Humor in the Classroom – More A-HA with More HAHA

Generating A-HA moments with HAHA moments

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Really do you get more AHA moments when you have more HAHA moments?  “Well-planned, appropriate, contextual humor can help students ingrain information,” explains Garner, who in his introduction to psychology course uses TV programs like the audition episodes from “American Idol” to demonstrate such psychological concepts as self-handicapping and selection bias” (Stambor, 2006).

“Professors’ jobs are to educate, not to entertain,” says Shatz. “But if humor can make the learning process more enjoyable, then I think everybody benefits as a result.  And the benefits may not be limited to academic performance, according to Berk in “Humor as an Instructional Defibrillator.” In the book, he suggests that humor’s primary psychological role is as an emotional response or buffer to relieve physical stress. Moreover, laughter has been shown to stimulate a physiological effect that decreases stress hormones such as serum cortisol, dopac and epinephrine” (Stambor, 2006).

In light of these ideas, and the temptation that perhaps everyone could enjoy school a bit more, I offer a list of activities from our archives that seek to use humor to enhance education.

**You will notice that a lot of these activities include physical movement.  Now I know these are college age students, however, even older students start to zone out when sitting for too long, so these exercises serve several purposes in getting people re-engaged with their surroundings, waking them up and making them pay attention….. and learn something!!  Just remember that by applying limits, parameters and guidelines you can keep the humor focused on the material.

You can always fall back on having students try to write in a humorous way such as:

· Write an advertisement for a body part / physiological pathway or process: film or present it live.

· Write a limerick about parts or function.

Or try these ideas listed by system / category:

Lymphatic/Immunity Activities Sectioncheck out #2 – lots of potential for learning and humor as students film battles between action figures representing immune system antagonists and protagonists.

Acid/Base Balance Section – Osmosis – Activity #1 – Silliness includes laughter.  Students acting as molecules on either side of a semi-permeable membrane.  If the actual activity does not elicit laughter, post a video of the action speeded up.

Circulatory SystemActivity #1 & #2 – A literal walk through the circulatory system having stations of students representing the stops along the way and red or blue balloons or papers to represent the red blood cells.

Digestive System – Okay, face it the digestive system is rife with humor no matter what you do.  This is a class taken by pre-med, nursing and biology students, right?  Activities 3 & 4 offer lots of opportunity for guided humor in relation to the digestive system.

Integumentary SystemActivity #3 – This can be done by you in class, or with assistants who fill in voices or provide ideas to narrate the provided video.  Encourage humor – or have students make their own voiceovers to the video and post on Blackboard.  You should probably give reminders about appropriate content.

Muscular SystemActivities 1 & 5 – both involve linking dance with learning muscle names.  Nothing too fancy – just fun with lots of potential for kinesthetic learning, and again, a break from sitting and listening.

Reproductive SystemActivities 2, 3 & 5 – not that you need as much help increasing interest in this topic… but again humor will help learning and can also ease tension if some folks are uncomfortable with the subject matter.  Reproducing with the Stars just might be syndicated soon 😉  Get your game on now!

Respiratory SystemActivity 1 – Buffer Ball teaches about respiratory acidosis and just might be an excuse to get outside for a little bit for more space! Alternatively limit the number of people playing at one time and have others watch or video the fun.

Skeletal SystemActivity 1 – Hey Macarena!  Change the words (or have students change the words) of Macarena to make a dance that touches and names bones.

Urinary SystemActivity 4 – Being a Nephron – another chance to stand up and move just a little bit.  Encourage participants to look and sound like what they imagine their part of the filtration of urine looks or sounds like.

Laugh & Learn!

Stambor, Z., (2006). How laughing leads to learning: Research suggests tha humor produces psychological and physiological benefits that help students learn.  American Psychological Association: Monitor on Psychology, 37 (6), p. 62.

 

In Their Own Words & Thoughts & Interests

A very simple story to illustrate a larger problem.  When I was a special education teacher I had a student who stated that he was unable to multiply.  We were standing at the blackboard and he was struggling to decipher 6 X 4 = ?

