My Favorite Guided Inquiry Activity for the First Week of Class: Inside and Outside the Body

We’ve all seen this image, or something quite similar, in chapter 1 of any anatomy & physiology textbook identifying the various barriers, tubes, and cavities of the human body. Although the image is part of the usual collection of introductory topics covered within the first week, courses typically pay it only cursory attention. Over the past few years, I’ve taken this often underappreciated image and used guided inquiry to deepen students’ understanding of what is inside or outside the body.

Model 1. Cavities and Tubes in Humans

What is guided inquiry? Guided inquiry lessons involve two essential components: curricular materials and teaching methods. Curricular materials extend beyond the textbook and must support students in “figuring out” a concept, such as how to determine what is inside or outside the body. Guided inquiry teaching methods are complex and include organizing students into small, cooperative working groups and using questioning to facilitate instruction. Asking students questions guides conversations, promotes deeper thinking, and fosters more accurate understanding (Jensen, 2016.) From an outsider’s perspective, guided inquiry lessons in classrooms may appear chaotic and confusing. It may seem that the students are going down cognitive rabbit holes that are potentially fruitful, but not initially correct. In response, instructors who are new to guided inquiry may want to jump in and correct students as they discuss questions and ideas. However, with experience in these teaching practices, they learn when to step back, let students struggle a bit, and figure things out for themselves, rather than simply telling them the correct answer. Within these moments of struggle exist the true power of guided inquiry as students construct their learning rather than memorizing information provided by an instructor and/or textbook.

Several years ago, while I was lecturing in a junior/senior-level physiology class, my instruction included statements such as “The air in the lungs is outside the body,” and “The contents of your intestines are outside of your body.” Simple stuff, right? Well, no. In fact, several students came up to me after class and said, “We don’t understand this inside and outside stuff. How can the contents of the intestines be outside the body?”

To address these important student misconceptions, the next day I had the class work through a guided inquiry using the “Inside and Outside the Body Activity.” (See the links below for the lesson plan.) In this activity, students examined the inside and outside body model closely to see that the “skin” is not continuous, but rather has breaks or openings for the urinary system, digestive system, etc. While they inspected the model and discussed their ideas with their group members, I guided their inquiry by encouraging them to look very closely at the model and answered student questions with still more questions. As a result, several “a-ha” moments occurred as the students proclaimed, “Now we get it!” and “We should have learned this when we were freshmen!”

These “ah-ha” moments still fascinate me today as an instructor. Recently, I used this guided inquiry lesson in an entry-level physiology class which included quite a few engineering majors. One of the engineering students was so perplexed by this activity that he had to get out of his chair and walk around the room a couple times, repeating, “No way! This cannot be right.” After a bit of thinking and walking, he approached me and asked, “OK, with this definition in place, you can never be inside your house, correct?” What a creative thought!  (And no, I won’t tell you how I answered. I’ll let you engage in that bit of inquiry yourself!)

Ready to try out this inquiry in your classroom? Over the past 10 years, there have been several versions of the “Inside and Outside the Body” guided inquiry activity made available. The first was published in a special edition of the HAPS Educator while a second one was published in CourseSource, both great sources for classroom activities including guided inquiry curricular materials. Considerable background information for this activity can be found in both of those publications. While the current version is newer, it is not necessarily better. Instructors who have worked with guided inquiry for several years frequently have their favorite versions.

I typically use this guided inquiry lesson during the first day of class to facilitate learning inside and outside body concepts. But of course, it could easily be adapted to units on the integumentary, digestive, respiratory systems, and even immunology. Feel free to use, adapt, and share this activity as you wish. As always, if you have suggestions for improvements or would like more guided inquiry activities, please send me an email at

Note: The enclosed version of this activity is not endorsed by any professional organization. 


