The Rule of Threes: Self-care advice for A&P Instructors, Part 2

Back in October, I shared a personal anecdote in part 1 “The Rule of Threes: Self-care advice for the A&P instructor”. In the post, I mentioned a list I created over the summer while preparing for the fall semester. This list included three behaviors to stop and three behaviors to start, both for the sake of my students and myself. I have always found stopping behaviors to be more challenging than starting new ones, so I thought it was best to first clear the space in my head (and my calendar) for new behaviors! As I wound down from the fall semester and reflected on what went well and what might need to change, I thought it was a good time to finish what I started.

My Three Things to Start:
Start off on the right foot
Many of us have (or have at least heard of) “syllabus day”. Traditionally, this is the first day of class, where no material is presented, but all policies and course expectations are reviewed. This might include reading through the syllabus with the students, page by page or administering a syllabus quiz…..  the possibilities are endless! Over the years, I have relied on this day to reassure myself that my students were clear on their schedule and all course policies, but (as I referenced in part 1) there is no guarantee of that. Over the summer, I sat back and thought to myself, “How quickly would I zone out if someone was delivering a presentation on policies and procedures to me? Is there a much more important message to send on my first interaction with my students, which for most of them is their first meeting with a professor in college?” After my experience this semester in A&P 1, my overwhelming conclusion is YES.

This year, I created a presentation on the first day that was primarily focused on welcoming them to my classroom and to the study of the human body. I told them who I was, and why I love being a teacher. I shared my endless fascination and passion for A&P, and how much I hoped that they would leave my class feeling the same. I spent time being honest with them about how often students struggle in A&P, and why that is so that they knew from day one that this course would demand a lot of time and attention from them. I shared several best practices/strategies for success that both I, and former students, have used. I even created a Monday-Sunday A&P work schedule for them (which several of my students have followed) to help them feel less overwhelmed while simultaneously making them aware of the amount of work necessary to be successful. Throughout the presentation, I shared many personal stories of my struggles and triumphs as a student so that they knew I understood how they might be feeling. I even addressed academic integrity in a different way. Rather than running down the penalties for cheating, I talked about why it ultimately hurts them to cheat, even if they are never caught. I ended my presentation asking my students to repeat aloud the phrase “You are NEVER bothering me”, which I have reinforced in every one-on-one or small group meeting, and in nearly every class period. This was easily the simplest, but most effective thing I’ve ever done as an instructor.

Start pulling back the curtain
One of the most controversial discussions I see in higher education is about instructor vulnerability, meaning, how much we let our students “in”. This applies to letting them in on both who we are outside the classroom and on our reasoning behind course design. I think we can all agree on one point: no one likes criticism, and all of us struggle with how to handle it. This year, I started talking openly with all my students about the rationale for each assignment, or the form of an assessment. I am sure we have all had end of semester course evaluations in which students lamented that there were too many, or too few exams, or that there wasn’t enough time on an exam, or that an assessment counted for too much. It’s easy to assume that these comments are only coming from students not achieving the grades they want, but what student wants their time wasted? Are grades the only thing that matters? Of course not! We want our students to enjoy themselves in a course, and to trust that we are not wasting their time.

Think about your own life experiences – how much more motivated are you in any activity when you truly understand the value of the activity, no matter how challenging? Conversely, how quickly will you doubt, or give up on an activity if you can’t see the benefit? Share your rationale with your students for what you ask them to do. For example, I had one student this quarter ask me why there was a time limit on their weekly, open book quiz. She reported that this caused her some anxiety which she felt was negatively impacting her performance. This was a great opportunity to talk about the importance of building stress-tolerance, especially as a future nurse! Since the midterm and final exam, all exams in her future courses, and eventually, the NCLEX are timed we talked about viewing the quizzes as an opportunity to prepare for all these higher stake situations. After this talk, she felt differently about the time limit. Share your rationale with your students. If you can’t come up with a clear rationale behind an assessment or its design, it might be an opportunity to re-evaluate.