I explained that multiplying is really just a short cut for adding groups of the same size, but he still looked at me with frustration and the certainty that he could never do this problem.  Knowing that this boys’ Dad was a carpenter and that he sometimes helped his Dad on weekends I said, “If you had 4 pieces of drywall to mount and needed 6 drywall screws per piece, how many drywall screws would you need?  He immediately answered 24.  I of course then informed him that he just multiplied.

Of course the problems your students encounter are not necessarily that simple, and the solution is rarely arrived at so quickly or so dramatically, but there can be problems of communication exacerbated by a history of failure that impedes student progress.  My 4th grade student knew that he was bad at school work, AND he knew he was good at helping his Dad.  Helping students to find what they are good at, what they are confident about and expounding on that can start with allowing them to use their own language and thought process associated with success when solving problems or considering complicated sets of information.

– Ask students to consider the information from the viewpoint of their most successful endeavor or persona.  In other words, if the student is most successful when babysitting, have her think of herself as babysitting while studying A&P.  Ask her to relate what she is learning to babysitting.  If the student is most successful at a video game or when playing music or a sport or entertaining friends, then encourage that student to consider him or herself to be learning the information for that endeavor, through the language of that endeavor and as related to that endeavor.

– Allow students to describe what they know in their own language – even if it is not purely the language of A&P.  You can acknowledge the correctness of what they say and then encourage them to translate that into the language of A&P.  Or you can congratulate their analogies and understanding and then supply the correct terminology.

– Ask students, whenever possible, for answers to open ended questions in which they must describe or explain something.  Encourage them to relate what they learn in A&P to preferred topics in their writings.  Proficiency comes with practice!

– An A&P professor of mine suggested (and offered) projects in which it was our job to explain a process to a younger or less experienced person.  That person could be a novice in whatever the student enjoys or is successful in / knowledgeable about.

 

Mapping the Big Picture via Homeostasis

It can be very hard for someone who is fascinated by a topic to understand when or why a student does not think about that topic with curiosity and depth.  Is it possible to merely memorize facts and not question them or link them or categorize them into a broader and more interesting understanding?  Of course most of you KNOW that the answer is ‘Yes’ but it is at times hard to comprehend or teach around that realization.

The second semester of A&P presents the opportunity for students to see repeat performances of osmosis, transport, chemical buffering, neurologic and endocrinologic response to stimulation or to distress… all in an effort to maintain homeostasis….. or the ability to purchase and consume a milkshake – whichever comes first!  Students who recognize patterns and understand processes as agents of change or homeostasis rather than just as lines on a flashcard to be memorized will come away with a better understanding of physiology.

To encourage this deeper understanding in your students I suggest the following:
1) When discussing a particular response, chemical reaction, type of transport, or defense, always ask where the class has encountered this before.  Help students see the patterns involved in physiologic activity and response.

2) Provide or point students to graphic organizers (links to follow) with the assignment or suggestion that they ‘map’ out homeostasis or the components thereof.

a) At a basic level they can just keep a running list of where certain activities or reactions can be found, such as a list for osmosis; active transport; potassium-pump; specific buffering reactions; etc.

b) At a more advanced level they can use a concept map to tie all of these lists back to homeostasis.  Here is a link to a concept map example.
A concept map is great for brainstorming what you know and finding new links between things you know.
Link to blank concept map
A Multi-Layer Layout is great for organizing known information, or in this case continuing to add to a few categories with Homeostasis as the main idea and categories such as pH, oxygen level and ATP creation / usage at the next level.
Link to blank Multi-Layer Layout
A Cause and Effect Map is just what it sounds like – a way to map out a chain of reactions or triggering events.
Link to blank Cause and Effect Map

c) Remind students that their textbooks are usually set up with some sort of organization layout such as a multi-layer layout in the headings of the chapters and sections.  Very often fonts and colors are used to designate where in an organizational schema the information under the heading lies.  Students can increase their understanding of the information by paying attention to the hierarchical presentation of information in their textbook…. and hopefully in your presentation (make sure your categories are clear in presentation!).

3) Help students continually ask ‘Why?’’ about processes and reactions.  Why does the body respond in this way?  How does it respond in this way?  What triggers the response?  Is the response automatic or does the individual decide to engage it?  What are the consequences if the response does not take place?  What would keep the response from taking place?

 

 

Relating lessons on artistic creativity to becoming a creative educator.

