Involve Literature and Movies in Anatomy & Physiology

Involving literature / movies

* Have students read The Fantastic Voyage (or watch the movie) and look for  accuracies and/or mistakes about what the voyagers encounter while traveling in their miniaturized submarine through the human body.

* Have students add to the book / movie by writing a new scene wherein the characters encounter something not covered in the book or movie.  They could present a skit to the class of this encounter.  (And don’t forget to have someone film it and post the video to Blackboard.)

* Challenge students to share accurate or inaccurate A&P bits from other novels or movies.  Certainly there are enough medical television shows that they probably have already encountered A&P mistakes on television.  They could turn in a description of the scene along with a reflection on its accuracy or a revelation of its inaccuracy.  Alternatively, as above, the student could re-write, or re-film, the scene making it anatomically or physiologically accurate.

Strategies for Encouraging Students to Make New Connections

When students make connections between facts, ideas, pathways, processes, styles, fields of study or problems, they are more likely to:
remember what they’ve thought about in making that connection;
be engaged by the process and think some more;
seek further information or connections.
I don’t have evidence for this beyond personal experience as a teacher and a learner.  But truly, it makes sense.

There are 3 sections here taken from newsletters about helping students make connections.
The first, Encouraging Connections,  has some basic ideas for encouraging students to make connections and opening that possibility within the classroom.
The second, Integrated Learning, was written with a focus on connections that cross fields of study.  This post was accompanied by an activity that encourages students to solve physiological problems using information, ideas and solutions from other classes, experiences or fields of study.  That exercise, Creatively Solving the Body’s Problems, can be found at this link:

The third, Change the Way You Ask Questions suggests that wording, thinking and environment can help open the brain to new connections.


1) Encouraging Connections

Basically anything that encourages students to think less linearly; to associate things both within the field and between fields; to match, compare, contrast may help them make more memorable, thought provoking connections.  Here are a few ideas related to A&P.

· Pull out the flash cards and see who can make the most associations between 2 random cards.  Anything goes!

· Ascribe colors to body parts or processes and tell why you chose that color

· Name bones / hormones / cell types… after characters from movies or novels, share how you made your choices

· Decide what anatomic parts look like and try to associate their name with what it reminds you of.

· Develop hand signals to represent things.  A participant at a HAPS workshop I presented suggested the victory sign made with both hands and the v’s pointed towards each other simulating the phospholipid bilayer.  Her students made the sign at each other in the hallway.  Solidarity!

· Make ink blots and then have students say what is the first A&P related item or pathway the ink blot makes them think of.  Explore why.

2) Integrated Learning:

Although you alone can not develop an integrated learning program at your college or university wherein subjects are intentionally mixed or cross-taught (compiling principles, facts and activities between subjects), you can introduce this idea to your classroom and to your students.  Students who can see relationships between fields of study and even within the language of the classes they take are more likely to be interested, to ask questions and to remember what they think about.

Encourage students to compare what they learn in A&P to other classes, no matter the subject.  Is there any overlap in vocabulary, mechanics or ideas?  Can they find any similarities between principles, ideas or facts taught in different classes?  Do the same historical figures appear in different contexts?  Does a picture, idea, process or word remind them of something from another field?

Here is how to further encourage students to allow their thoughts, and their learning to cross subject barriers.
A) Be an example!  Share your own cross-subject musings / analyses and comparisons in lecture and lab.  There are lots of opportunities for mechanical comparisons with plumbing, and machinery in the human body.  See what other fields you can incorporate, or other comparisons you can make with your subject.

B) Encourage students to share their own cross-subject musings / analysis and comparisons in lecture and lab – or if there is no time, on a section of BlackBoard.  Have a contest to name the section.

C) Another way to think about it is to encourage metaphorical thinking.  Never belittle student metaphors – even if you think them silly, or non-scientific.  A metaphor, or comparison is active, engaged thinking that is much more likely to be remembered than memorizing a ‘fact,’ especially by a student who finds the fact dull.

D) While there are right answers for questions such as what kind of muscle tissue is found in the heart, there are not right answers for comparisons that engage student thinking, or for solutions to physiological or structural injuries or problems.

Hey – if Lady GaGa can make a dress, boots and hat out of raw meat, then surely we can come up with some interesting references, comparisons, or even models of the human body.

#3) Change the Way You Ask Questions
“Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different”  – Nobel Prize winning physician, Albert Szent-Gyorgyi
Change the way you ask questions to garner more answers.

In the case of solving physiological or structural problems with the body there are potentially many answers that could be ‘right’ or helpful.   Roger Von Oech, PhD, encourages us to generate and allow ‘second right answers’ and states the following in his book, A Whack on the Side of the Head: How to Unlock Your Mind for Innovation, “One technique for finding the second right answer is to change the questions you use to probe a problem.  For example, how many times have you heard someone say, ‘What is the answer?’ or ‘What is the meaning?’ or ‘What is the result?’  These people are looking for the answer, and the meaning, and the result.  If you train yourself to ask, ‘What are the answers?’ and ‘What are the meanings?’ and ‘What are the results,’ you will find that people will think a little more deeply and offer more than one idea.”

