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?



Study Tracker – Figure out What Works For You

Tracking study techniques offers you 3 benefits.  The first 2 benefits are the possibility of discovering which study actions are the most beneficial, and whether or not you need to try something new.  If you make note of how you prepared for a test and then look over your techniques right after getting back the test, you can assess your preparation performance.  Hopefully, you will gain insight as to which actions were the most helpful and should be expanded, emphasized or developed, and where a new technique could be helpful.

Lastly, tracking study techniques is like writing down what you eat.  It forces you to consider and be honest about how much time, and the quality of the time that you spent studying.   Remember that being engaged in what you are doing, i.e.
asking questions about what you are reading,
linking what you are reading/studying to things you are interested in,
noticing similarities and differences between facts, ideas and processes within this class,
and similarities and differences between this class and other classes or realms of life,
will help you appreciate the topic, enjoy the topic, remember and be able to utilize the topic in your wonderfully unique and engaged life!

Forms are not necessary for everything, but for many of us, a form to fill out makes it all official and keeps us on track.  So, I offer the Study Tracker… a form to encourage exploration of study techniques and which includes a list of study suggestions to supplement your diet of reading and re-reading texts and class notes.

View or Download the Study Tracker here! (Click on the icon that appears after clicking here)

Transport Creative Understanding

In another post I talked about having students organize their new knowledge around frameworks of interest.  A corollary of that is for them to find examples of what they are learning about, or when actual examples are not possible, to find symbolic examples of, what they are learning about.

The properties of water and of transport are rife with possibility for this idea.  Water is a huge part of all of our lives and some of its properties are visible if students are paying attention.  Challenge them to find examples of water and oil mixtures / water and soap mixtures and how that is relevant to life and membranes and transport.  Also challenge them to find examples of how water behaves in the world that helps them understand osmosis, capillary action or diffusion.

Futhermore, transport presents many opportunities for comparison.

Challenge students to pick one of the following and compare it to some aspect of one of the forms of transport and explain their comparison.  They can also choose their own example, be it an example of actual transportation of something, or an example of items mixing/ moving amongst each other, or some other comparison that they can explain to a form of transport.

Possible comparisons:

-automobile traffic situations:
highway ramps / parking lots / gated communities

-hallways at school with classrooms on either side:
time between classes / time during classes / opening and closing of doors

– sports:
the ball representing a certain molecule or ion / the players representing different molecules or ions / the entire field as a human body / track and field events where runners change lanes

– How humans transport themselves

It is very important that the student explain their comparison as it is in the comparison – the thought – that they will make new connections… hopefully connections that are of interest because they created them.


Frameworks for Interest

Frameworks for Interest

Just like the absorption and re-deposition of calcium re-shapes a bone even after it is done getting larger, your students’ ideas and knowledge are constantly re-modeled.  It is easier for them to utilize their new knowledge within a framework of what they already know, aligned with their current interests than it is to utilize new knowledge which has been randomly ‘learned’ or ‘placed’ without connection to prior knowledge.  Perhaps many students ‘cram’ their knowledge into a Wormian bone that, un-needed and neglected, is re-absorbed not long after the final exam?

Whatever the details of storage and usage are, connections with prior knowledge and experience will help student performance.  But how to convince them of this and help them apply it?

Providing students with a framework in which they have an interest on which to organize their newfound knowledge might be just the ticket.  In other words, the student can relate what they learn to a topic of interest that will force them to make creative connections that they find interesting.  You can discuss this with them, offer the following suggestions for frameworks (along with any you or they think of), and even offer extra credit for those who present their framework at the end of the semester in writing, graphics, or some other form of presentation.

I suggest the following frameworks:

Suggest that your students relate everything they learn about in A&P to sexual activity.  What is the importance of this knowledge for sexual activity?  How does the organ, process, tissue, system or pathway affect sex?  Does it give ideas for enhancing sexual activity, can it hinder it?  Is there a gender difference?  Why?  Is this related to sex or pregnancy or something else?  (This framework may not be suitable for sharing at the end of the semester!!)

Are there lyrics or songs that you can relate to this topic?  Is there a theme song you would assign for this chapter?  for this organ?  for this process?  What kind of singer or instrumentalist would the pituitary gland, a blood vessel, a white blood cell, the molecule ATP be?  What style of music would a particular A&P topic play?  How does this organ, tissue, process, system or pathway affect the ability to play or to listen to, music?  What is the physiology of attending a concert?

What is the best dressed organ in the human body?  What is the color palette of a particular system?  Are the layers of a particular tissue or organ functional?  Are the layers protective like a coat, and what kind of coat are they like, or do the layers function in some other way that can be related to fashion?  How does this body process affect movement of a model on a runway, or the ability to ‘work’ a piece of clothing?  How does this organ, tissue, process, system or pathway affect body shape and therefore clothing?  What would a tee-shirt worn by the adrenal gland say?