Start scheduling fun
This is the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society. Every day, there are incredible conversations about best practices in teaching A&P, new teaching tips, and inspiring stories. I could add another piece of advice for the classroom, but I would likely be repeating someone else’s words, or thoughts you’ve already had!  What is not talked about nearly enough is life outside of the classroom. I don’t know about you, but left to my own devices on a weekend, I will work. Plans with friends fell through? No problem! I can read those journal articles or work on next semester’s presentations! Ah, the endless pursuit of the dopamine hit that comes with checking a box off on the to-do list. The problem is that the to-do list is endless. Our careers are not like home improvement projects, where once the crown molding is up we can finally relax. The perpetual fear I spoke of in part 1 about not being “enough” also comes with anxiety that I will somehow not get everything done. This fall, I decided I needed to make a weekly appointment with myself, whether to watch movies all day, bake any of the recipes I collected, go roller skating, or decorate the house we built last year that I’ve barely done more than sleep in! The point was, to do nothing “productive”.

If this sounds plain crazy to you, congratulations, you have a healthy balance to your life! For a long time, anything that didn’t have a clear “result” left me feeling guilty that I wasted precious time. In only a few short months, I am happy to report just how wrong I was. When I started scheduling fun, and being just “me” for even one day a week, I had time to rest and reflect on everything I was doing, and what I actually wanted to be doing at work. Now, I cannot wait to get back to the classroom every Monday. Despite (on paper) being busier than I have ever been in my career, I somehow feel calmer than ever, and confident that it will all get done. I have no doubt that this is easier said than done, otherwise, I would have done it years ago! If you too are living in a perpetual cycle of work, or guilt about not being “productive” enough, consider the idea that investing in yourself is the most productive thing you can do for everyone around you.


Krista Rompolski is an Assistant Professor in the Health Sciences Department at Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA. She is an active member of the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society and the American Academy of Anatomists. Her teaching interests include pathophysiology, gross anatomy, and anatomy and physiology.

My Sparkly Pancreas

At the annual HAPS meeting in 2018, I sat with a lovely group of HAPSters over dinner. The topic of mindfulness came up and we each agreed how important it was for us and for our students.

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Going out on a limb, I divulged my personal practice of mindfully exercising. “I battle cancer cells, I eliminate plaque from my arteries, and I always make my pancreas sparkle.” They all looked at me and smiled. A beat of silence. “Did I just disclose my super weirdness?”  I thought.

“How sparkly is your pancreas?” said the head of the HAPS cadaver-use committee.

“Well, if I’m ever your specimen, wear sunglasses. I’m that bright inside,” I joked.

When I exercise, I think about human anatomy and physiology and mindfully review each system of my body. I eradicate perceived (or worrisome) anatomic or physiological problems by picturing that system of my body in its most perfect form. If I’m feeling tense in an area, I send extra focus there. I may walk out of an exercise class looking sweaty and exhausted, but inside, I know I have just activated mechanisms in my body toward health, and mentally that makes me feel invigorated. That energy is then carried with me to the classroom where it gets translated into helping students.

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Current literature* is chock-full of studies on how mindfulness can positively affect a plethora of anatomical and physiological maladies. When I feel a high amount of tension/anxiety in the air in my A&P lectures, I take the opportunity to ask if anyone has ever meditated. We talk about the many benefits from decreased anxiety to neurogenesis. With the anxiety level of our students on the rise, it is my hope that in addition to teaching a strong knowledge base, we can also help students by sharing personal stories of how we cope in our lives.

I share my sparkly pancreas story with students when we talk about diabetes, which runs in my family. Each of us should consider finding a mindfulness practice that works for us. For students, I often recommend meditation as a place to start.

We all know how important genetics, good nutrition, and exercise are for our health. Incorporating mindfulness in the form of meditation can profoundly affect the performance of students and be a coping tool they can use for a lifetime. The personal mindfulness practice I use while exercising helps me to see myself as a healthy, radiant being ready to be the best A&P professor I can be.