Jensen, M. (2016).  The HAPS Educator, Summer, 2016, 98-101.  Instructional Strategies for the Active Learning Classroom:  doi: 10.21692/haps.2016.021

Dr. Murray Jensen is a Professor of Biology Teaching and Learning at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Teaching Tips Update

This post is provided by the HAPS Curriculum and Instruction Teaching Tips Review Team

Have you ever wanted to revamp your teaching activities? Needed new ideas to engage students with important curricular concepts or how to pair with formative assessments?! We have an answer for you! The Curriculum & Instruction Teaching Tips subcommittee would like to re-highlight and share our new Teaching Tips improved website and submission process!

Teaching Tips (formally EduSnippets) are available to all HAPS members and are descriptions of learning activities including instructor’s guides and formative assessments. As of January 2022, a new website has been launched that houses all past and current Teaching Tip submissions. This website also uses a new “searchable tool” located at the top of the webpage, which allows easy access to all submitted Teaching Tips by author name, concept, learning objectives, etc. (shown below).

If you search “muscle action” in the keyword search, a new teaching tip created by our very own subcommittee member, Amy Gyorkos, Ph.D., appears which highlights how to teach students to use reason and not recall for learning skeletal muscles! (shown below)

This March, we also published THREE other Teaching Tips with activities involving pelvic vasculature, the urinary system, and plasma membrane transport. Each submission is peer-reviewed by two members of the HAPS C&I Teaching Tips Subcommittee before publishing on the web page.

If you are looking to share one of your teaching activities/assessments, the Teaching Tips submission process has also been overhauled for a streamlined process. To find more information on this process, please visit the teaching tips info page. There you will find “buttons” that allow you to download the Teaching Tip Instructions, and Template used for the submission process. Submission deadlines are January 15, March 15, May 15, July 15, September 15, and November 15. Please submit your Teaching Tip here.

Want to know more about the new submission process? Visit our workshop at the HAPS Annual Conference in Ft. Lauderdale on Sunday, May 29th at 11am EDT.

New Teaching Tips Submission Process

This post is provided by the HAPS Curriculum and Instruction Teaching Tips Review Team

For more than two decades, HAPS members have been sharing Teaching Tips (formerly EduSnippets). These Teaching Tips are descriptions of learning activities that others in the HAPS community may find useful for their own teaching practices. The Teaching Tips often include both instructor’s guides and formative assessments.  They are published on the HAPS Teaching Tips Website, grouped by HAPS Learning Outcomes, and available to all HAPS members. 

We are excited to share with you that the Curriculum and Instruction Committee has recently updated the Teaching Tip format and submission process!

One of the improvements we have made to the HAPS Teaching Tips is a consistent format, including a uniform header, with a brief description (summary abstract of 100 words or less), intended audience, keywords/terms, approximate time for completion, and type of activity (case study, demonstration, discussion, etc.). We hope that this will make it easier to determine if a Teaching Tip might be useful for you and your teaching!  We have also added a *NEW FEATURE* — if the Teaching Tip addresses diversity, equity, and inclusion, if it includes accommodation suggestions for students, and/or if it is adaptable for remote instruction that information will now be directly noted on the Tip’s header.

As a reader, you can expect all Teaching Tips to include student activity pages (i.e. student worksheets, guided problem sets, in-class clinical cases, etc.), a formative assessment with answer key/rubric, as well as a detailed instructor’s guide.  

Submission deadlines for HAPS Teaching Tips are January 15, March 15, May 15, July 15, September 15, and November 15. Each submission will be evaluated by the HAPS C&I Teaching Tips Subcommittee Review Team. Accepted Teaching Tips will appear on the website within six weeks.

We are currently calling on all HAPS community members to consider submitting a Teaching Tip for our upcoming May 15th deadline! Those interested in preparing a submission are invited to review the HAPS Teaching Tips Instructions. Not only are HAPS Teaching Tips peer-reviewed (a great addition to your professional portfolio!), they are also a terrific opportunity to showcase your teaching expertise and be recognized by your professional organization. 

We look forward to reviewing your submission! 