Is there a disease that is plaguing you or a loved one that you would like to know everything about?  Consider everything you learn from the viewpoint of that disease (either as an exercise in acting like the disease agent or process, or as an exercise in understanding how this particular organ or process affects, or is affected by, the disease in question.

Like sex – how does any organ, process, tissue or system affect the performance of any or one particular sport?  What kind of this organ, process, tissue or system would the ideal athlete want?  Can he/she get  or enhance it?  Which sport is this most important to?  Which athletic activity would be most enhanced by optimal functioning of this organ, tissue, system, process or pathway?

How does the organ, tissue, process, system or pathway being studied affect one’s: ability to listen; ability to bite one’s tongue; ability to decrease stress level; ability to help teenager take on more responsibility; ability for teenager to survive the lack of sleep and poor nutrition that often accompanies adolescence; ability for both to survive the stress and immunity challenges.

Any topic is okay because thinking about A&P, even in relation to another topic, is thinking about A&P.  And that’s a good thing.

Professor Says… Anatomical Following

This is a Simon Says type of exercise which, due to the multiple steps and use of anatomical terms, and the final addition of a riddle, gets students thinking and moving.. and moving and thinking… and learning!

The exercise was developed, tested and shared by the faculty of the Health Science Department at Lock Haven University in Lock Haven, PA.  Thanks so much for sharing!!

Give your students the following instructions

1) Put your finger on a spot anterior to your heart, just inferior to your mandible and lateral to your trachea.

Then ask: What should everyone be doing?   (Taking pulse)

2) Put your right hand on your sternum, move it laterally toward your left humerous about 3 inches

Then ask: What might you be doing if there was a flag in the room?  (Pledge of Allegiance)

3) Place the anterior side of your hands together and then move them to a position that is superior to the bone structure containing your hypothalamus

What might you be doing?  (Walk like an Egyptian)

4) With your finger, trace a line beginning at a spot superficial to the cervical vertebrae on their posterior side.  Move along an oblique plane, inferior and lateral to the right, now trace medially and continue laterally to the left about 6 inches, turn and trace superiorly and medially.

What shape have you traced?   (Triangle)

5) Place your hands superficial to your quadriceps, move them distally to the patellar region.  Move both hands medially and continue laterally until they touch the opposing patellar region (repeat)

What are you doing?  (Charlie Brown or Charleston)

6) Place one hand on your clavicle, move it superiorly, posteriorly, inferiorly

What bone are you touching?  (Scapula)

The last 3 do not have answers – maybe your students can come up with some of their own.  Ask them to explain these moves and then form small groups to make up one of their own to share with the class!

7) Place both hands on the gluteal region.  Move them laterally to the hips (name this region) and then superiorly to the axillary region.  Move your hands medially until they are proximal to the sternum.

8) Trace your finger on the mid-saggital plane beginning at the anterior region superficial to your frontal lobe and move inferiorly

9) Trace a frontal plane beginning at your left patella and move superiorly to your otic region.


Transcription Explained with a Gastronomic Connection

Once upon a time, in my earlier life, I was the only white server in a Chinese restaurant run by Hispanics (that didn’t speak English let alone Chinese).  I tell you this because it gives you the foundation of explaining protein synthesis.

Many times students confuse the terms Transduction, Translation, and Transcription.  This story is used to explain Transcription vs. Translation.  We will assume that the customer entering the restaurant is “DNA”.  DNA comes in and wishes to place an order.  DNA sits down and opens the menu (the unwinding which exposes the gene).

I, messenger RNA, come over to take the order.  When DNA tells me what it wants (Chicken with cashews with extra onions), I copy down the order (Transcription).  The act of me writing it down means that I am “Transcribing” DNA’s order from the triplet of information:  (Chicken, cashews, extra onions) to my codon of information: (Cx, nuts, eo).  Both pieces of information mean the same thing, but my information will be interpreted by the computer more directly.

Now when I start to input the information into the computer, it had a language program already installed.  The computer could take the information that I put in and “Translate” it into Spanish (anti-codon).  By changing the language, the Hispanic cook staff (the ribosomes) could interpret what it was the DNA wanted by converting it into the language they understood and therefore create what it was DNA wanted in the first place.

In short, this is a change from a nitrogen based language of mRNA to the amino acid language of a synthesized protein. Bottom line:  it’s all about how the cell communicates.

Jennifer Menon, MA
Assistant Professor of Physiology
Johnson Community College

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.

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 :