Questions to Spark Interest and Creativity in A&P

The question can be more important than the answer…. at least if it is a question that motivates a student to find an answer.  Learning nomenclature can be dull, there is no doubt but if questions involve more than pure fact, perhaps even a little imagination, the learner might just find things to be interested in where there was no prior interest.

Giving students some unusual questions to answer about A&P topics might engage them creatively and help them make connections that they will remember and build on.  Try some of these questions in class, as extra credit on quizzes or to start students off making concept maps or mind maps.

The ‘it’ in the questions is the organ, tissue, pathway, process, physical concept or cell in study.

1) Could I live without it?  If not – how long would it take to die?  Would it hurt?

2) Is it at all involved in sex?

3) Can I palpate it, auscultate it, smell it or sense it in any other way?

4) Is it something we eat from animals or something we remove in the butchering process?

5) Does it (or any part of it) come in ___________ (enter favorite color here)?

6) What do we NOT understand about this?

7) Is this self-directed or automatic?  In other words, do I have to think about making this happen?

8) How would you phrase admiration of a good example or fine specimen of this in another person?

9) What celebrity would you choose to endorse better understanding of this and why?

10) What could you substitute for this and why?  (It’s all right to be whimsical or imaginative.)

11) Can you think of a piece of equipment or a process from sports or the arts that is similar?


Concept Mapping & Mind Mapping in A&P

Help your students cast a net for enhanced learning by stringing ideas together into a network of connections and explanation.  Both concept maps and mind maps are like graphic organizers but they emphasize much more inter-connectedness between the ideas and explanations portrayed.  There is a simple and on-going exercise for using these tools in your classroom at the end of this post.
Concept Mapping
“Concept maps are tools for organizing and representing knowledge. They include concepts, usually enclosed in circles or boxes of some type, and relationships between concepts or propositions, (indicated by a connecting line and linking word) between two concepts. Linking words on the line specify the relationship between the two concepts. Joe Novak defines “concept” as a perceived regularity in events or objects, or records of events or objects, designated by a label.”  Read more….
(Excerpted, rearranged (and annotated) from an online manuscript by Joseph D. Novak, Cornell University.)
Mind Mapping
Mind mapping is very similar but does not direct the maker to label the lines or connections between mapped items.  In that regard, I think concept mapping is more helpful to a student in learning or understanding concepts while mind mapping may be a more freeing and creative exercise, which can help some students get the ball rolling with learning to make new connections.
Examples of mind maps from a science perspective and other links about mind mapping…
This is a journal paper about using concept maps in the science classroom.
Stringing or Linking a Semester Worth of Learning Onto a Poster Board
Start the semester by providing an avenue for progressive concept mapping.  Place poster boards around the room with concepts central to A&P at the center of each poster board.  These will become collaborative mind or concept maps with students (and you) adding on as the semester progresses.  Use concepts like osmosis, acid-base balance, homeostasis, stress, automaticity, threshold, healing, protection or action potential as the themes for each map.  Allow students to add to these posters as the semester progresses.  Then when there is a lot of material present, you can have groups work together to re-arrange what is present with greater connectivity and organization in mind.

Preparing to Think: Pre-learning Activity

From the University of Virginia Magazine:

Costly Cartoons? : Fast-paced shows hurt kids’ executive functions, study shows.