Links to sample Teaching Tips (in the new format):

Pelvic Vasculature Guided Demonstration 

Short Case Study of the Urinary System

C&I Teaching Tips Review Team

Danielle Bentley
Teaching Tips Subcommittee C&I Committee Member 
Assistant Professor, teaching stream Faculty of Medicine University of Toronto
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Abbey Breckling
Teaching Tips Subcommittee C&I Committee Member 
Clinical Instructor Kinesiology & Nutrition Department Anatomy & Cell Biology Department University of Illinois at Chicago 

April R. Hatcher, PhD
Teaching Tips Subcommittee C&I Committee Member
Associate Professor, Anatomy, Embryology, and Histology Department of Neuroscience University of Kentucky Lexington, KY

Jessica Loomis, M.S.
Teaching Tips Subcommittee C&I Committee Member
Professor, Biological Sciences Department of Biology Cincinnati State Technical & Community College Cincinnati, OH

Ellen Krumme, DC, MS
Teaching Tips Subcommittee C&I Committee Member 
Associate Professor in Arts and Sciences Galen College of Nursing, Cincinnati Ohio

Edgar R. Meyer, M.A.T., Ph.D.
Teaching Tips Subcommittee C&I Committee Member
Assistant Professor Department of Neurobiology and Developmental Sciences, Division of Clinical Anatomy, College of Medicine University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Wendy Rappazzo
Teaching Tips Subcommittee C&I Committee Member 
Professor, Biology Harford Community College
Bel Air, MD

Rachel Hopp
Chair of HAPS C&I Committee
Assistant Professor in Biology University of Louisville

Community College Anatomy and Physiology Education Research Program

Community College Anatomy and Physiology Education Research (CAPER) Program: Promoting Change in Classroom Pedagogy to Benefit Students

Active learning is not a new concept within HAPS. Annual conference poster and workshop sessions are chock-full of ideas on how to incorporate more student-centered techniques and personal storiesof faculty experiences with various methods. Nearly all of us likely have active learning terms in our lexicon and the majority of HAPS members would agree we should use such techniques (if not, please see the meta-study by Freeman et al. [1]). Yet an awareness of active learning and its benefit by itself does not necessarily drive change in our classroom practice.  The more change is required, especially when that change is associated with significant effort, possibly even a seismic shift from our past teaching routines, the less likely we are to rush out and try it. And if an instructor is really motivated to find out what most benefits their specific population of students, the thought of developing an actual pedagogical study can seem utterly overwhelming. This is where peer-mentoring and a set timeline can really help. The Community College Anatomy and Physiology Education Research (CAPER) Program is designed to provide the needed support for participating community college instructors.


CAPER is an NSF-funded project, with Murray Jensen (University of MN) as Principal Investigator. CAPER is aimed at supporting community college faculty who are interested in identifying how evidence-based instructional practices (EBIPs) impact the community college student population, a population that has been under-studied in the active learning literature. The current cohort of six participants kicked off the project by participating in the HAPS-I Educational Research course in fall 2018. Their culminating project for the course was an educational research proposal they are implementing this spring. A group of additional active HAPSters also participated as mentors in the HAPS-I course, providing feedback on project proposals and helping as needed.  Kerry Hull, for example, is heading up an interdisciplinary group at Bishop’s University in Ontario, Canada that provides expertise in experimental design, data analysis, and manuscript preparation.

In addition to the studies being conducted by each instructor, all instructors are working with the research team to investigate the impact of EBIPs on reducing student stress and increasing their feelings of academic self-efficacy. If you are attending the meeting in Portland, be sure to check out the CAPER posters, or attend our workshop, to learn more specific details about the project.

