It Was Colonel Mustard…in the Anatomy Lab…with a Knife!

Maria Montessori had it right: “The senses, being explorers of the world, open the way to knowledge…”  She must have read Sophocles, who had much earlier opined: “One must learn by doing the thing, for though you think you know it—you have no certainty until you try.”   So it is in anatomy class.  My first-day students listen with rapt attention, nodding, appearing to drink in every one of my golden words, scribbling notes about my fabulous slides, mastering new ideas as they flow through the air.  Not/so/much.

Hearing and vision are handy tools to have, but they are not the only tools we have. We all know that the more active the learning, the better the retention.  So: a little surprise, a little humor, a little team-building….and a little playing with the toys. Anatomy is, in many ways, a foreign language class, and the immersion begins on Day 1.  Here is the picture from my wonderful text, Marieb’s Human Anatomy and Physiology, 9e (Pearson):

Nicely rendered, very accurate, completely informative.  After zipping through that, I pass out copies of ESPN the Magazine: The Body Issue, which features gorgeous nude (gasp!) photos of top athletes.  We all love to play with stickers, so I distribute some brightly colored arrows and instruct, “Choose a photo that you like.  Then make a quiz for 5 of the trickiest new terms for your learning partner by applying the arrows to the beautiful people.”  Like this:

Next, Play-Doh time.  Our nursing faculty has told me that their students have trouble understanding the different sections, or slices, of the body when they see them in their texts.  I have each member of my class fashion a little clay person (mine always looks like a log).  I caution that the person should not be so adorable that they become attached to it.  Because……we grab our plastic knives and slash them up!  Sagittal, split their skulls.  Transverse, chop through the waist.  And so on.  We follow up with a scavenger hunt through the illustrations in the book and the anatomical models that crowd our lab.  Mission (usually) accomplished.

We have had a good day.  Students have talked to one another.  We have laughed together.  And they learned something.  They usually come in the next day sharing what they told their friends and family about the class.  In their minds, it has become an achievable challenge.



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