High school histology (on short notice)

On a  Friday afternoon, while I was preparing for a relaxing weekend at my brother’s lake house, I received an email from the director of admissions at my institution asking if I could provide a science presentation for a group of 80 high school students the following Tuesday morning. Due to a miscommunication, the admissions staff had not realized the group was coming, leaving them scrambling to find a way to keep the students busy for four hours.

My fallback high school visit activity is a dissection of a sheep heart or cow eye, both of which provide a high “Wow Factor” to effort ratio. However, with the lab unavailable on Tuesday morning, I needed to come up with something else quickly, so I posted a desperate plea for inspiration on the HAPS Discussion Group (also known as the HAPS Listserv). As always, the amazing HAPS community came through for me; within a couple of hours, I had several viable ideas to choose from. I quickly settled on creating a histology activity, an area that fit well with my content knowledge and the limitations of space and preparation time available to me.

I started with a short PowerPoint presentation in which I defined histology and introduced the high school students to the 4 major classes of tissues. I showed them examples of tissue types in each of the classes, but I did not identify specific tissue types. I ended this portion of the presentation with an image of the knee joint showing the different tissue types found in the knee to give them a sense of how different tissue types work together.

Next, I divided the students into groups of 3 or 4; each group received a set of 11 images of specific types of tissues printed on 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper. Each group also received 11 slips of paper with a line drawing and a written description of a tissue type. Working together in their groups, the students matched the slips of paper with the tissue images. Some groups had questions or needed a nudge to help them match up the descriptions and images, but most were able to do this task without too much difficulty. They were engaged and enthusiastic as they did so, discussing the pros and cons of matches until they settled on each choice.

After this, I used a PowerPoint to define histopathology and describe the main changes found in pathological tissues – loss of cells, inflammation, and changes due to increased proliferation and decreased differentiation in cancer. I chose 4 conditions where the changes between normal tissue and pathological tissue are fairly easy to differentiate – basal cell carcinoma, leukemia, celiac disease, and muscular dystrophy. For each condition, I briefly outlined the symptoms, then showed the students side-by-side images of normal and pathological tissue. I had the students do a think-pair-share on the differences between normal and diseased tissue. They impressed themselves by being able to see and describe the differences.

I presented to 3 groups of about 28 students for 40 minutes each. They were well engaged with the histology activity and learned something doing it. In the end, they were pleased with their ability to demonstrate a basic knowledge of histology.

I was grateful for the help I received to put this presentation together with so little notice and successfully give high school students a taste of anatomy and physiology. Saved by HAPS again!

For more information or for copies of my materials, please contact me at karen.groh@cincinnatistate.edu.

Karen Groh is a Biology Instructor at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College in Cincinnati, Ohio where she teaches Anatomy and Physiology. She is a POGIL (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning) facilitator. In 2021 she was awarded the Gail Jenkins Teaching and Mentoring Award from HAPS. She works to keep students active and engaged in the classroom and is always seeking new ideas for guiding her students to fully understand complex topics.

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