Let’s Dance

Nine Ladies Dancing

Nine Ladies Dancing (Photo credit: Jonathan_W (@whatie))

Why are the nine ladies in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” dancing?  Maybe they’re trying to improve their grades.  A wealth of research highlights the relationship between movement and learning.  While many K-12 schools have embraced the concept that moving students learn more, instituting “brain breaks” to break up seat time, most college teachers don’t seem to have caught on.

Moreover, getting more exercise in general–often a challenge for busy college students and their teachers–enhances our ability to learn. Take a peek at this short clip from Dnews, which explains how active mice were able to learn more than lazy mice:

I have to remind myself to incorporate movement in my classes.  Some topics, like learning the regions of the body and the motions of muscles, lend themselves to moving around. For more abstract concepts, I need to be more creative. One solution that I used for the topic of cellular respiration led to the finger play that I previously shared in this post.

Have you found a way to get your students dancing? We’d love to hear about it.


Harder Than It Looks

Eight maids a-milking

Eight maids a-milking (Photo credit: FrodoBabbs)

Our kitchen bulletin board has a few choice, yellowing quotes.  My favorite is from the late Helen Rowland:

“Marriage is like twirling a baton, turning handsprings, or eating with chopsticks. It looks easy until you try it.”

We’ve been working on it for 30-odd years, and we still aren’t experts.

I’ve never milked a cow, but I know some folks who’ve tried. Ms. Rowland might have added that to her list of things that look easier than they prove to be when you try them. So receiving a gift of eight maids who’ve proven the art of milking to be an achievable challenge is definitely something of value.
Here’s a quick lesson:

Sometimes students approach a subject like A&P thinking, “How hard can this be?”  After all, the human body has only 206 bones, right? How hard can it be to learn those?  Add a few muscles, the parts of the brain, some biochemistry, a healthy dose of cell physiology, and, well, those same students have a new perspective. Most of them buckle down, hone their study skills, and find that learning about the body, like milking a cow, is a matter of perfecting your technique and logging some practice.

For students of medical history, milkmaids have an honored place. Edward Jenner noticed that milkmaids who had contracted cowpox belonged to a unique group…they were spared the ravages of the feared and deadly smallpox plague.  His  observation ultimately led to the development of vaccination. (The source of the first virus used for vaccination was a cow named Blossom.) The World Health Organization declared smallpox and eradicated disease in 1979. Clearly, those milkmaids were a gift that kept on giving. If you’re intrigued, you can read a very complete version of the story by clicking here.

What Lies Beneath

Today we finish up the avian gifts in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” with the generous offering of seven swans a-swimming. If you’re feeling stressed, take a minute-and-a-half to enjoy these amazing birds:

While the swans appear to glide effortlessly across the water, there is actually a lot of activity going on beneath the surface. A peek at these ducks will illustrate:

Again and again, I’ve had students who appeared to their classmates to glide through A&P, garnering top grades with little effort. Many of these same students have shared with me their sense of frustration at their peers’ naivete. Take Tracy, a quiet, diligent young woman who spoke with a soft Caribbean accent. Because she was so quiet in class, it took her classmates quite awhile to figure out that she was, in fact, the student who was scoring the highest grade on every exam. One day after class, she shared her feelings about this with me, saying something like this:

“Dr. D, I get so tired of people assuming that I learn all this without working hard.  I have four kids, and I can’t even settle down to study most nights until around ten o’clock.  And then I really focus on learning. Where I am from, education is a privilege you have to earn, not something that you’re just given. Some of these people don’t realize what a gift they’re being given.”

Many of my foreign-born students have shared similar points of view. Some older American-born students express regret that they squandered earlier educational opportunities and are determined to make up for lost time.  Like those swans, they are beautiful to behold.

Underneath, they are paddling like mad.  I love them for it.

Goose Eggs

Goose Eggs

Goose Eggs (Photo credit: Chiot’s Run)

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love sent to me: six geese a-laying. What do they lay? Goose eggs, of course.  Goose egg is slang for zero. The phrase traces its origins to the 1860’s, when it was used to indicate a score of zero in a baseball game. Zeros in academia can mean either a terrible performance (“I scored zero on the exam”) or a stellar performance (“I missed zero on the exam!”). Depending on which type of goose eggs are being laid, those geese may be a wonderful or an unwelcome gift.

One unfortunate goose laid golden eggs, and Aesop tells us that this talent ultimately led to her death. I wonder if we are sometimes guilty of “a short-sighted use of an asset that leads to its demise,” as Wikipedia expresses the moral of the fable. Do I try to cram so much information into my students’ heads that they ultimately lose sight of the pleasure of learning? On the other hand, do we risk asking so little of our students, in the name of access and retention, that we no longer offer anything of real value?

Tomorrow we’ll tackle the swimming swans.

Headed to Jared

ringsWe watch a lot of TV football at our house. The ads, clearly targeting a male audience, feature trucks, shaving stuff, and ED remedies. As the holidays approached, there was a surprising uptick in jewelry ads, including several scenarios involving “He went to Jared.” Apparently, the fellas need reminders that ladies like to receive jewelry, although this is hardly a modern concept.