Principal Investigators: Murray Jenson, Kerry Hull (BU sub-contract)
Mentors: Ron Gerrits, Betsy Ott, Kyla Ross
Research Support: Heather Lawford, Suzanne Hood
Graduate Students: Laura Seithers, Rob Palmer

[1]   S. Freeman et al., “Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics,” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., vol. 111, no. 23, pp. 8410–8415, Jun. 2014.

image (1)

Submitted by Ron Gerrits on behalf of the CAPER group. Ron Gerrits is a Professor at the Milwaukee School of Engineering where he teaches health-science courses, mainly physiology. His professional interests are science and engineering education. Currently he is one of the mentors on the CAPER project, which includes several HAPSters interested in improving physiology education (which seems to be a group trait of HAPS!).

When Drama in the Lab is a GOOD Thing

This past semester, I had the fortunate experience to have an extra A&P lab session relative to previous semesters. I decided to take a page from my Microbiology courses and find a movie on an A&P topic to show for the last day of lab and (of course) have food. In Microbiology, I have shown the movie Contagion because it allows us to have a discussion on epidemiology and how outbreaks happen. I was looking for a similar movie in the realm of human A&P, so of course I turned to my HAPS friends for suggestions via the HAPS list-serv! Suggestions I received were: Gifted Hands, Extraordinary Measures, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Double Helix, Hawking (chosen for its coverage of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), Fantastic Voyage, Osmosis Jones, and Miss Evers’ Boys.

movie post picture

I finally decided to go with Something the Lord Made, a 2004 film which discusses groundbreaking work on the Tetralogy of Fallot, more commonly referred to as Blue Baby Syndrome (and also known as cyanotic heart disease). It focuses on Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas, whose surgical techniques helped to pioneer modern heart surgery. They first work to recreate the Blue Baby Syndrome in dogs, then learn to alleviate the problem by creating a new duct that shunts much of the subclavian artery’s blood to the pulmonary artery, increasing the oxygenation of this blood. The movie goes into depth on circulation and helps students connect classroom content to real-life applications.

As the (true) story takes place in the 1930s and 1940s, it also allows students to see how things were during the Great Depression and during times of widespread segregation. Since Vivien Thomas is African American, Johns Hopkins University only allows him to be hired as a janitor, and Thomas must enter through a separate entrance. The movie goes on to show how Thomas, through persistence and hard work, rises above the poverty and racism to become a teacher of other surgeons. Although Thomas is never able to go to college, his work with Blalock allows him to become supervisor of surgical laboratories. Later, Johns Hopkins names him an instructor of surgery and bestows on him an honorary doctorate. Thomas’s portrait now hangs in the lobby of the Alfred Blalock Clinical Sciences Building across from that of Alfred Blalock himself.

The students enjoyed the movie, although it took them a while to get pulled into the story. They were shocked by how open the surgical rooms used to be, with a gallery in the room for other doctors to watch. We also discussed the movie’s portrayal of animal research, ethical obligations for physicians, and A&P concepts. Unfortunately, we only had about five minutes for this discussion, since the movie itself took 90 minutes of the two-hour lab period, and I also had to pass out and discuss tests. If I have another “movie day” in the future, I’ll make sure that we don’t have to do anything else that day, so that we can delve more deeply into the movie.

Julia Schmitz.jpg

Julia Schmitz is an Associate Professor of Biology in the Natural Sciences Department at Piedmont College as well as director of their Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). She teaches courses in microbiology, medical microbiology, general biology, and anatomy and physiology. She is a member of the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society, The American Physiological Society, The American Society for Microbiology, and the Association of Biology Laboratory Educators.


Don’t Get All Hyper!

One of the most challenging aspects of anatomy for new students is the specialized terminology. We use these terms so we can communicate effectively. But, achieving this goal requires a shared understanding of standard terms and their meanings.

Last fall, there was a robust discussion on HAPS-L about defining “hyperextension”. In general, the contributors agree that extension increases the angle between segments of a common joint. But, defining hyperextension was trickier.

Some sources define hyperextension by the angle of the joint. However, there is disagreement over whether the “neutral” (normal anatomic) position should be designated as 180° or 0°. Furthermore, in some joints, extension normally exceeds the neutral position. So, an arbitrary limit based on the angle between adjoining bones will be difficult to apply universally.