*some recent studies that highlight the promising effects of mindfulness practices on health:
Cardiovascular and renal effects
Yoga and stress
Meditating medical students


Bridgit Goldman has been teaching college-level biology since 1998.  She has a Ph.D. in Cellular, Molecular, and Developmental Biology from The Graduate School and University Center of The City University of New York. Since 2007 she has designed, developed and taught all the lecture and laboratory classes in Human Anatomy and Physiology at Siena College in Loudonville, NY.

Call for applications from the HAPS Grants and Scholarships Committee

Are you looking for funding to help you attend the 2019 HAPS Annual Conference in Portland?  Then you will be happy to hear the latest news from the HAPS Grants & Scholarships Committee!

There are now 4 HAPS Awards that target four different groups of HAPS members.  Three of these groups have been targeted in previous years:

  • Graduate students and postdocs
  • Contingent faculty
  • Full-time faculty who have taught five or fewer years

But this year we are introducing an additional award for a new group of HAPS members:

  • Full-time faculty who have taught for more than five years

All four of these HAPS Awards are now travel awards, which means that they both cover the cost of conference registration, and provide an additional $400 for partial reimbursement of travel expenses getting to the conference!

In addition to the HAPS awards, there are also three Sponsored Awards:

  • ADinstruments Sam Drogo Technology in the Classroom Award – sponsored by ADinstruments
  • HAPS-Thieme Excellence in Teaching Award – sponsored by Thieme Publishers
  • Gail Jenkins Teaching and Mentoring Award – sponsored by Wiley

Click to get information and applications for all of the HAPS Awards and the Sponsored Awards.

January 4, 2019 is the deadline to apply for all awards and to submit any required letters of recommendation.  Start the application process today!

Questions? Please contact Carol Veil, Chair of the HAPS Grants and Scholarships Committee.


Concept Mapping in A&P – One Instructor’s Experience

I assigned concept maps as homework in my A&P courses and it has proven to be extremely effective. Students are provided instructions for how to access a free concept mapping website and a list of concepts to be included in their map. I typically assign one map per major topic or body system (8-10 per semester). Concepts to be included are heavily based on the HAPS Learning Outcomes. Since students can make concept maps in many different ways, they are primarily graded for level of detail and completeness. After the first assignment is submitted, I choose several maps and display them anonymously to the class. I ask students to identify how that particular map is helpful and to find ways the map might be improved, stressing their use as study tools. As students gain experience, the quality of their maps improves significantly. By the end of the semester, many are astonishingly complex and detailed.

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(Click on image above or here for a full-size PDF)

Student scores on a standardized departmental final have improved in the classes that I’ve utilized concept mapping and many students reported that concept maps were extremely helpful in A&P.  Many nursing programs now heavily integrate concept mapping into nursing education so this assignment was particularly helpful to pre-nursing students. I also discovered that the rate of homework completion was higher for concept maps than more “traditional” homework. Students stated that creating the map forced them to really read the text and think about how the concepts related to each other, but that they were also fun!

Since several of these students had previously utilized concept mapping in my courses, they volunteered to create a comprehensive concept map that included all of the 900+ HAPS Learning Outcomes. Their goal was to use this project to reinforce their own understanding of A&P and to create a teaching tool that could be displayed for future student use.

They worked on this project on their own time between early January and mid-May, 2018, including spring break, while also juggling classes, jobs, and other responsibilities. The final product, a 16-foot-long concept map with over 5000 elements, was printed and displayed during the conference.

Paul Luyster, Associate Professor of Biology, and nine TCC students, Brian Cisneros, Daniel Duran, Stephanie Galaviz-Webster, Jocelyn Gonzalez, Karely Leon, Mitchell McDowell, Auston McIntosh, Lisabel Ruiz-Steblein, and Jami Williams, presented a workshop titled “Using Case Studies and Concept Mapping Assignments to Enhance Student Engagement and Learning in A&P” at the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society (HAPS) Conference in Columbus, Ohio, May, 2018.

