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Learning – Always in Style

27 Feb
Take Rational Course Design with Margaret Weck!

A message from HAPS President Emeritus, Margaret Weck!

Have you ever noticed how variable the depth of learning is amongst students in your classroom – even when you have students with very similar backgrounds and levels of preparation?  Perhaps you’ve looked for patterns or specific characteristics that might help explain this variability.  After all, if you can find consistent and predictable behavioral patterns, you might discover the key to motivating and assisting those who are struggling with coursework.  One useful tool for doing just that is to identify each student’s preferred “learning style,” a method that groups students based on their preferred means of learning.  Interestingly, this very topic was the focus of a HAPS –L discussion forum this past summer.   Following is a brief summary of the main points of that discussion supplemented with a little additional information.

A 2004 book by Coffield, et al. (1) identified 71 different learning style models, most of which are variations of two particular general themes. One of these themes is psychologically-oriented and looks at how individuals make sense of their personal experiences.  Examples include David Kolb’s Learning Styles Inventory (LSI) and Zubin Austin’s Health Professionals Inventory of Learning Styles (H-PILS).  The second major theme focuses more on neurological sensory information processing.  Examples include the right-brain vs. left-brain dominance tests and Neil Fleming’s Visual, Aural, Read/Write, Kinesthetic (VARK) inventory, a tool that indicates a person’s preferences for sensory modalities that most smoothly facilitate the mastering of new information.  

Will I be able to definitively resolve the central issues of learning styles in this post?  Of course not.  As we all know, it is notoriously difficult to “prove” anything, even without the additional handicap of measuring psychological processes through self-report.  In my opinion, it’s not worth the necessary paper or electrons to engage in a heated debate over this, especially since the take-home message is pretty much the same regardless of the outcome.  

Even those who strongly advocate the use of learning styles are aware of the limitations of each specific model and the instruments used to categorize individual learners.  Furthermore, the results of every inventory are full of questions of validity, reliability, and stability.  In other words, what does it really mean for someone to be an “assimilator,” or a “kinesthetic learner,” or “right brained?”  Are people with one tendency actually incapable of learning in any other way? Are these tendencies fixed, or can one improve or broaden native capabilities or preferences with enough effort and exposure to new types of learning?  The questions are endless, and addressing them is beyond the scope of this article; however, Edutopia (2015) has an overview of the various opinions and positions held by education leaders on learning styles:  

Since 2008 (2) rigorous educational research has not shown that specific instruction targeted toward a student’s learning style produces any statistically significant improvement in measured learning as compared to a non-preferred learning style.  Yet the debate over the usefulness/uselessness of learning styles persists.  

As far as course design is concerned, “universal” instructional design already encourages the use of multiple delivery modes to both present and assess student understanding of the most important ideas in our content.  Using multiple forms of representing and expressing key information automatically helps students find at least one point of entry into the content. So if preferred learning styles are real facilitators of learning, universal design already addresses them to a large degree.  Additionally, multiple presentation and assessment modalities provide reinforcement and a variety of possible retrieval cues which should help everyone – regardless of learning style.

One big positive offered by learning styles is that they are a non-threatening way to engage students in conversations about their learning.  Many students do not routinely participate in systematic self-reflection, but we can encourage them to talk about how they learn and what it means to demonstrate their own understanding of a subject by using easy-to-understand terminology found in the learning styles inventory.  As long as we don’t affix permanent labels to our students, which in effect “excuses” them from mastering the material, learning styles can provide students with insight into their own learning and offer a source of concrete strategies for engaging with course material.

  1. Coffield, F., Moseley, d., Hall, E., & Ecclestone, K. (2004) Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 Learning: A systematic and critical review. London: Learning and Skills Research Centre.
  2. Pashler, H., McDanierl, M., Rohrer,  D. & Bjork, R. (2008) Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest 9(3):105-119.

Do Our A&P Students Know How to Read? Part 3

20 Feb

A message from Valerie Lee, an assistant professor at Southern Adventist University who just started her 6th year of teaching and loves HAPS!

