Classhack: PicCollage

As we’ve noted before, people love stickers. My students get a kick from little smilies on quizzes and fancier 3-D or scented stickers on exams. Everyone in A&P is addicted to applying the colorful sticky “sign here” arrows to models and illustrations for labs and study groups. And, of course, my students love using their tech gadgets, especially their fancy phones.

If you combine cool stickers and fancy phones, what do you get? PicCollage.

Danielle Pleas, a delightful and diligent student who enjoys helping her classmates, has mastered the art of microphotography using her cell phone. After capturing shots of assigned slides through the microscope, she uses the PicCollage app to label pertinent features, then shares them with the members of her study group.

Here are some samples of her work:


PicCollage is available free for iOS at the App store and for Android on GooglePlay. Learn more at or view their blog at

Can you imagine a way to use this cool app in your discipline? Why not pose it as a challenge to your students?






Classhack: CrashCourse

hankandjohnIf Hank Green, the host of the CrashCourse series of science  and psychology videos, reminds you of someone, it’s probably his brother John Green. And if John Green sounds familiar, it’s because he’s become famous (and probably rich) as the author of The Fault in Our Stars, one of our Literatzi reads and now a major motion picture. John is also the host of a series of mental_floss videos on YouTube. John hosts the history and English episodes of the series. These two are perhaps the coolest real geeks on the planet, as the gang on Big Bang is, sadly, fictional.

My students are crazy for CrashCourse. After experimenting with different methods of incorporating them into my A&P classes, I’ve come up with these tips:

  • Offer just a taste. The videos are a bit long to view in their entirety. Preview and select a tantalizing point to cut the show. It works best if you literally stop mid-sentence with a cheery, “Well, that’s all we have time for now…” Someone invariably asks that I post the URL.
  • Preview to make sure you’re comfortable with the content and language. These aren’t kiddie videos, but then, my students aren’t kids. The shows that stroll right up to the edge of inappropriate seem to catch my students’ attention best. (See “That’s Why Carbon Is a Tramp” below…an all-time favorite.
  • Use sparingly. Yes, I know the episodes are all great, but a treat offered every day is soon a treat no longer. Actually, this may be on one of the psychology shows. Acclimation? Interested students will soon explore on their own, directing their fellows and you to the choicest fruits.
  • Teach the concept yourself first. These guys talk fast. Students respond well to affirming knowledge they’ve just gained, but the pace is too quick for initial comprehension. CrashCourse is better for reinforcement.
  • Resist the urge to buy a Jeep Cherokee unless you actually need or want one. We just bought a car, and YouTube thinks I’m still shopping and really wants me to buy a Cherokee. Sorry, no dice. But watching the ad is a small price to pay for these goodies.

I’ve included a sampling below.  Just click and taste something for your discipline, or go to YouTube to find lots more. Really, these offer learning pleasure on a platter.

Here’s Hank with the intro to A&P:

Here Hank offers  the wonderful trampy carbon:

John on why we read:

John on history:

Hank introduces psychology:

Finally, just for Pat, Hank on stats:




Let’s Have some PIE

karenRight up front, I plead guilty to poaching. My crime is even more serious because I’ve poached these ideas from my dear pastor, Reverend Paige Williams. Last Sunday, she introduced her homily by noting that Americans’ taste in television shows has markedly changed during the last few decades. In the early years of TV, the most popular shows were soap operas. Americans apparently enjoyed peeking into the secret lives of others, albeit fictional others. Later, talk shows became more popular. We wanted to see real people, or at least people purported to be real, interacting with hosts on shows like Mike Douglas or Jerry Springer.mikedouglas-john-yoko

Currently, reality TV—a misnomer if ever there was one—offers an even more “authentic” experience for the viewer, as we watch people survive a hostile environment, cook gourmet meals, dance,  lose weight, or become pop stars before our very eyes. If the challenges involve duplicity between participants, snarky comments from judges, and emotional outbursts, so much the better. Best of all are the shows that let us, the viewers, determine the outcome of a competition by voting. We’re no longer content to sit and watch.