These students are proud of their concept map but even more importantly, they know with certainty that they have constructed – in a diagram and in their mind – a detailed set of concepts and relationships that integrates all of the important aspects of A&P.. They know their stuff, and they KNOW that they know it. Isn’t that what teaching is all about?


Paul Luyster is an Associate Professor of Biology at Tarrant County College, Fort Worth, Texas, where he enjoys teaching Anatomy and Physiology, Majors Biology, Undergraduate Biology Research, and an Environmental Biology Wilderness Course.


Action Potential Tip from the Hundred Acre Wood

Last month we explained some of the outlets available with HAPS for publication. This week we are bringing you a glimpse of a Teaching Tip. The analogy provided below is a portion of a Teaching Tip recently submitted by HAPS member Micah Meltzer and his student Megan Spears. To see the full tip, visit the HAPS website

The Curriculum and Instruction Committee welcomes tip submission in all content areas; however, they are currently especially interested in tips for the following areas, which could use more tips to support our HAPS outcome guidelines.

  • Muscular system: skeletal muscle metabolism, characteristics of muscle tissue types, principles and types of whole muscle contraction (twitch, motor unit or contraction types)
  • Nervous system: neurotransmitters and their role at the synapse, sensory and motor pathways in CNS, ANS functions, body system survey
  • General A&P introduction: body cavities/regions, directional terms in A&P

Undergraduate physiology students seem to relate well to A.A. Milne’s characters Tigger & Eeyore from the Winnie-the-Pooh stories. The different behaviors of the voltage-gated Na+ & K+ channels can be likened to the personalities of Tigger & Eeyore, respectively. Tigger has a bouncy, excitable personality which is similar to the behavior of the voltage-gated Na+ channels (VGNC) responsible for rapid depolarization. In contrast, Eeyore is a mopey, sluggish character who behaves more like the voltage-gated K+ channels (VGKC) responsible for repolarization & hyperpolarization. These character associations can help students remember the differences between the two different voltage-gated ion channels involved in the generation of the neuronal action potential, which is a fundamental concept of neurophysiology.

Tigger Channels

Tigger is known for being friendly, energetic, and more than a little rambunctious. Tigger can be seen in the Hundred Acre Wood bouncing around and engaging excitedly with the world. Tigger’s exuberant and enthusiastic qualities are analogous to the rapid-open/rapid-close properties of the VGNC (Voltage-Gated Na+ Channel).

Neuronal VGNCs each contain a voltage-dependent activation gate & a time-dependent inactivation gate. The activation gate is triggered to open once a certain membrane potential, the threshold voltage, is present across the local membrane. The activation gates open rapidly allowing a significant influx of Na+ ions, causing depolarization and the rapid upstroke of an action potential, much like Tigger is known to suddenly burst into short-lived activity.  After a brief period of time (1-2 ms following activation), the inactivation gate rapidly “plugs” up the ion pore from the inside of the cell. This event abruptly stops Na+ ion influx, ending depolarization and defining the peak of the upstroke. The inactivation gate can easily be remembered by likening it to Tigger’s tail getting in the way.


Eeyore Channels

And then there is the gloomy Eeyore. Oh bother. In this mnemonic, his tail can be thought of as the sole activation gate swinging open and closed in response to changes in voltage. Eeyore is often seen moping around or moseying behind his friends around the Hundred Acre Wood. Eeyore’s slow and deliberate manner is analogous to the slow-to-open/slow-to-close nature of the VGKC (Voltage-Gated K+ Channel).

The VGKCs contain a voltage-dependent activation gate but, unlike VGNCs, do not contain an inactivation gate. The kinetics of the VGKC activation gate are slower, responding less quickly to changes in membrane potential when compared to the VGNC’s activation gate. The repolarization phase begins at the same time as the peak of the depolarization upstroke.  It takes that long to get most of the VGKCs opened allowing for significant K+ efflux. Once the membrane potential returns toward threshold voltage, the VGKCs begin to close, also slowly. If K+ continues to exit the cell after threshold voltage has been reached there will be a hyperpolarization phase.