Following are “8 Creativity Lessons from a Pixar Animator[1]”–by Leo Babauta, syndicated from zenhabits.net, Dec 26, 2013.  The lessons were garnered in a tour of Pixar studios provided by a Mr. Bernhard.

Creativity is not just about product, it is about process.  I believe that the lessons of creativity in art speak volumes to the successful evolution of inspiring endeavors and products for teachers and learners as well.  I will attempt to elucidate this opinion following each creativity lesson.

1) “Tenacity matters.  Bernhard told a story of a friend who did a drawing every day, for more than 3 years, and became amazingly good by the end of that stint. He shared Looney Toons legendary animator Chuck Jones’ assertion that you have to draw 100,000 bad drawings before you have a good drawing. Bernhard said you might not seem very good at something when you start out, but if you’re persistent, tenacious even, you can get amazingly good.”

Of course the stuff of good education also improves with practice and experience, and many educators are presented with the opportunity to try, try again, but I think the operative word here is tenacity.  Tenacity implies doggedly holding onto something; not giving up and not letting go of a goal or ideal.  Simply lecturing doesn’t necessarily make one a better lecturer.  Holding onto the vision of a good or inspiring lecturer and paying attention to what makes a difference and what doesn’t speaks more to the tenacity that can help an educator grow within his or her field.  Keeping an eye on the goal of providing material in a way that inspires, challenges and teaches will help keep the mind open to trying new techniques and perhaps not giving up on students who are failing despite interest and application.  There is also tenacity required in discussing options for class time use that satisfy both your employer, your students and your desire or ability to be more creative and offer deeper learning experiences in the classroom.

2) “Art is your particular telling of reality.  When we talked about letting go of preconceived ideas and drawing what you actually see, Bernhard compared it to a night out with one of his friends. While Bernhard might just recount that night by saying, “We went out and had some food and went home”, his friend might have noticed a lot of interesting details that Bernhard didn’t, and tell a story with those details in a way that’s interesting and hilarious. Same experience, different interpretation, different details.”

I think this is incredibly relevant to teaching and to teaching science in particular.  Different perspectives are not readily evaluated or presented in most science classes and yet, every person’s experience with the reality of science and scientific law is different and does offer a different perspective, even if the law or the fact doesn’t vary at all.  Allowing yourself and students to elaborate on the connections that each or you make between experience and  learning will enrich the process for everyone.  All people have some interest in their own bodies and that interest mght tapped by providing perspective and ‘stories’ about the function, process and beauty of the human body, (or any topic at all).

Use stories of life, love, tragedy, triumph and beauty to tell the story of the human body.  Anthropomorphize freely so that all the humans in the class adopt an interest in the function and discernment of their own bodies. After all, there would be far fewer stories of life, love, tragedy and beauty without them!

3) “Feed off others’ ideas.   When Pixar artists create characters, it’s not a matter of one artist sketching out how he thinks a character should look. They all sit around a table, each drawing ideas, putting them in the middle, and others taking those ideas and riffing off them.  Dozens and dozens of sketches come out from this process, until they find the one that works best. This means everyone’s creativity builds on the creativity of everyone else. This, btw, can help you even if you don’t have a bunch of other geniuses to work with — find others who are creating cool things, and riff off them, and share your riffs.”

Collaboration is a buzz word that can be creatively applied to your class room and to your faculty lounge.  Your classroom can be shaped by input from students…. You just might find that students who have input (within reason and the rules of your institution) are more engaged with the class both in and outside of your notice.  The tenacious vision of engaged participants can be facilitated by asking students for their input on this type of environment.  What do they find helpful and engaging?  Colleagues can certainly join together to share and engender new ideas for activities and methods that impact students.

Talk to your students and your colleagues about what works, what engages, and what they see as an ideal classroom experience.  What are you trying to create and how can you get there?  Students who consider that their input is important and who honestly think about, and share, what they need might be more willing to read before class because they see how that fits within the plan of the class and are interested in the more in-depth learning that can take place when one comes to class prepared.  Despite the fact that there will always be students who seem totally unwilling or uninterested, collaboration might just reach more of the students who at first seem out of reach as well as lessen your role as evil oppressive overlord.