The cartoon SpongeBob Square Pants rules the roost as the most popular television show for children between the ages of 2 and 12.  But the program’s undersea mayhem may come at a cost.
A study by two U.Va. researchers concluded that fast-paced, fantastical shows are not the best things for children to watch if they need to pay attention, solve problems or moderate their behavior after watching.
Those abilities, called executive functions, seemed to be impaired among 4-year-olds after watching nine minutes of SpongeBob SquarePants. That’s when compared with similar study groups: one that watched Caillou, a slower-paced, public television show, and another that spent nine minutes quietly drawing.
Immediately after the activities, 15 percent of the children who watched SpongeBob were able to pass a problem-solving task, compared with 35 percent of the Caillou watchers and 70 percent of those who drew.
Lead investigator Angeline Lillard, a psychology professor at U.Va., says the results show such TV programs may handicap youngster’s readiness for learning.  But the results don’t warrant conclusions that fast-paced shows can ‘harm children’s brains,” as suggested in a Bloomberg news agency story.
“If a child has watched a television show that has reduced their executive function, you can’t expect them to behave at their normal level,”  Lillard says.
“We don’t know what the long-range impact is of watching shows like this on a consistent basis.  But what we’re seeing over the short term is a disruption in executive function,” she says.

Now I don’t want to extrapolate this data on the behavior of 4 year olds to your students whose ages possibly range from 17 – 60(?), but you have to admit that 70% number is intriguing.  Why not ask your students to take just a few minutes to draw something or write a few questions down at the beginning of class or lab.  It might get them in the groove for problem solving and succeeding in A&P!

Mindfulness & Meditation as Thinking Tools

It seems to me that the world becomes less and less conducive to quiet thought or insight… activities that can only aid a student studying complex physiological processes (or anything for that matter).  Your students are juggling a lot of input, much of which is presented with lots of bells and whistles.  The young ones have the impediments of inexperience, their likely position within Maslow’s Hierarchy or within Erikson’s Stages of development.   Certainly the impact of meditation on physiology is interesting (
Minding The Body
An exercise for your students follows this excerpt from an article.”
From: “Q&A: Jon Kabat-Zinn Talks About Bringing Mindfulness Meditation to Medicine: Meditation isn’t just for hippies any more. And it’s not all about saying ommmm” by Maia Szalavitz
“Recent studies from Massachusetts General Hospital have shown that eight weeks of MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) can actually produce thickening in particular regions of the brain important for learning, memory, executive decision-making and perspective-taking: all important functions to have at optimal levels when you are under stress or experiencing pain.  Also, certain regions get thinner like the amygdala, which involves threat and fear circuitry. If the amygdala is getting thinner after you’ve been practicing mindfulness for only eight weeks, I find that pretty amazing.

Working with Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin and his colleagues, we published a paper in 2003 showing that if you took people in a high tech work setting under very high levels of stress and trained them in MBSR in a randomized clinical trial, they showed a shift in activity in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) in particular locations that earlier work had shown was related to the processing of emotion while under stress. The MBSR group shifted from having more right-sided activation in the PFC to more left-sided activation.”

Read more:
Retrieved May 9, 2012

There is a lot more to the article, but I thought you would particularly appreciate the descriptions of changes in the brain.  I am sure you would like to change the brains of many of your students.  Well, you may have to suggest this one for home use, but students could also come early and try this for 5 – 15 minutes prior to class.
Suggest to students a physiological function that they can notice or monitor in some way.  Encourage them to take the whole 5 – 15 minutes with eyes (and mouths) closed paying attention to that element of their own physiology.  Traditionally many meditations focus on feeling and noticing breath going in and breath going out.  One could monitor one’s radial pulse.  One could monitor apical pulse or any pulse!  One could focus on the intestines and strive to hear or feel movement.  One could swallow a bit of beverage every 30 seconds or so and notice it going down.  You could also encourage them to think about other aspects of whatever it is they are monitoring.  Alternately, they could let their perception travel from the top of the head to the bottom of the feet noticing their own body.  Awareness of themselves may have no effect, or it may engage them a little more deeply in the present and in their own potential as learners and as marvelous organisms.

Visual Exercises for A&P


Making connections between A&P and the rest of the world – through listening attentively to a description and then drawing what is described will involve lots of varied thought and create many connections.

Students will need paper, pencil or pen and two different A&P drawings or diagrams for each pair of students.
Have partners sit back to back and decide who will be the “listener” and who will be the “talker” first.  Each will eventually have a chance to play both roles.  Give each “talker” a copy of a diagram.  The Talker must describe and the Listener must sketch what they hear described without using any A&P terms.