Micah Meltzer M.D. is an Assistant Professor of Biology at Contra Costa Community College (CA). He teaches Human Anatomy & Physiology, through a clinical lens, to students who are interested in (mainly) pursuing careers in the healthcare field.


Megan Headshot


Megan Spears is an Anatomy Teaching Assistant and student at Contra Costa College. She is on track to apply to medical school next Spring.

Support HAPS … via Amazon Zygomaticus!

Some HAPSters have undoubtedly heard of Amazon Smile, a charitable-giving program in which eligible purchases initiated from (rather than plain old lead to a donation to a nonprofit organization of the buyer’s choice. Some of you even participate already, perhaps in support of your local house of worship, parent-teacher association, or athletic club. But to those who have not yet aligned with a nonprofit in this way — and those who’ve grown tired of boosting the same old 501(c)(3)’s year after year — I say, consider making HAPS your charity of choice! Doing so is easy, as illustrated in the screenshots below…

1. Point your web browser to


2. Log in (or create a new account).

3. Find the Human Anatomy & Physiology Society among the many eligible charitable organizations.  Searching for “Human Anatomy and Physiology” will work, but searching for “HAPS” will lead you astray.  Click Select.


4. That’s it!  From that point on, 0.5% of your eligible purchases will be donated to HAPS.


Publishing with HAPS

You know that old, grim academic saying, “Publish or perish”?  We at HAPS prefer to say “Publish and flourish!” While your home institution may have specific expectations regarding scholarship, we offer several options for “publishing” (in the broad sense of the word) that will make communicating with your fellow A&P professionals fulfilling and fun!  Some of these resources are only available for HAPS members (HAPS Discussion Group and Teaching Tips) while others are publicly available for the benefit of the entire A&P community (HAPS Blog and HAPS Educator). Details of each publication venue are provided below.

HAPS Discussion Group (HAPS-L Listserv): Maybe you don’t really want to write up anything formal — you just want to share a link to a cool news item and comment on it. Or maybe you have a question for your fellow educators.  Great for getting rapid feedback, often from experts like A&P textbook authors.  Why do some texts refer to a “dorsal body cavity” while others do not? How does pelvis shape vary according to geography?  The listserv has you covered.

Teaching Tips: As the name implies, teaching tips are concise pieces of practical teaching advice. Teaching tips can be submitted here; submitters choose appropriate learning outcome tags to assist others in locating their tip for usage in class or lab.  Each submission is reviewed by Curriculum and Instruction Committee members to assure that it is posted in an optimal location.

Blog: Want feedback during the early stages of a research project?  Want to provoke discussion that is more extensive or more timeless than the typical listserv chit-chat? The blog is the place for you. Blog posts are published once a week during the academic year and contain a wide variety of ideas from short teaching tips (see above) to descriptions of unique A&P-related experiences. Each post is edited before publication, so no need to worry about minor errors or incomplete thoughts. Ideas and drafts can be emailed to Please include a headshot or other picture and a short author bio.

HAPS Educator: The most formal of these four options, but run by friendly editors! HAPS Educator aims to foster teaching excellence and pedagogical research in anatomy and physiology education.  This open-access journal publishes peer-reviewed articles under three categories. Educational Research articles discuss pedagogical research projects supported by robust data.  Perspectives on Teaching articles discuss a teaching philosophy or modality but do not require supporting data. Current Topics articles provide a state-of-the-art summary of a trending topic area relevant to A&P educators.  All submitted articles undergo peer review. Educational Research articles will additionally be reviewed for the quality of the supporting data. HAPS Educator is the official publication of the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society (HAPS) and is published online three times per year: on March 1, July 1, and November 1.