4) “Let go of ego.   Imagine if you’ve put a great sketch into the pile, and you think it’s the one that should be used. But because so many talented artists are throwing ideas into the pile, the fact is that most ideas/sketches won’t be used. They’ll be discarded. If you want your idea to win, you’ll fight for it, but this only hurts the process. Pixar animators have to let go of their egos, and put the best interests of the project first. I think this is true of any creative project.”

I think this is true of any endeavor that involves more than one person, and there are very few of those.  Placing the ideal of a productive, engaging classroom above the personal idea or above any desire to be ‘the best,’ ‘the first,’ ‘the best-liked,’ or ‘the smartest’ helps a department reach the ideal.   Modeling the process of collaboration with colleagues is invaluable to students who will have to face the challenges of changing health care needs and provision, global warming, and an uncertain job market among other problems.  We need problem solvers, and collaboration is the most likely road to solving the problems of the present and the future.

This is also true in the classroom with students.  If a student has a great explanation for a process or idea, ask them to share it with the class.  If you don’t know the answer to a student inquiry, challenge everyone to find it in books, on devices, or for homework.  Don’t be the all-knowing expert… be the well-educated guide.

This lesson included the quote: “When ego is lost, limit is lost.  You become infinite, kind, beautiful.”  – Yogi Bhajan.

5) “Everyone should know the mission well. Some studios outsource their animation work overseas, but then the animators often don’t know what the movie is about, and don’t really care about the final process, because they’re just doing one tiny piece. But at Pixar, everyone involved is pushing forward, trying to create the best movie possible, and they take pride in this mission. That means that everyone is invested in the mission, everyone truly cares about the work they’re producing, and it shows in the final creation.”

This can be applied to education in several ways.  Obviously, it is easier for a student to succeed if he/she knows what you expect of them.  They need to know what will be covered to be fairly evaluated on assessments.  Additionally, if you have a mission for your classroom that is a little more in-depth than, “present information about anatomy & physiology”, then share it with your students.  Would you like for them to learn how to find information that they don’t know?  Would you like for them to become critical thinkers?  Would you like for them to find awe and wonder in the human body?  Would you like for the experience in your classroom to be one that helps them grow as learners, people and future providers of healthcare or any other profession?  Let them know.  They just might be touched to know that you see more in your job than presenting information.  They might also more deeply consider that a learning experience can help them grow in all the aforementioned ways and it might become their goal as well.

In addition, verbalizing these goals makes it easier to include exercises, questions, demonstrations that contribute to those goals in a creative way.  This doesn’t mean that you use all your time on goals that are not strictly linked to the official curriculum, but it might make it easier to see the value in a variety of activities, which may in turn engage more learners and more learning.

6) “Lots of hard work, tiny but amazing results. When Pixar created Brave, deleted scenes that didn’t make the final cut would have made the movie 5 times as long. A ton of little visual jokes didn’t make the movie. That means that hours and hours of creative, brilliant work were thrown out, and only the best of the best of all of this creative process actually was used. That’s a lot of amazing stuff, to get very little. That means what we actually see is of incredible quality.”

Make sure that your assessments reflect your vision and goals as well.  You know you have to guide students through and assess their absorption of the curriculum, but what if those assessments offered some opportunity for students to share their perspective and achievements?  Could a few questions like “Give an example from your own life of osmosis within your body and outside of your body and compare them.” Have a place that would let students know that their deeper understanding is sought and appreciated and show both of you some beautiful results?

#7) “Surround yourself with heroes. When Bernhard was interviewed at Pixar about 6 years ago, it took all day. The list of people interviewing him was a list of his personal heroes. That’s who he works with, the best in the world. How inspiring is that? You’d jump out of bed to get to work each morning, wouldn’t you? Of course, not all of us are that lucky, but we can surround ourselves with the work of our heroes, and use them for inspiration, maybe even reach out and meet one or two of them someday. Shoot for the stars, or at least illuminate your life with their light.”

Perhaps this is not as easy a task for an educator as educators are not necessarily heralded as are people whose names appear in the credits of popular movies, but remembering that there are people who we look up to and admire can also be a reminder to strive to improve what we do.  If there are heroes in your school, seek them out.  Pick their brains.  Go to conferences and meet the folks you admire for their teaching, their research or their writing.  Most people appreciate being admired in a professional and interested way.  You never know there may be folks out there who admire you and would like some tips!  Which leads to the last tip….