This will allow the talker to think about the diagram or picture they are describing in non-A&P terms – they can compare it to something or describe the shapes involved.  You can decide then whether to ask the drawer to guess what it is.  You could also have the talker give hints if they can’t figure out what it is from the drawing.

adapted from :

Endocrine System

Creative activities to help your students learn about the Endocrine System.  Activities marked with an * are quick and could easily be incorporated into class.

1) Conversation Starter for Fight or Flight*
2) Hierarchical Endocrinism
3) Follow the Bouncing Hormones
4) Song about endocrine system from “Groovin’ in the Hippocampus”*

Ask the students to get into a comfortable position in their chairs. Turn off the lights (close shades if possible). Tell the students that when you begin they will be told to close their eyes. They are to keep them closed until told otherwise. They should also not make any sounds (don’t answer out loud any questions that may be asked). They are to only listen and use their imaginations.

Say (pausing …. after each suggestion): Close your eyes….Relax your feet….Relax your knees….Relax your thighs… Relax your stomach….Relax your hands….Relax your shoulders….Relax your chest….Relax your forehead. Imagine yourself in the middle of a beautiful field of flowers….The smell is sweet….the colors are all of your favorites….there is no pollen to irritate you….you are perfectly relaxed….the sky is blue, with only small puffs of white clouds…. You look around and see a small dirt road leading into the most beautiful grove of trees….you decide to follow the road into the trees….As you walk on the road, the temperature gets cooler….there are still flowers among the trees…. You see the road makes a sharp turn ahead, and as you walk around the turn you notice a house at the end of the road….It is not large, but it is not small either….The house is not well kept, but it is not falling down either….You can tell that someone lives there…. You decide to go up to the house to see if anyone there could give you a drink of water….You walk up to the house and up the 3 broken steps to the front door….The door is standing open a little as you knock….No one answers your knock, so you knock again, a little louder….Now you hear a muffled sound coming from far inside the house….You look into the front room of the house and see clothes laying around….a half full glass of milk….and a kitchen in the back…. You hear the sound again….so you call out….again you hear a muffled sound from the back of the house….You walk into the house….looking around as you go towards the kitchen…. In the kitchen you notice a door, half open leading into blackness….you open the door and see steps leading down….you hear the muffled sound a little louder now coming from beneath the stairs…. You begin walking down the stairs, into the darkness….your hand brushes up against the cool wall….At the bottom of the stairs you hear the muffled sound coming from your right, and as you turn towards it your hand feels a wetness on the walls….You walk very slowly towards the sound….in the darkness….then A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A (teacher screams as loudly as possible) Open your eyes. What is your body doing right now????

Janet Weaver, Rosary School Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
retrieved from: The Educator’s Reference Desk

· Place the organs and hormones of the endocrine system into a political hierarchy at whatever level or type of organization (county / state / federal / university / community college / church) you like.  Assign positions or jobs and give explanations for the assigned titles and list job duties.

3) Follow the bouncing hormones:
This exercise requires a simple diagram of the entire human body.  You want something you can print to 8.5X11 size that shows major organs but not much else as it can get confusing otherwise.  A kinesthetic approach to learning the origin, path and outcomes of hormones is to trace them on the body. Here are a couple of diagrams if you don’t have something readily available.
without organs
with organs

Several ways:
1) laminate the sheet and use write on / wipe off markers to trace the paths, making sure to write onto the sheet what the starting point of the hormone is, show it’s target and write down the outcomes.  You can also make lines from the target of the hormone to effects or responses in a different part of the body.
2) Alternately you can use one sheet of paper for each hormone.
3) Ideally you do both.  The student can have a permanent record on the paper sheet and then practice on the write on  / wipe off sheet.  Encourage students to talk out loud as they draw the pathway so they hear, see and move through what they are studying.