Another option is to use the basic definition of extension as movement relative to normal anatomic position without reference to specific angles. While this is more practical, it makes the definition of hyperextension more complex. For example, the metatarsophalangeal, talocrural, and acetabulofemoral joints all normally extend past NAP.

At a minimum, the definition is in the name:  ‘hyper’ means ‘beyond’ or ‘over’, so generally, it is extension beyond the normal range of motion. However, even that definition has its own difficulties. Consider for example the degree of back or hip extension in this contortionist…


…this range of motion is far beyond what any of us would consider normal (or even desirable), but it is quite within the “normal” range for individuals trained for this activity.

Less extreme examples of “enhanced” extension can occur in cases of general ligamentous laxity and or of variations in joint surfaces that result in being able to extend (and in some cases, flex or rotate) beyond the range we have defined as normal. Elite athletes and other performers may often produce movements that exceed the textbook descriptions of “normal” ranges of motion.


After teaching A&P within and among several programs and majors, I have found that different disciplines often “flavor” terminology to highlight the issues most relevant to their professional concerns. For example, students of athletic performance or rehabilitation are concerned with the potential or actual injuries that often occur with hyperextension. However, even though hyperextension can cause injuries, as the examples above indicate, injury is not always the result.

The one element that all definitions have in common is that hyperextension is extending beyond the normal ROM. So, if we agree that this concept is essential to the general definition, we have a minimal standard of reference in the commonality in how the concept is expressed. Borrowing a page from C.S. Lewis, let’s call this “mere hyperextension”.

For “mere hyperextension”, we take the literal meanings of the prefix and root: hyper means “above” or “beyond” and “extension” is the movement of the joint in a way that increases the angle between structures on opposite sides of the joint. Thus, hyperextension would be extension beyond the usual anatomic range of motion.


Andrew Petto recently retired as Distinguished Lecturer Emeritus from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee where he taught anatomy and physiology beginning in 2004. He began teaching human anatomy and physiology (to mortuary students) in 1989, and has since taught A&P to massage therapists, dancers, physical therapists, nurses, and herds of undergraduates at UWM, His PhD is in Biological Anthropology (comparative functional morphology) with post-doctoral studies in primate behavioral biology at Harvard Medical School (NERPRC) and in primate ecology in the Department of Anthropology at UW-Madison, supplemented by graduate studies in curriculum and instruction at Drexel University. His latest book, Human Structure and Function—an interactive textbook for students outside the sciences—was published by Tophat in 2017. His next book, Humans, is a collaboration with Alice Beck Kehoe of an introductory textbook on our species

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.

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.

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.


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

For most instructors, the Fall term brings a fresh start with our courses. It also tends to bring a sense of feeling overwhelmed with all the things we could be doing. As much as I enjoy and look forward to the HAPS annual conference every year, I usually leave filled with motivation and self-doubt in equal measure. It is all too easy to forget that every university, college, and department will vary, whether in funding, faculty to student ratio, program focus, or appreciation for quality A&P education. Many of us simply cannot execute a number of the innovations we see at HAPS. Some activities require a great deal of extra work on top of our already full plates, and at the end of the day, we can’t quite motivate ourselves to go those extra miles. Could there be a middle ground?

Over the summer, I was making a long list of new strategies to try in my courses, both in and out of class. Shamefully, I was “multitasking”,  watching “The Crown” on Netflix at the same time. In the episode I was watching, the queen was feeling overwhelmed by criticism, and unsure how to address it to regain public favor. In an unprecedented move, she met with an outspoken critic to hear his thoughts on the public image of the monarchy. To keep things simple, he suggested “three things to start, and three things to stop.” Perhaps it is my obsession with British history, or maybe it was just what I needed to hear at that moment, but for whatever reason, I stopped writing my list. I realized that if I did all of the things I listed, I would never know what actually worked and didn’t work well in my class. I threw out that list, and pulled out two fresh pieces of paper. After some non-distracted reflection I wrote three things to start and three things to stop on each of these papers. Since I’ve always been the “bad news first” type, in this post, I share my three things to stop.

