Many A&P instructors (myself included) struggle with the large volume of content covered in A&P textbooks. Years ago, at one of my first HAPS meetings, I posed two questions to a textbook author: “What information in your book is the most important? What do students really need to know?” I will never forget the response. “If it’s in my book, your students should know it.” Wow. Ok. That conversation was memorable because I knew the author was wrong; there must be foundational principles in A&P that can be used to help students think like scientists. But what are they? What are the core concepts of A&P?
Those questions were important to me because at the time I was overseeing a group of high school anatomy and physiology instructors while simultaneously designing a new course for high school students who had goals of pursuing careers in health care fields. Our team had a firm idea of how to teach (guided inquiry and group learning), but we were struggling with “what to teach,” and we knew “everything in the book” was a non-starter.
At the next HAPS meeting, I met Harold Modell and Joel Michael at a poster session. What followed was a lengthy conversation about foundational topics in physiology and how those topics could be used to develop day-to-day curriculum. What a difference. This was useful. I knew quickly that our conversation could frame a whole new A&P course on the core concepts of physiology for my team back in Minnesota. Harold, Joel, and the rest of their research team (Jenny McFarland, William Cliff, Mary Pat Wenderoth, and Ann Wright) went on to write several papers on the core concepts of human physiology.
Below is one of my favorite pictures of all time. Harold and Joel are in the middle, I’m to the right, and we’re surrounded by high school students from the Minnesota dual enrollment program. The picture embodies the flow of information from research to practice. Harold and Joel worked with their team to identify the core concepts and published many papers on that topic. I worked with Joel and Harold to write a curriculum based on those topics, which was then implemented by high school teachers with their students. Today there are 25 high schools in the program, and in the past 10 to 15 years there have been over 10,000 students learning entry-level human A&P using Harold and Joel’s core concepts, guided inquiry, and cooperative group tasks.
Thank you, Harold! You will be missed.
Dr. Murray Jensen is a Professor of Biology Teaching and Learning at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.