Find ways to additionally use color – such as one color for hormones that originate in the anterior lobe of the pituitary, one color for those that come from the posterior lobe of the pituitary and another color for those that are released by the adrenal medullae after stimulation from the hypothalamus.  Students should place a key at the bottom of the papers if they are going to do this so they will remember what that color means.

4) Song from “Groovin’ in the Hippocampus”:
Hormones Rule (hormones and endocrine organs)

Integrated Learning Activity: Creatively Solving the Body’s Problems

Creatively Solving the Body’s Problems : An individual or group exercise for understanding and offering a solution for a physiological problem, injury or malfunction.  In order to do this exercise in a way that will have lasting meaning for you, answer these questions using what you know from A & P and fields outside of A & P, which might help solve the problem.  Try to answer each question simply and then use all of the information together to come up with a solution.
If you’d like to see this exercise in a better outline form, click here

Students or teachers could easily adapt this assignment to specific needs or even shorten it, narrowing the choices.  I also recommend students using concept maps or graphic organizers to help complete this assignment while using information from other fields of study.  Here are sample graphic organizer #1 and sample graphic organizer #2 that might spark student brainstorming.

I) What is the problem you are trying to solve?

A) Is there a name for the disease, condition or malfunction?

B) Describe the actual problem

1) What is happening or not happening that is a problem?

2) Why is this a problem?

3) How did the problem start – what is the genesis of the problem? (this is not
always known)

a) Is it from trauma?

b) Is it from neglect of the body

i) eating fast food frequently

ii) not exercising

iii) smoking, etc.

c) is it a normal wear and tear issue?

d) is it a problem with genetic origins?

e) is it a problem caused by infection of some sort?

f) is it a combination of some of the above?

4) Are there long term consequences or does the condition worsen with time?

II) Now compare the problem to something else (a thing, process, pathway or idea) from a field other than A&P.

A) Do any of the involved organs, systems or tissues remind you of anything?

1) Do any of the involved organs, systems or tissues look like something else?

2) Do any of the involved organs, systems or tissues behave like something else?

3) Do any of the involved organs, systems or tissues perform a function like
something else?

B) What can go wrong with the ‘something else’?

1) Is there any similarity at all between what can go wrong in your A&P subject
and your ‘something else?’

C) Do you know or can you think of a way to fix the broken ‘something else?’


III) Now go back to your original problem.  Start by looking at 1 & 3 in the above section I-B keeping in mind any comparisons you made with the ‘something else.’

A) Can you reverse the problem or damage or simply help the person to cope with the

1) Can you reverse the problem or damage chemically?

a) does the body control this process using hormones or ions?

b) is the problem caused by hormones, ions or chemicals the body is

c) what compound(s) might help this?

i) if you don’t know of one, state what you would want a chemical
to do: be as precise physiologically speaking as possible.  In other words, don’t just say, the chemical would
increase reabsorption of water in the distal tubules, but say how it would increase re-absorption of water in the distal tubules.

ii) if you already know of a compound – whether manufactured by
the body, by other organisms or by people- state it and what it does

iii) it is not necessary to research to find such a compound if you
don’t know of one.  Just give a name to the one you described in section (i) and explain your name choice.

2) Can you reverse the problem mechanically or physically?

a) does the body use a movement or change in rate of activity to affect the

b) is the problem caused by a movement or change in rate of activity?

c) What action or change in rate of action might help this?

d) What kind of device would cause this action or change in rate of action?

i) state what you would want an action or device to do: be as
precise physiologically speaking as possible.  In other words, don’t just say that the device  would increase bone density but state that the action or device would increase bone density by stressing the bone which apparently causes the mineral crystals to generate minute electrical fields which in turn attracts osteoblasts (cells that generate new bone) to the affected area.

ii) if you know of, or can find an action or device that causes or changes the rate of an action, state it
and what it does

iii) it is not necessary to research to find such a device if you don’t know of one.  Just give a name to what you described in section (i) and explain your name choice.