After getting the first four batches of fowl out of the way (only two more to go!), “The Twelve Days of Christmas”  carol finally offers a gift a girl can enjoy without plucking and cooking: not one or two or three or four but five gold rings. While some sources suggest that these represent five ring-necked pheasants, my feather-weary self is sticking with the literal interpretation. Five gold rings are something of value.

Receiving something of value is perhaps the greatest of all the pleasures in learning. And so, on this Christmas Day, here are five golden gifts that I hope my students will receive every day in my classes:

  1. Knowledge that helps them move forward in their careers.
  2. Information that they can use to improve…and perhaps even save…the lives of others.
  3. Critical thinking skills to help them succeed in other classes and in the rest of their lives.
  4. Certainty that mastering even a big subject like A&P is an achievable challenge.
  5. The assurance that knowledge is an endless ocean, and that sailing upon that sea is a lifelong pleasure

I also want to thank my students for “five gold rings” that they give me:

  1. An awareness, however dim, of all the cool pop culture things that younger people know.
  2. Generous, gentle, and encouraging tips for managing technology.
  3. The fun of sharing my enthusiasm for a subject that has fascinated me for as long as I can remember.
  4. Trusting me enough to participate in activities that may be outside their comfort zone.
  5. The joy of getting up every morning with the happy anticipation of doing a job I really love.

Merry Christmas to all my current and former students, to our hardworking and generous contributors, and to all our faithful readers!

Tomorrow: Back to the birds

What Are We Calling Those Four Birds?

four calling birds

four calling birds (Photo credit: happy via)

If you learned the song in modern America, you probably learned to sing “four calling birds” in the fourth stanza of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” But had you learned it in seventeenth-century Britain, you would have sung “four colly (or collie) birds,” meaning birds the color of coal, i.e., blackbirds. Yes, those same unfortunate creatures who were baked into a pie in groups of two dozen.  In my neck of the woods, blackbirds are synonymous with starlings, despised by even dedicated birders. The local starlings roost in vast numbers, creating a serious health hazard with their histoplasomosis-laden droppings. They generate  an annoying racket with their calls, and no one in western Kentucky considers their deafening vocalizations songs. Shotguns and firecrackers are sometimes used to encourage the flocks to move along to another yard.

And this brings me back to my classroom. As a true believer in active learning, I frequently include pair or group work in my classes. As I move around the classroom monitoring a peer tutor or pair/share activity, I’m often surprised and humbled by how well my students explain challenging concepts to one another.  In fact, many of their explanations and analogies have found a place in my own teaching. However, all that chatter can create quite a din. It can be a challenge to redirect the students’ attention when it’s time to move back to lecture or another activity. I use the glitzy little hotel-style bell that I featured in an early post on this very blog.renal3

I suspect that anyone passing in the hallway during one of our active learning sessions might think that I’ve lost control of my class. Nothing could be further from the truth. My little birds are simply calling to one another, helping to make learning an achievable challenge for their comrades and enjoying being part of a group. It almost makes me wonder what the starlings roosting in my woods are chattering about.

Tomorrow: “He went to Jared’s.”

Hens from Elsewhere

Three French Hens At The Louvre

Three French Hens At The Louvre (Photo credit: Cindy97007)

Chanel, Hermes, Dom Perignon, Mont Blanc…many sensual delights trace their origins to France. But chickens? Certainly. When “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was becoming a popular carol, chickens from France were a top-of-the line commodity. The farmers of Normandy bred the world’s finest chickens, like the melodically named Faverolle, Houdan, La Fleche, Marans, and Crevecouer breeds.  Known for their prolific egg production and docile dispositions, these chickens were much sought after by British poultrymen.

The “three French hens” in the popular carol add diversity to the list of gifts in a couple of ways. First, they are the only domesticated fowl in the offerings. More significantly for us, they are the only items whose country of origin is mentioned. Something, or someone, from a far-flung locale can definitely liven up the mix in a gift package or in a classroom.

TA map showing the flags of the world, in equir...eaching on a campus housed on a military installation offers many advantages, including a virtual guarantee of diversity in our classes. I’ve had students from Russia, Italy, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Germany,  Mexico, Poland, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Chile, and many other countries. The U.S. natives are remarkably well-traveled, too, by virtue of their military connections. The discussions of cultural differences in our class could be featured in National Geographic.

Linguistic diversity often provides help in mastering the staggering vocabulary required for A&P. Indeed, some terms only make sense when we understand their etymology. For example, impulses in our nervous system would creep along at a measly 2 meters/second were it not for a nifty trick called “saltatory conduction,” which increases the speed to a dazzling 100 meters/second—very handy for tasks like thinking up a tie-in for these darn French hens…or typing a blog. Want to see it in action?

Students whose first language is English often struggle to remember the name of this hopscotching phenomenon, invariably trying to relate it to the literal meaning of “salt,” as in NaCl. The term is actually derived from the Latin “saltare,” meaning “to dance, leap, or spring.” That makes a lot more sense. Students who are native Spanish speakers typically recognize this immediately as the familiar Spanish word “saltar” (literally, “to leap over”) and speak up to assist their classmates in remembering the term.

More examples may appear in later posts. For now, I’m just glad that my classes include hens…and roosters…of many nationalities…yet another gift that makes learning a pleasure.

Tomorrow:  Those calling…or is it colly?…birds.