In Parts 1 and 2 of this blog series, we identified that Anatomy & Physiology students are having difficulty with reading comprehension.  More specifically, their struggles are not limited to understanding specific content; rather, they are struggling with general vocabulary comprehension.
(To view Part 1 &/or Part 2 of this series,  Click the Link(s):
“Do Our A&P Students Know How to Read
 -PART 1             -PART 2

For her Southern Scholars senior research project, Molly Theus, first year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine student at the University of Georgia in Athens,  attempted to seek insight into this problem by asking four questions:

  1. Does a positive correlation exist between cumulative GPA and vocabulary comprehension?
  2. Does a positive correlation exist between time spent reading for pleasure and vocabulary comprehension?
  3. Does a positive correlation exist between being read to as a child and vocabulary comprehension?
  4. Is there a link between a student’s major and vocabulary comprehension?

Molly chose six classes as candidates for investigation: General Biology II, Principles of Biology, Anatomy and Physiology II, Cell and Molecular Biology, Studies in Daniel, and Pathophysiology (Table 1). These classes were chosen to include one lower (n=42) and one upper division (n=31) biology-major class, one lower (n=43) and one upper division (n=32) nursing class, and one lower (n=27) and one upper division (n=20) general education class (total n=195). To assess personal reading habits and history, a questionnaire was distributed to all students in the six selected classes. To assess vocabulary comprehension, a twenty-question multiple choice vocabulary quiz was also distributed. In order to assure anonymity, informed consent and student information forms were assigned a unique three number code corresponding to each questionnaire.

Participants were given a two-week period of time in which to complete the questionnaires. Once the packets were collected, each informed consent document containing student names was separated from the rest of the forms so that quiz scores were kept anonymous. The names were needed to compile average GPAs and class-standing information for each participant. GPA and class-standing was then matched to quiz scores using the unique numerical codes. We made use of an ANCOVA linear model to analyze our data. The number of questions missed on the vocabulary assessment was the dependent variable and the independent variables are listed in Table 2. University GPA was rank-transformed to meet parametric assumptions. Analysis was performed using R version 3.3.0.

The preliminary result yielded three key results:

KEY RESULT 1: Students’ reading for pleasure had no statistical significance for predicting higher scores on the vocabulary quiz (Table 2). This was contrary to what we had hypothesized based on the literature.  

KEY RESULT 2: In our model, the amount of time parents spent reading to their child was a statistically significant predictor of scores on the vocabulary comprehension quiz. This relationship was consistent even when controlling for university GPA (F(3, 183) = 4.80, p = 0.003; Figure 1).

KEY RESULT 3: A higher cumulative university GPA was also a significant predictor for improved quiz scores (F(1, 183) = 20.39, p = <0.001; Figure 2).

Molly and I were surprised that reading for pleasure was not a statistically significant indicator of vocabulary comprehension. Molly suggests several possible interpretations:

    • Students choose reading materiel at or below their reading level.
    • If a student’s reading level is low, that might inhibit acquisition of non-content specific collegiate vocabulary.
    • Self reporting is not a precise tool.

What can we do with this information?

  • Early intervention seems to be key to the issue of vocabulary comprehension
  • Collegiate students identified as struggling with non-content specific vocabulary comprehension need interventions as well. Possible interventions include encouraging them to read challenging books outside of class and providing mentor support.
  • This is an interdisciplinary issue that needs to be addressed in every department.

The preliminary results are very interesting and both Molly and I are interested in collecting more data in the future by expanding the background questions asked and surveying both private and public institutions. If you are interested in helping us, contact me at

Do Our A&P Students Know How to Read? PART 1

5 Feb

A message from Valerie Lee, an assistant professor at Southern Adventist University who just started her 6th year of teaching and loves HAPS!

Years ago, I took a graduate level educational class called “Teaching Reading in the Content Area.”  This class was geared toward elementary and secondary schools; I never dreamed the information presented would be relevant to me later as a professor in a college classroom.

I teach a second semester combined Anatomy and Physiology course nearly every term. My students are primarily freshmen planning to pursue programs in Nursing or other Allied Health Fields.  Early in the semester, I tell them this class is like learning a new language.  So, I try to emphasize word roots while pointing out the meanings of Latin prefixes and suffixes.