3) Can you reverse the problem genetically?

a) does the body try to fix the problem using genetically controlled activities such as the production of

b) is the problem caused by a change or change in rate of genetic activity?

c) What action on the genome might help this?

i) state what you would want a genetic therapy to do: be as precise physiologically speaking as
possible.  In other words, don’t just say that the device would decrease production of the increase bone density but state that the action or device would increase bone density by stressing the bone which apparently causes the mineral crystals to generate minute electrical fields which in turn attracts osteoblasts (cells that generate new bone) to the affected area.

ii) if you know of, or can find a genetic therapy that affects this process, state it and what it does

iii) it is not necessary to research such a therapy if you don’t know of one.  Just give a name to what you described in section (i) and explain your name choice.

Represent your solution to the class in a poster, model, power point, drawing, poem, concept map, song or skit.


Responding to Mistakes – Effect on Learning

Responding to Mistakes

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

– Samuel Beckett –

Why are some people so much more effective at learning from their mistakes? A new study by Jason Moser at Michigan State University is premised on the fact that there are two distinct reactions to mistakes, both of which can be reliably detected using EEG. The first reaction is called error-related negativity (ERN). It appears about 50 milliseconds after a screw-up and is mostly involuntary. The second signal, which is known as error positivity (Pe), arrives anywhere between 100-500 milliseconds after the mistake and is associated with awareness. The latest research suggests that we learn more effectively when we have 1) a larger ERN signal, suggesting a bigger initial response to the mistake and 2) a more consistent Pe signal, which means that we are probably paying attention to the error, and thus trying to learn from it. This Wired Magazine article delves further into the neuroscience of learning from mistakes.   read more

Mindfulness and Changing Your Emotional Setpoint
A blog by Daniel Goreman who has written a book called The Brain and Emotional Intelligence : New Insights
“One of the most upbeat people I know is Richard Davidson, a friend since my grad school days, now a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Director of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds.
Richie, as everyone calls him, has always been one of those people whose mere presence brings a good feeling. And now, because of his research, I know why: I suspect his brain has a beneficial emotional setpoint.

Richie has been studying the emotional dynamics of the brain for decades. Along the way he discovered that when we’re in a down mood — irritable, anxious and grouchy — our brain has high activity in the right prefrontal area, just behind the forehead. But when we’re in an upbeat mood — energized, enthusiastic, optimistic — there’s lots of activity on the left side of the prefrontal area.
Each of us has a typical ratio of left-to-right activity when we’re just at rest. And this ratio predicts fairly well our typical, day-to-day mood range.

There’s a bell curve for this ratio, like the one for IQ: most of us are in the middle, with some good days and some bad days. Those who are tipped to the far right are likely to have clinical levels of depression or anxiety. And those whose setpoint tips far to the left are able to bounce back quickly from upsets.

The good news: we can nudge our setpoint more to the left. Richie teamed up with another old friend, Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts medical school. Jonny, as he’s known to his friends, teamed up with Richie to study folks working at a high-stress biotech startup.

Jonny taught mindfulness to a group of the biotech workers and had them practice about half an hour a day for eight weeks. Richie measured their brains before and after. The result: at first their emotional setpoint was tilted toward the right — they were, after all, on a hectic, 24/7 schedule. But after eight weeks, the mindfulness group on average showed a greater tilt toward the left.

What’s more, they spontaneously said that now they were in touch again with what they loved about their jobs, with why they had gotten into the field into the first place.

The bonus: Richie tells me that the biggest boost in the tilt to a happier brain comes in the first months of mindfulness practice, not after long years. But even so, to get the benefits, you’ve got to practice daily.

Mindfulness is not some exotic ritual; in essence, it helps us train our minds to focus on what matters in the moment and to resist distractions. There may be no mental skill more essential in this era of constant distraction.