#8) “Help those just starting out. Bernhard took the time out of his day to give us a tour, because a teen-age young man is interested in computer animation. That’s exceptional. His reasoning: ” I was where Justin is right now, and it’s nice to pass on what I know today. Passion and dreams are important to keep alive.” How many of us do that?”

This is of course what educators do!  Educators encourage, guide and instill passion in those who come to them for information and instruction.  It is one of the perks of the job to watch passion and interest flower; to see determination lead to success; and to watch people mature into their abilities and their minds.  I thank you for what you do as educators and hope that thinking about creativity as an asset to your process and your classroom helps keep your job fresh, exciting and productive.

 

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 (http://hanshananigan.tripod.com/meditation.html)
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: http://healthland.time.com/2012/01/11/mind-reading-jon-kabat-zinn-talks-about-bringing-mindfulness-meditation-to-medicine/#ixzz1uOJRG9bc
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.

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.
Example:
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.
TRY IT!!
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
pencils
I got this idea and list from Virtual Salt:
http://www.virtualsalt.com/crebook2.htm

How to fit it all in

The basic problem in question is lots of material and not enough class time to cover it. This is true even without considering using time intensive activities. This dilemma raises basic questions about the responsibilities of both professors and students. Professors face a choice.

A professor sent me the following email:

I’m an A&P instructor and subscriber to your newsletter.
I have a very serious question.
Many of the activities that you suggest are very creative, and they seem like wonderful learning tools.  But I never use them.
I have so much material to cover in class that as it is I’m barely able to cover the material in the time allotted. In fact, most semesters I have to end up cutting material that I had planned to cover. There just isn’t time to get to everything I planned to cover.  How on earth do you find time for all of the activities you suggest?
Since you’re an RN, I thought perhaps you would have some insight into a basic dilemma that I face every semester. At one end of the spectrum, I can be very “encyclopedic” and try to cover as much material as possible.  At the other end, I can really concentrate on some of the fundamental concepts, use the tools you provide, but at the expense of omitting even more topics than I now omit.
How important is it for students headed for nursing school to get one end of the spectrum versus the other? Since the nursing schools which my students will attend don’t teach A&P per se, are students going to suffer more if they don’t have mastery of fundamentals, or will they
suffer more if they master fundamentals at the expense of omitting many of the details?
I REALLY want my students to succeed, and I’m REALLY puzzled as to how I can accomplish this goal in the relatively short amount of class time that I have.