Even though studious students focus their efforts on memorizing anatomy-specific vocabulary, they surprisingly have difficulty on exams with the meanings of English words that I assume all students know. After seeing a discussion about this issue on the HAPS listserv in December 2015, I realized I wasn’t alone.

Over the course of a few days, A&P professors all over the country added basic vocabulary words their students struggled with to a list I compiled.

Table 1 includes some of the non-content-specific words with which A&P students routinely have trouble.



Table 2 includes many content-specific words that A&P students often confuse.  


Quizzing students on the meanings of these words, on the first day of class, might be an effective tool for encouraging students to assess their current level of preparation and readiness for the course.  

Thinking back to my educational class, I realize this is not a new problem. So, what does the literature have to say about the problem and what steps are suggested to provide solutions to the problem?  Molly Theus, one of my former students and now a first year veterinarian student at UGA, prepared a literature review on the subject. To read Molly’s review, stay tuned for next week’s blog.

HAPS Web 5- The Central Regional Meeting

5 Oct
Eastview High School

Join your fellow HAPSters at the Central Regional Meeting on October 17-18.

It isn’t too late to register for the HAPS Central Regional Meeting on October 17-18 in Minneapolis, MN.  The conference is being held at Eastview High School in Apple Valley, Minnesota and is geared for both college and high school anatomy and physiology educators.  Eastview High School is a large suburban school that has ample space for such a meeting.  The school is close to several hotels, is a 10 minute drive from the Mall of America, and is about a 20 minute drive from the Minneapolis/St. Paul International airport.  Murray Jensen, the HAPS Central Regional Director, is the conference coordinator.

Regional conferences provide an excellent opportunity to re-connect with the HAPS community between the annual conferences, which happen in May.

Featured speakers at the event include:

Dr. Kevin Petti
Anatomia italiana: Art and Anatomy in the Italian Renaissance”

Sponsored by the American Association of Anatomists

Wendy Riggs – Chair of HAPS Communications Committee
“Its Flipping Fun!  Notes on how to flip an A&P class”

Dr. Paul Iaizzo – Director, The Visible Heart Laboratory, University of Minnesota
“Cardiovascular Advances at the University of Minnesota: Past, Present, and Future”

Dr. Arthur G. Erdman
“Development of Medical Devices Using Virtual Prototyping”

Cynthia Clague, Ph.D. – Director, Research & Advanced Technology Medtronic
“Anatomical Foundation of Structural Heart Device Design”

Dr. Jon Jackson
“Anatomy by the Slice: Radiology to bring real human anatomy to any classroom, anywhere.”


For questions, please contact the HAPS Main Office at or 1-800-448-4277.


11- Be Heard!

24 Mar

Even if you DON’T have access to the world’s biggest microphone (!), you can STILL make your voice heard!

I’ve talked about how valuable the HAPS email listserv is  (join HAPS and sign up for the listserv to see for yourself!) and I’ve analyzed WHY the listserv is so valuable.  It comes down to the active engagement of a knowledgeable community.  The APS Archive of Teaching Resources has the tools necessary to facilitate a similarly engaged community.

I noticed this when I was browsing the Archive.  I created an account with them which allows me to personalize my interactions with the archive via a tool called “myAPSarchive.”  This tool shows up on the left side of the website when I sign in, and posts suggestions for things I might like, based on the preferences I set when I registered.  I was delighted to find a collection of resources on “Interactive Lectures” posted there tonight.  Once you have an account, you can create your own collections.  This is a fantastic option for saving a group of resources related to similar topics!  But even if you don’t create your own, it is really fun to explore the collections posted by OTHERS.  I usually find topic-based collections (check out this cool collection on “Diabetes“), but I was excited to find this  collection based on pedagogy.

Here is where I so clearly see the value of the COMMUNITY.  The “Interactive Lectures” collection was rated by 3 people and had earned a total “star” score of 4.7 out of 5 (the rating  asks you how helpful the resource will be for your teaching).  Once you’ve created an account, rating the collections and activities is as simple as clicking on the stars.  And the more people that rate a collection or activity, the more valuable those stars become.  But  you can also comment on the resources at the bottom of the page.  These comments are very helpful and often provide insight into how the resource can be used.  The “Interactive Lectures” collection has two very thoughtful comments.

