of Biological Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, GA.

As a licensed embalmer since 1992, I have always been fascinated by the preservation of human tissues.  Preservation methods are especially important in the gross anatomy lab where students directly interact with tissues and potentially harmful chemicals. Because of the inherent risks associated with such close exposure and interaction, shouldn’t we explore techniques that might be able to reduce the risks associated with these harmful, potentially carcinogenic compounds?

In 1992, Austrian native Dr. Walter Thiel introduced a soft-fixed embalming procedure that he spent years perfecting by testing it on 1,000 cadavers. As the story goes, he noticed that meats that were cured with brine solution at a local butcher shop had a much more life-like appearance and texture as compared to the grayer and firmer cadavers that were embalmed using traditional formaldehyde. The formula he finally adopted enabled in-situ tissue to have a more pliable and life-like appearance, while it kept the carcinogenic effects to a minimum.

Benefits of Thiel’s technique include:

  • The ability to position limbs and joints within their anatomical limits
  • Reduced exposure to harmful chemicals
  • The presence of antimicrobial and antifungal properties
  • The usage of tissues in vast clinical simulated procedures (i.e. lumbar puncture and laparoscopic procedures)
  • Use of ultrasonography in clinical training and teaching anatomy
  • Odor reduction in the gross anatomy lab
  • A more realistic experience for surgeons when cutting through the skin of a Thiel embalmed body (it is much like cutting through living tissue)

The drawbacks are:

  • Salt solutions can possibly burn and discolor tissues, particularly in regions like the zygoma where some cadavers have little subcutaneous tissue over the malar bone.
  • The Thiel method has histologically changed some cellular arrangement in connective tissues like tendons. Studies involving tensile stress and strain on these tissues may result in inaccurate data.
  • Chemicals utilized are more expensive than traditional formalin fixed bodies.
  • Although longevity is evident in the Thiel fixed body, degradation of tissue may occur sooner than in formalin fixed bodies.

The solution itself is in essence a salt mixture that is arterially injected, just as in the typically prepared formalin cadavers.  This mixture is composed of the following compounds:

  • Ammonium nitrate
  • Potassium nitrate
  • Boric acid
  • Morpholine (fungicidal properties)
  • Sodium sulphite
  • Ethyl alcohol
  • Formalin
  • Ethylene glycol (surfactant)
  • 4-Chloro-3-methylphenol (disinfectant)

In my research, I identified several U.S. institutions that use the Thiel method for preparation, but the majority of U.S. programs are still using standard formalin fixed tissues. The Thiel method, however, is more commonly used in European countries.

Setting the Tone of the Class

A message from Nichole Warwick, Clatsop Community College Biology instructor and member of the HAPS Communications Committee.

The start of the new term is always exciting, and on the quarter system, we typically begin spring term in late March. The first week of classes is a great time to set the tone of the class and to get student buy in to the way we teach, though it’s never too late to engage our students. In the past ten years of teaching at a small community college, I have slowly progressed away from the traditional lecture to classroom experiences that I hope will engage and clarify. You might call me a partial “flip” as I try to add new active learning strategies to the classroom, many ideas farmed shamelessly from the annual National HAPS conference. Because it is early in the term, I want to make an impression on the students that A&P is different; unlike any class you have taken before.

As engaging as I think my class is, I still fight for attention from my students as their electronics, devices, and lives draw their minds to other things. While the students wait for my class to start, they are often on their phones, and a few review their notes, but rarely is there engagement and most are not getting into the “A&P State of Mind.”  I was reading an article in document our state educational board OEA sends out and found an interesting tidbit about getting your student’s head in the game and it stimulated me to come up with something to catch their attention every day. Something that puzzles or challenges them and starts them thinking on our subject.

A sword in the belt...who knew it would help us learn about anatomy?
A sword in the belt…who knew it would help us learn about anatomy?

So I showed up with a sword in my belt (it was foam, not a real weapon). I didn’t say a word and went about my business. Eventually someone asked.  Many had wondered. As it was the first week, I have been trying to get them into the habit of asking questions, and it took a few times of asking “Does anyone have a question,” before a student took the bait. “Great question, I’ll show you in a minute.” I used the sword to demonstrate cuts along the planes of the body. Then the students were on their feet and imitating the cuts as I called them out.  We added speed, a little laughter, and had an effective lesson.

This has become my challenge: Can I get my students to wonder how today’s prop, picture, or activity relates to the material?  Some days are easy. Just today I showed up with envelopes holding index cards with some of the important terms for the day on them. We played a modified game of Taboo. One student put the card up to their forehead. The other students then had to describe the word without saying what it started with, or  too much nonsensical rhyming. It was challenging to all students in the group. They had to remember something about the word. My students got into groups as they came into class and played this while other students were arriving.  They were using their before class time to interact, review, laugh and they were thinking about the material for the day. Mission accomplished!

Ewwww…definitely engaging!

I have also shown up to class with a cube of jello with noodles in it on a dissection tray- I posted a picture of this to our LMS the night before just to pique their curiosity. One time I brought in a snazzy little raccoon (our school mascot and a soft object) that was passed around the room. The initial student had to answer a review question. When that student finished their answer, the new student with the raccoon had to answer the next question. “What are the 4 types of tissues?” “What is matrix?”

Next week I’ll have three legos I sneak away from my children: three legos will be sitting at the front of the room (or maybe on each table)- one short and flat, one nice and square, and one tall and skinny. I bet at least a few immediately start wondering how this is related to A&P. Do you know?