The instructions are easy to follow; Jon Kabat-Zinn has taught the method to people around the world. You can even practice mindfulness while on a long drive or during your morning commute. What better way to start the day?”

A lecture by John Kabat-Zinn is available on YouTube:  There is a rather long introduction before the main speaker begins.  This is long, but
it could change your ability to be happy, to be interested and how can that not help you as a person and a student?

Exercises for Increasing Creativity

A Game called ‘Uses For’

This is probably not something Professors can use class time for, however it is a basic example of a brainstorming, creativity technique that might help your students to learn to think outside of the box.  If students learn to think more openly and creatively they are likely to make more lasting connections between things they learn, see and experience.  This can only improve memory and performance, not to mention interest.  So share this with them and even suggest they try it at the beginning of a study group session, or their own studying.  Or they can refresh their thinking in the middle of studying with this exercise.  And of course you could do it yourself… or at the beginning of a faculty meeting!

Uses For.
Choose one of the items below and think of at least 25 original uses for it. (That is, you cannot list things that the item is already used for.) The uses can be fanciful, but should at least approach practicality. Describe each use in a sentence or two.
Uses for a steak knife.
1. Drill a hole in the tip and use it as a “knife switch” to turn electricity on and off.
2. Use the wood or plastic handles of two or three to make a hot pad for serving casseroles or soup in hot containers.
3. Use it to measure a spot for a new sofa, so when you go to the store you will know how many “steak knife units” long your new sofa can be.
4. Use it to drill holes in plasterboard walls.
a cardboard box
a towel
a nail
a sheet of paper
a spoon
a fan
a roll of adding machine paper
a ball point pen
the yellow pages
an inner tube
a candle
three feet of Scotch tape
popsicle sticks
a plastic drinking glass
a toothpick
a marble
old newspapers
ball bearings that aren’t round
worn out automobile tires
non-returnable soda bottles
tons of broken rubber bands
I got this idea and list from Virtual Salt:

Organization Enhances Creativity

It might seem like organization is anathema to creativity, however, the kind of connections that creative thinkers make often have a basis in the fact that information is organized in their heads.  They see patterns, cross barriers and extrapolate because they can see a big picture in which ideas and facts are related and inter-related.  Helping students become organized in thought, not necessarily in locker, notebook or bedroom, will help them make creative and thoughtful connections.

Many struggling students do not organize information on their own.
As a student, I received many outlines that were not actual hierarchical outlines, ie, the same level in the outline did not signify the same level in the organization of information.  This is very confusing to students.  In other words, if you state an organ at a level and then use levels below it to tick off the functions of that organ, do not then include a description of that organ, or a new organ at the same level as the functions of the organ.  Then when you return to the organ level, present another organ, not an entire system at that level.   Help students use outlines to guide their studying and their understanding of relationships.  Flash cards laid out on the floor in an ‘outline’ format of relationship help build a picture of understanding as opposed to merely providing vocabulary study.

You can help students learn to organize information by encouraging them to use graphic organizers.  Graphic organizers are simply blank organizing formats that can be filled in or copied while relating information.  There are examples of graphic organizers and examples of using them at our website.  Students can read about, download and print graphic organizers in the study skills section of this website.

This almost sounds too simple, but really think about the difference between a student who automatically places information within a hierarchy and automatically makes connections and a student who does not.  How many test questions involve giving examples of something?  This is much easier when there is a heading for ‘something’ in your brain with entries below it.

As your students progress in  A&P, suggest that they find principles across systems.  See who can find the most instances of osmosis or active transport in all that you’ve studied.  Can anyone find similarities between the path that food takes toward excretion and the path that filtrate takes toward excretion?  Have any hormones reared their heads in your studies more than once?  In what instances is pressure an important factor in physiology?

Encourage students to take a quick peek back in their text or notes when something previously studied is mentioned in a current chapter.  Taking that quick moment to remember the old information in a new context and with a new connection will help them better remember and understand both pieces of information.  It will help them organize the information into a more complex web.