I think it is important that if we JOIN the archive community, that we also CONTRIBUTE to the community.  It is easy to do…and we HAPSters are good at it!  So be heard!

HAPS Leadership (#13): Central Regional Director

15 Jan

140115 (1) Murray Jensen“Baltimore…somewhere in the 90s.  That was my first HAPS conference.  Since then, I’ve attended most of the annual conferences, served on a few committees, contributed articles to the HAPS-EDucator, and worked on the effort to archive past issues of the HAPS-ED on the APS Teaching Archive.”

I’m talking with Murray Jensen, Central Regional Director for the Human Anatomy & Physiology Society.  He’s telling me about joining the HAPS Board of Directors.

“With the encouragement of John Waters, I put my name on the ballot for the HAPS Central Regional Director.  It’s been a logical step, as I expand my horizons and learn more about HAPS.  Still, the Talking Head’s lyric – ‘How did I get here?’ – comes to mind.”

140115 (2) Talking HeadsHow did your passion for teaching anatomy and physiology begin?

“I started my professional career as a high school science teacher.  I taught everything from 9th grade special education to anatomy and physiology.  Teaching in the chaos of a high school has put most of my future teaching endeavors into perspective.  Ever try to teach 30 spastic, hyperkinetic, vocal, and emotional 9th graders how to use a volumetric flask on a Friday afternoon during the last period of the day?  You can imagine.

 “I currently teach freshman-level anatomy and physiology at the University of Minnesota, but have kept my contact with high schools through a dual enrollment program at the U.  That has allowed me to keep in touch with high school teachers and educate them about the incredible opportunities through HAPS.”

What sort of opportunities?

“My biggest project for that is a HAPS Central Regional Conference that we’re planning for October, 2014.  We’re looking to have it at a nearby high school (Murray is currently in Minneapolis, Minnesota).  At this conference, I hope to attract both regular HAPS members as well as high school A&P teachers.  We’ll have the usual plenary sessions and workshops, but there will also be ample opportunity for high school and college educators to interact and – as we do so well at all of our conferences – share successes and headaches, brainstorm new ideas, and generally have a good time.  If you know of an educator, high school or college, who might be interested, please send them to the HAPS web page to learn more.”

High Hopes for the Semester, part 2

14 Sep
Arrgh!  I hate microscopes!

Arrgh! I hate microscopes!

Microscopy…Arrgh!  It can be a bane for many students.  However, it can also be a gateway for many of them to truly understanding the material if I can only figure out how to help them reach through the fear and trepidation to the actual cool stuff.

It’s been a personal challenge for me for a few years now.  HAPS has been a godsend in helping me with this.  At annual conferences, I keep an eye out for new workshops on histology and microscopy (and I’m never disappointed).  Nina Zanetti‘s always good for an intriguing workshop on using microscopy to teach physiology.  Terry Bidle has a knack for helping make histology more hands-on to students.  Those are the concepts that I’ve tried to take to heart as I (hopefully) improve the histology component of my A&P courses.

Which jar contains the pseudostratified epithelium?

Which jar contains the pseudostratified epithelium?

I’ve tried to create a set of hands-on models that allow my students to see the basic concept of each basic tissue type before we actually look through the microscope.  For the epithelial tissues, I’ve filled small jars with styrofoam peanuts to simulate various epithelia.  In lab, I have 3×5 index cards that describe various locations in the body and the functional aspect of their epithelia, expecting the students to match the cards to the jars.

Can you tell which connective tissue is which?

Which petri best represents fibrocartilage?

For connective, muscle, and nervous tissues, I have created petri dishes with epoxy resin, doll eyes (cells), and other knick knacks.  Again, I have 3×5 cards to describe each tissue and have the students match cards to petris. The important detail, I tell the students, is not to memorize the color of each petri or the “which petri has rubber bands?“, but to understand “what would distinguish elastic tissue from reticular tissue?”  Does that sound familiar?

I see a lot of enthusiasm in the lab and am starting to see more enthusiasm the next day when we dig out the actual scopes and glass slides.  I’m overhearing the students discussing what to look for in each slide (actually figuring out components of the various tissue types).  This appears to be empowering the students; cross your fingers.


