In Search of the Core Principles of Human Anatomy

A message from HAPS Central Regional Director, Murray Jensen.
A message from HAPS Central Regional Director, Murray Jensen.

HAPSters spend a lot of time discussing the teaching and learning of anatomy and physiology.  Check out this post from long time HAPSter and Central Regional Director, Murray Jensen.  Murray is trying to generate a bit of controversy about teaching anatomy and long hot lists that we require our students to memorize.  Just how important are all those names and structures?  Look forward to a retort from graduate student Bradley Barger next week.

After 25 years of teaching entry-level anatomy and physiology, I can safely say that I’ve begun to figure a few things out – like the importance of setting high expectations on the first day of class; you have to scare the kids a bit.  All HAPSters know that one.  Another thing I’ve begun to figure out is how to teach human physiology.  This is in large part due to the work of Joel Michael and his group who identified the core principals of physiology  (http://advan.physiology.org/content/33/1/10).    Energy flow, homeostasis, and a few other concepts set the stage for pretty much every topic in physiology.   I use Michael’s core principals to design my course, write curriculum, generate exam questions, etc.  It’s a powerful tool for those of us who teach entry-level physiology. Required Structures ListI also teach basic human anatomy, and after 25 years and a couple thousand students, I can say with confidence that I really don’t know what I’m doing.  I remember vividly the first human A & P course I taught.  Skeletal system .. skull anatomy…hmmm…what structures should be on the hot list?  Ethmoid? Of course. Sphenoid? Obviously.  How about the foramen spinosum?  Should that be on the list? To facilitate the decision process I used Rule One of Teaching – you teach the way you’ve been taught.  In deciding what structures to include on my own hot list, I simply went back to the notes I used as a student, “What did Dr. Ivan Johnson make me learn?” Turns out Dr. Johnson indeed had me learn the foramen spinosum; therefore it must be important, and so it went on my very first hot list for skull anatomy.   Twenty-five years later I still have my students learn the foramen spinosum.  Why?  The best I can do is “because I had to do it!” Blindly following Rule One is not professional.  I would like to do better.  Joel Michael’s core principles greatly improved my ability to teach physiology – his work established an epistemological foundation for physiology education.  Now when a student asks “why do we have to learn about vasopressin?” I can confidently answer that it fits into the bigger picture of how the body works, and vasopressin’s role in the homeostasis of sodium, water, and blood pressure.  Much, much more satisfying than responding, “Well…I had to learn it!” or even worse “Because it will be on the exam.” In the past few years I’ve been pushing my anatomy colleagues for answers.  What should kids learn about anatomy in my entry-level course? What should they learn first?  If a student wants a career in anatomy, what are the themes? What’s at the foundation of a conceptual understanding of human anatomy?  We’ve had some good beginning ideas: orientation, cavities, medical terminology, liquids and solids, layers have promise.  But there is nothing official at this stage – just some good conversations.  And nothing that helps me figure out if I should include the foramen spinosum on the hot list. Identifying the core principles of anatomy is a worthy quest, and HAPS leadership is looking into starting a task force to get things moving.  I’ve been working with Bradley Barger, PhD candidate in Anatomy and Cell Biology at Indiana University, and we’ll be hosting a workshop at San Antonio for others interested in the project. In pondering the task ahead, I think I’ve identified a significant question, but some background is needed first.  Dr. Ernest Rutherford, Nobel Prize winning physicist from way back, has a quote, “All science is either physics or stamp collecting.” I think Rutherford is correct – everything in science boils down to physics.  When teaching human physiology and thinking about Michael’s core principals, I see physics (e.g., diffusion, pumps, gradients, barriers, energy).  If students can comprehend some basic physics, then they can make some good strides toward understanding human physiology. My big question: Is there any physics in anatomy?   At this time I don’t see any physics.  I see terminology, orientation, embryology, and sometimes even design (gasp!) – but I don’t see physics. Disagree?  Disagree strongly? Well…make a list of your own core principles of human anatomy and come to the workshop in San Antonio.  Help me figure out if I should keep the foramen spinosum on my hot list.

Meet Becca!

HAPS is a society focused on the teaching and learning anatomy and physiology, but educators are just half of this equation.  We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for our students.  So welcome to a new series of HAPS blog posts featuring A&P student extraordinaire, Becca Ludwig.  

A message from Becca!
A post from Becca!

I have been a student for a solid 17 years if you count from the day when I first stepped into my kindergarten class in 1998 to the time I walk across the stage with my Occupational Therapy degree in 2015. This is my last semester of coursework in my program before I go off into the big world to practice the art of Occupational Therapy. This holds some bitter sweet feelings for me. I love the idea of being a professional and making and impact on my clients’ lives, but I also love being a student and learning new things.

I have been a member of HAPS for a year now and have come to appreciate the professor’s side of the educational process. What you guys do is not easy. Over the course of the semester I will be writing a short series of posts about the student perspective on common things related to college life. This is a chance for you HAPSters to get inside of the student mind….

WARNING: It may be a scary place!

Note I am not the typical student…… or person for that matter, but I will try my best to explain the student perspective.

It's all good!

HAPS News: Primal Pictures-HAPS Scholarship Nominations DUE 2/3/15

A message from the ComCom
A message from the ComCom

In every class, there is at least one student who simply stands out from the rest.  S/he is enthusiastic, motivated, bright, and just gets fired up by learning about Anatomy and Physiology.  S/he is authentically interested in what you have to say and treats the learning experiences you offer as the amazing opportunities they really are.  These rare students often fuel you through each semester, and they truly make teaching the incredibly rewarding profession it is.

HAPS not only values its teaching members, but it values the students who HAPS-PP2-2inspire and fuel these fantastic teachers.  So if you have (or had) a student this year (2014-15) who is particularly exceptional, consider nominating her/him for the Primal Pictures-HAPS Scholarship.

The goal of this scholarship is to promote excellence in anatomy and physiology, encourage innovation and celebrate learning.  The winning student will receive a cash award of $1000, free entry to the Annual Conference in San Antonio, and up to $1100 for reimbursement of travel expenses.

Please consider nominating one of your best students for this award.

NOMINATIONS ARE DUE BY TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 3rd.

Instructors who nominate students must:
  • be teaching at an accredited institution in the US or Canada
  • have at least two years of Human A&P or Human Biology (broadly defined) teaching experience
  • have direct knowledge of the student being nominated and be able to explain why the nominee deserves this award.
Nominated undergraduate student must be:
  • a degree-seeking student enrolled full-time at an accredited higher education institution in the US or Canada during the 2014-2015 academic year
  • enrolled in at least one Human A&P or Human Biology course in the 2014-2015 academic year
  • a person who would benefit from attending the HAPS Annual Conference

Award recipients will receive their award at the HAPS Membership Meeting on May 25, 2015 and must be present to receive the award.