Rev. Williams noted that we now have an expectation of participation, and drew a very nice parallel between the mundane experience of watching TV and our spiritual lives. Leaving the theology in her expert hands, I’ll focus on how her mnemonic—P-I-E—can help us structure classes that enhance our students’ learning while offering a more pleasurable learning experience.

Apple Pie Slice 2P is for Participation. Once upon a time, class participation meant raising your hand to answer a question or offer a comment during discussion. That’s a start, but a great class will offer students a way to solve a problem. Better yet, we can allow learners to help other students in the class master a concept. Sitting and listening to me hold forth for two hours is no one’s idea of fun. When I get out of the way and give my students the chance to teach one another, the energy in the room goes way, way up.

I is for Interaction. For some teachers, asking, “Does anyone have any questions about what I just covered?” constitutes an invitation to interaction. But really, how often does anyone take us up on that? Pausing to present a question for students to answer is an improvement, as it may elicit more response. But not all interaction has to happen within the classroom. I use an online learning platform that requires students to complete out-of-class assignments that emphasize material that has just been covered in class. These assignments include drag-and-drop exercises and videos coupled with questions that provide  instant feedback. The digital homework and reading assignments provide personal interaction with the information, allowing even the most timid or insecure students to interact at their own pace.Students study in the libraries collaborative learning center.

E is for Experiential. OK, I’ll admit that this is a dunk shot for anatomy & physiology teachers. “Here, hold this model…Let’s cut this up!… Look at this microscope slide….Type this blood sample.”  We have an almost unlimited array of activities that invite learners to experience the concepts we’re teaching. The wonderful frontal cortex, which allows us to imagine events without actually having to experience them personally, allows me to provide stories of real people who have had problems with the parts of the body we’re learning about. Vicariously experiencing the challenges confronting the parent of a sick child helps to make the material more relevant while introducing an emotional element that may enhance memory.

I’m not at all sure that I’m a better person for having been to church last Sunday, but Paige’s sermon may have helped me to be a better teacher.

Give Me One Good Reason

karenLong ago, as my comrades and I plowed through the mountain of work that was medical school, we sometimes wondered just how tall four years’ worth of books, notes, journals, and patient charts would be if we could view it all in a heap. It was probably a good thing we couldn’t see it. Most of that material didn’t really stick with me at the time. Oh, I learned enough to pass the required exams and boards, but most of that knowledge floated near the surface of my brain, and a lot of it floated off fairly quickly.

Later,  I had real patients, people who were depending on me to figure out what was wrong with them and what to do about it. The abstract knowledge acquired during training helped me to know where to go for answers. Common and obscure diseases suddenly had faces attached to them, and that made learning more fascinating and important than ever before. Few things are more pleasurable than using knowledge to help another person.

My students are usually at the very beginning of their journeys to become health care providers.  They are eager and interested, but also easily overwhelmed and dismayed (as I was) by the depth and breadth of what they must learn. overwhelmedI began to wonder if attaching a “face” or a real medical task to the content of courses in anatomy and physiology might offer a more pleasurable and profitable experience for my learners.

Of course, this sounded like work. Where will I get these vignettes? How will I present them? How will I know if this strategy works? Some of these questions remain to be answered, but I’m off to a good start. And students seem to be responding. elbowsplingThe first chapter of A&P I deals with the language of anatomy, especially directional and regional terms. I needed something that would help my novices feel a bit like “insiders” without overwhelming them.  As I perused descriptions of medical procedures, I rejected most as overwhelmingly complex for beginners (appendectomy) or too gruesome (amputation). I finally settled on a set of directions for applying a plaster elbow splint.  Students were quick to pick out terms they had just learned: proximal, distal, ulnar, radial, and so on. The exercise seemed to convince them that terminology is worth learning.

A&P II begins with the endocrine system.  My “virtual larder” already contained a very detailed newspaper story about a young woman living with a recurrent pituitary tumor that profoundly affects her life.  The article uses everyday English to explain these problems in some detail without using anatomic language. After a few days of learning endocrine anatomy and physiology, my students were able to identify the structures and hormones involved. Applying their newly minted knowledge to a real person’s problems made learning more pleasurable and, I hope, more lasting.pituitary_gland

Next week this class will study the reproductive system. Students are usually very interested in the topic, asking lots of questions and sometimes sharing too much information. I plan to find a good story about a couple facing fertility evaluation and treatment to enhance our discussion.  First semester students will soon be studying cell physiology.  I’ve found a compelling video about a teen with progeria, and that should help students connect cell structure and protein synthesis to a very interesting but heartbreaking problem.