19 Jun

Back on May 1st I wrote about professional development and today I would like to expand upon that post and talk to you little bit about the HAPS POGIL project. As some of you may recall one of the leaders of POGIL, Richard Moog, was an update speaker at the Las Vegas conference. HAPS member and newly elected Central Regional Director Murray Jensen of the University of Minnesota also presented several workshops and is facilitating a National Science Foundation grant to develop POGIL worksheets for anatomy and physiology. Once complete and approved as official POGIL worksheets they will be released to HAPS members for one year and then be archived in the APS archives.
This week me, Jon Jackson, Murray Jensen, and about 40 of Murray’s College in the Schools high school teachers have been working to develop more POGIL worksheets. We have been particularly focused on producing laboratory exercises.
There are a lot of exciting things that you can do with POGIL, including partially or completely flipping the classroom. Stay tuned for the release of the approved POGIL activities and development of more. Also if you would like to get involved you can contact myself at or Murray Jensen at
As a reminder these worksheets will be free to HAPS members only. This is just another perk of membership in Human Anatomy and Physiology Society. Below is POGIL facilitator Laura Trout with her class. Laura was kind enough to come to the University of Minnesota this week to help us with POGIL.


HAPS Conference Wrap-up

4 Jun

Hello HAPSters!

photo (1)

It was such a pleasure to meet some of you at the HAPS Conference in Vegas! I’d say it was it a definite success (for me, at least); I had a great time! By far, the HAPS organization is one of the friendliest, most knowledgeable, and distinguished organizations I have encountered, and I feel really honored to have been able to attend the conference and collaborate with you all!

I greatly appreciate those of you who attended my workshop! We came up with some great ideas for how HAPS can help high school teachers be more successful, especially in their first year(s), and I’m really looking forward to seeing those ideas implemented (which has already begun)! There is now a Committee for High School Teachers and we have already started chatting and brainstorming about all the directions and

photo (3)

opportunities our connections with HAPS will take us! Be on the lookout in the near future for more information about how you can help kick-start our group and collaborate with us!

On a separate note, it is with great joy (and maybe just a tinge of sadness) that I tell you it is my LAST week of school! The HAPS Conference was an awesome taste of summer, and now it’s almost here in full force! While I will be teaching summer school, Anatomy and Physiology is not being offered over the summer, so I will be taking a break from blogging for the summer. But not to worry, I’m sure that is not the last you will be seeing/hearing of me! Ha! 🙂

Thank you for reading my blogs and taking an interest in a little ol’ high school teacher in Texas! I look forward to continuing to work with you all in the future and am so excited about the connections I’ve made and knowledge I’ve gained through my first year teaching and through this awesome organization!

Final Project – Research Papers

5 May

As the end draws near, I have finally decided on an end-of-year “project”, of sorts. I have asked my students to create a “Disease Diary” in which they research a disease from each of the body systems we have covered this year. I figure this is a project that will prepare them for many of the things they will do/see/study in college or encounter if they pursue a career in the medical field. Not only is this a summative assessment of their participation in my class, but many of my students do not have experience writing papers (especially not scientific papers) or utilizing peer-reviewed resources to do research; I am hopeful I can guide them through their research and writing to create well-referenced, high quality projects that will prepare them for the many papers and essays they will be required to write in the future. 

On that note, what databases or websites can I suggest my students visit to find peer-reviewed, primary sources that high school students can use to find information about various diseases and disorders? Many of my students are not native English speakers and have a rather limited scientific vocabulary (although I have tried my best to change that!) But if I do not provide specific sites and sources, I am afraid to see what kinds of things they might come up with! 🙂 I have been told before that when in doubt, use the references provided at the end of the wikipedia article, but I am still hesitant to suggest that. When I was in college, we had access to the library’s database of articles and books, but I am not sure what options our high school offers. As far as I know, the research will have to be done entirely through free, public databases. Do any of you have any suggestions or ideas??

And, lastly, what is your biggest “pet-peeve” in your students’ writing? I’d love to ensure I address those little annoyances! 🙂

Thanks for your suggestions!