My Three Things to Stop:

It’s in the syllabus” and other associated phrases

I have to admit, I never said these phrases often at all, but I’ve decided that they are all officially on my do not say list. Jokes, sarcasm and a variety of venting sessions abound in academia about this topic. We are easily frustrated when students bombard us with questions that we have already answered (often in obvious places), or questions they could have easily answered for themselves with a little effort. Other tempting phrases include; “as I said earlier”, “per my email”, or anything else referencing the fact that students should already know the answer to the question, or could easily find it. I encourage all teachers to take a moment to ask yourself four questions, before hitting that reply button:

  1. What harm does it really do to just answer their question?
  2. is using one of my phrases just going to embarrass them?
  3. Will it take me just as long to respond that they should have already known the answer, as it will to answer the question
  4. Honestly, how often do carefully read directions?

I think if we are honest with ourselves, this simply stems from annoyance that we wasted our own precious time on something that was either unnoticed or ignored by the students. Or, perhaps this triggers a fear of what other questions are to come and an immediate assumption that the students will struggle in the class if they are this “helpless” already. This is making assumptions we have no business making. Instead, answer their question and simply add, “if you need more information later and I am unavailable….” while referring them to whatever they should have read in the first place. They’ll get the message and won’t be afraid to approach you again.

The candy shop effect

When treating a condition, the best course of action is to add one new medication or make one change at a time, see the effects, and gradually add another. Otherwise, any changes to your well-being cannot be attributed to any one new variable. The challenge I face every fall is wanting to add everything I think will help my students. While this sounds fine at face value, there are pitfalls. First, exhaustion on my part! Second, the risk of overwhelming my students. Third, I cannot attribute any changes in my students’ outcomes directly to one, or a combination of the changes I made. For example, in the 2017 school year, we decided to add weekly quizzes for retrieval practice that were open book, 2 attempts, highest grade kept. This year, we are also adding an adaptive reading assignment to increase metacognition. By waiting a year and doing the quizzes first, we will be able to see if that made a difference and if there is a need for any more retrieval practice. In an effort to remain a reflective teacher I will examine if these changes made any meaningful difference, or if they were just more work in a student’s already very demanding schedule.

“Just being grateful”

Just being grateful to have your job goes by many names. More and more often, it is being called by its true name: Impostor Syndrome. In the past year, I have seen more and more instructors in the A&P field be vocal about this. One of my favorite HAPS moments of 2018 was during the Women in Anatomy panel, when an attendee asked (the one and only) Dee Silverthorn, “How did you deal with impostor syndrome?” and her response was “stay tuned” (or something to that effect). The rest of the panel then chimed in that this is a very real feeling, no matter what stage you are at in your career. In all of my work positions, I spent years not standing up for what I felt was best, or changes that should be made, because I thought I needed to just be agreeable. I was afraid to rock the boat because I was just “so grateful” to have my job. In truth, I am very grateful, but not that someone gave me a job; I am grateful that in all my years of teaching I have never questioned whether or not I’m doing exactly what I’m meant to do with my life. However, my “just so grateful” attitude was conveying that I didn’t believe I deserved or earned every opportunity I had. We all have to be our own biggest advocates. While external validation and recognition feel wonderful, at the end of the day, if we don’t own our accomplishments, who will?

Fellow A&P educators, I urge you to consider this exercise, especially if you are feeling like work-life balance is always out of reach or you’re never quite sure if your actions and outcomes line up. It might help you become a more balanced educator, family member, and friend. Your three things to start and stop will certainly vary, but feel free to steal mine! The most important thing is that the “three things to stop” addresses the behaviors you do or choices you make that most often that lead to undesirable outcomes. Be on the lookout for the next post, “three things to start”!


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.