I’m not sure how far I’ll get with this project this term, but I know that I’m learning a lot as I search for and edit these stories.  Meeting an achievable challenge is a pleasure in learning for the teacher, too.


Are We Leading with the Wrong Stuff?

karenWhile visiting Florida this summer, I leafed through the January 2014 issue of Spacecoast Business, which I found in my mailbox addressed to “Resident.”  I enjoyed reading “A Lesson in Sales…From a Mouse that Lives in a Castle” by Scott Brazdo, co-founder of Brazdo first recounts his experience at a wellness organization where employees fielded phone calls that began with questions about the cost of membership. When the prospective client heard the fee, the call usually ended abruptly. Brazdo suggests that describing the benefits of membership before discussing cost helps consumers make a more informed decision about value vs. cost, helping to meet their needs while also maximizing growth of the company.SCB-Jan13-Contents-123012

So what does this marketing guru offer us as college teachers? After all, shouldn’t students come to us thirsting, indeed practically begging, for the knowledge and skills that we may deign to impart? Well, not so much. Obviously, the administrative folks at our college want to preserve enrollment—that’s a big part of their jobs, and part of ours as well. And it’s critical to teachers that our students “purchase” a full basket of skills and knowledge from our classes. That’s where Brazdo may offer us some real help.

The most persuasive part of Brazdo’s argument reads:

“Imagine you had no clue what Disney World was. You had no idea what a magical, fairytale experience it creates for children and their families. Suppose I told you that you would spend $5,000 to enjoy a week in the middle of the Florida swamp, in 99-degree weather with 99 percent humidity, to see a five-foot mouse that lives in a castlemickey-mouse

You would tell me I was completely INSANE, because you don’t yet understand the value of Disney World. It is our job as business owners to make sure that we are educating our customers so that we can give them the absolute best service possible and meet and exceed all of their needs.”

As I’m preparing my class syllabi and welcoming my students, I plan to focus on the benefits of what I offer before detailing the costs. Oh, sure, my syllabus has competencies and learning objectives and an outline, but I haven’t really listed the benefits of completing BIO 137:

  • Essential foundation of knowledge for subsequent health-care courses, saving time and effort later on
  • Vocabulary and understanding of the body that will help make you a more informed advocate for your own health and the health of those you love
  • Practice in organizing and mastering a huge body of information in a short time (with lots of helpful tips from me, of course!)
  • A peek into God’s own workshop…or, if you prefer, a chance to see how the “magic trick” of human life is performed, something most people never really appreciate

drAnd that’s just for starters.

Make no mistake, I WILL cover the “cost”….classes to attend, pages to read, assignments to complete, labs to perform, exams to be taken. Still, my students are not apt to buy if I haven’t persuaded them that what I’m selling has real value.

To fully enjoy Scott Brazdo’s brief article, click here.


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.

Super Site of the Week: Smithsonian

I’m not sure how we’ve missed this one, but I’m certainly glad to have found it. Last week mental_floss magazine’s website featured a post, “5 Cool Things We Learned from The Incredible Bionic Man.”  The piece included a link to the Smithsonian Channel’s 46-minute video, which is truly, well, incredible.  Since I was already at the page, I snooped a bit for items related to my subject area, anatomy & physiology.


Right away, I found a biotechnology article on the making of Humulin, the synthetic form of human insulin. A link on that page led to a piece about the advent of synthetic growth hormone, and the strange and tragic situation that necessitated its creation.  Honestly, today in class, I had shared that story with my second-semester students.  I’m not sure they believed me, but now I have some very accessible and readable proof.

Of course, the Smithsonian literally has something for everyone, no matter what subject or grade level you teach.  There are also many links to outside resources. I click, click, clicked my way to a story about the world’s largest eyeball which belongs to the giant squid. I plan to go back for a visit to “Seriously Amazing,” which tests your “SI-Q” in a quiz format.

This is a site no proudly self-proclaimed geek should miss. Start your tour at Smithsonian.