My answer:
The basic problem in question is lots of material and not enough class time to cover it.  This is true even without considering using time intensive activities.  This dilemma raises basic questions about the responsibilities of both professors and students.   Professors face a choice.  As the writer states, should a professor be encyclopedic in his or her coverage or more in-depth including creative activities on some topics at the expense of other material?  I am sure that you all already do this to a degree.  I’m guessing you devote more time to renal function and the renin-angiotensin system than you do to skeletal nomenclature.
However, it strikes me that part of the problem is that colleges expect you to pass most of your students.  Is that not true?  Are you not questioned if above a certain percentage of your students fail?  This obviously affects your decisions about how to spend class time.  There are students who do not read (some don’t even buy) the textbook.  A certain amount of spoon feeding is necessary to boost some of these students into the passing column.  If the majority of students came to class having read the chapter(s) to be covered that day, would that change your decisions for how and what to cover in class?
Furthermore, is it possible that a more interested and challenged student body would rise to the occasion and put in more independent study time?  I believe that would be true of some students, but there are students who will not rise to the challenge and who would fail as a result of not hearing about certain things in class.  Does it help those students in the long run to help them pass a class?  There probably are not easy, definite answers to these questions, but it might be worth investigating administrative and professorial expectations within your departments.
I think the second part of the professor’s question sheds some light on the dilemma in the case of teaching future nurses.  The email wanted to know which end of the teaching spectrum (rote vs. creative & student taking responsibility vs. prof. taking responsibility) is more helpful to nursing students and ultimately nurses.
The NCLEX does not ask many simple questions.  Many of the questions have more than one right answer, with one correct ‘right’ answer being better.  Facts alone will not help a student much on the NCLEX.  In fact, many students, myself included, are fairly flummoxed by NCLEX style questions when first encountered.  They require some flexibility of thought.  Creativity is flexibility of thought.
Nurses spend a large portion of their day prioritizing tasks and monitoring physiology.  They may not feel that they are monitoring physiology, they may think they are taking vitals, auscultating body sounds and deciding whether or not to give medications, but in order to keep patients safe and encourage healing, a good nurse must understand physiological systems and the ramifications of changes in system players.  Students who understand processes and the ramifications of change in physiological systems will better understand why they are doing what they are doing, as well as the importance of the parameters that they monitor.  Then, pursuant to their judgments, the nurse will know when it is appropriate or necessary to seek out help from a doctor or other staff.  When bringing in other team members is done in a timely fashion, nurses can prevent patients from declining beyond reclamation into sepsis, CHF, internal bleeding, arrhythmia, diabetic ketoacidosis, diabetic coma, or respiratory failure.  Understanding homeostasis and balance in every body system makes a good nurse who can certainly double check any facts that she has forgotten or didn’t get in the first place.
Nurses also spend time coming up with creative solutions for bandaging, moving, consoling, helping, informing and teaching.  Not every case requires creativity, but many do.  The variety of people and illnesses that come through your basic emergency department or med-surg floor is staggering.  Nursing school does not prepare anyone for everything they will see.  Therefore a nurse must be able to gather information she needs, ask questions and creatively problem solve.  If you can help your students learn how to do those things, they will do better in nursing school, on the NCLEX, and as nurses.
My recommendations are as follows, with the reminder that these recommendations come from an RN, musician and former special education teacher, not an A&P professor.
1) Make time for creative teaching techniques by forcing more students to come to class prepared.  Forewarn students that they will be responsible for knowing the basic facts from a section or chapter before coming to class.  Give a short quiz at the beginning of class on the material that was assigned.  Then field any questions from the chapter.  At this point some creative teaching techniques or exercises can be used to cement their understanding without feeling like you’ve cheated them.   You may choose to do this several times a semester, or many times a semester, but if they are forewarned, then hopefully, more of them will be prepared and you can help them get beyond the first layer of the material.
I am sure that most of you already encourage your students to read the text before coming to class.  Most of them do not.  Some of them never read it.  And if you didn’t cover it in class, they would fail.  However, if they become interested in and begin to truly understand the complex intermingling of simple physical and chemical realities that are the basis of the human body, perhaps they will be motivated to contribute more to their own learning and their own future.
2)  Encourage an atmosphere that is open to creativity.  Share your own strange connections with your students.  One of my A&P professors told us that he found adipose tissue to be the most beautiful tissue in the body under the microscope.  If you include a few questions like, “Which tissue do you think is the most beautiful, or looks most alive, or reminds you of a food?” on lab activities, quizzes, etc. you will be encouraging your students to see A&P in a different light.  Help them see that there is still some room for personal interpretation and impression in science.  Encourage your students to make connections and ask questions.  Have them turn in a question that came to them, or that they can think of at the end of class, related to the days’ material – but not limited to A&P.  In other words, it’s okay for a student to ask, “What is the psi limit of fibrocartilage?”  They don’t need to know that for your class but they will remember more about fibrocartilage simply by asking the question.
Many creative teaching techniques can be used as separate assignments that don’t use class time.
3) I encourage you to broach the topic of student vs. professor responsibility at your school.  More responsibility will help students.  Especially students who are growing up in a culture where their personal actions do not have much impact on their well being until they are adults.  Responsibility contributes to being a self-motivated student and nurse.  This is especially true for nurses.  If a nurse is to be successful and not hurt anyone, she must be somewhat autonomous and willing to seek out information and solutions.  Responsible people who accept their part of the bargain (i.e. preparing for class) make better students, better nurses and probably happier people.  There are lots of opportunities for nurses to do more harm than good and many opportunities for good nurses to have a positive impact on healthcare outcomes.
I hope this is a helpful answer and I hope you will forgive my presumption in offering these thoughts.  I would love to hear your thoughts and am posting this on our website where there is the opportunity to respond and discuss.  I do believe that our early educational system seldom brings out the best in students.  You, as college educators, are left with students who are ill prepared for college or to solve problems in general.  I hope that together we can make a difference in some students’ lives.

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