When the host of the party is willing to hear more than one thought from more than one person, the conversation can become more dynamic, interesting and MEMORABLE!  You, the professor, are the host of the conversation in your classroom.  Allow deeper, fuller participation by allowing the broad range of experience and ideas in your students to surface, be shared and explored.

Muscular System

Below you will find the following activities to enhance your instruction of the muscular system.  Items with an asterisk are shorter and could easily be incorporated into class.

1) Dance the Muscle Blues Away*
2) Painted on muscles
3) Muscular artwork*
4) Photogenic muscles
5) Macarena muscles*
6) ‘Z’ line for the door.
7) Song about muscular function from “Groovin’ in the Hippocampus”*

1) Dance the Muscle Blues Away
Group the muscles from your muscle list into groups of 4 or 5.  Hand the lists out to lab groups of 2 – 4 students.  Each group must come up with a dance that uses the muscles on their card.  They must then perform the dance and shout out the muscle being used while they use it.  For added benefit, video the dances (if students will allow) and post on Blackboard – at least the ones that are correct!  Alternately you could have a contest to see which group can come up with a dance that uses the most muscles on the list – again shouting out muscle names as they use them, and perhaps having one person not dance and point to the muscles in question.

2) Painted on Muscles
Paint corresponding muscles on a T-shirt (or pair of leggings).  [Idea borrowed with permission from: Prof. Amy Meredith, Washington State University who specifically uses the muscles of respiration on the t-shirt.]

3) Muscular Artwork
Bring in pictures of artwork (paintings or sculptures) that show muscles and have the students label the picture.

4) Photogenic Muscles
Take some photographs of willing participants who offer good glimpses of muscles and label / name.

5) Macarena Muscles
Create a version of the Macarena where you touch parts of your body and name them, be it muscles / bones / or organs.  Reaching for both kidneys at the same time also gives one the opportunity to do the chicken dance.  You’ll need an outgoing student to get the ball rolling with this one : )

6) ‘Z’ Line for the door
After students have learned about the physiology of muscles, challenge them to make a list of things they can find that simulate the sliding movement of muscle fibers.  Then state how that movement is similar and different from muscles.  If they come up with a good example make sure they label and compare the parts of their example with the parts of a muscle.  Anything with some slide to it may be helpful to them.  For example,  they could see the open doors on the Starship Enterprise as the H zone and the closing of the door shows the contraction of the sarcomere.  Anything with sliding parts could encourage them to compare and contrast muscle contraction with things they find in the world or in pop culture.

7) A&P Songs
Songs from “Groovin’ in the Hippocampus”:
My Oh Myosin (muscle function)

Integumentary System

Find the following activities below to enhance learning of the integumentary system
1) Skin is not a trifling thing – edible learning
2) Histology as art
3) Integumentary Healing

1) Skin is not a trifling thing
Make trifle where you use different substances for the different layers of skin.
(Trifle is a British dessert with layers of fruit, pieces of cake, pudding, whipped cream, crumbled cookies, etc. in a glass bowl.)
You might have lab groups / study groups split up the layers of the skin.
You can have the group discuss what substances they will use for each layer and why.  In other words, they should assign an ingredient to a layer for a reason whether compositional, physical appearance, or any other reason that links the ingredient with the characteristics of a particular layer of the integument.
Then they can bring the separate layers to put together along with a poster board to place beside the dish explaining the connections between the substances and the layers of skin.

Alternately, you can bring the substances and let each group come up with their own explanation on paper that identifies and explains the layers and substances used. Trifles are traditionally made in a clear straight-sided bowl, but tall, clear plastic cups would work as well.

As always, there is a way to do this on Blackboard that does not use class time.  Students can create their ‘In-trifle-egumentaries’ in groups on their own and then take a picture of both their finished product and their explanatory poster with labels and post it to blackboard.  Students could also video someone explaining the layers as they build their trifle.

2)  HISTOLOGY as art:
Create a collage of histological pictures, labeling tissue types throughout.
The student could arrange the pictures into a shape or simply make a beautiful collage.
Websites to mine for pix: (an incredible site that also has a helpful section on muscles w/ origin and insertion info) (this last one has gorgeous photos)

3) Integumentary healing
The following video covers the inflammatory process – healing of damaged tissue.  The very first part is slow but hang in there because the visual of the actual process looking at a cross section of skin is very helpful.  Have students watch it twice and the second time, stop it and have them identify what they are seeing on the screen.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it is more fun if students anthropomorphize the experience.  In other words, have them make characters out of the participants… for example, the white blood cells are members of a favorite sports team and the bacteria are members of the rival team.  Imagine the on-lookers cheering with the ingestion of the bad guys.  Imagine what the person would be saying if they were aware of every step of the process and could respond.  Make it funny.  Make it fun.  Then they will remember it.  This can also be done with a study partner and each person takes different parts to provide voices as they watch the animation.  These ‘sketches’ could be posted on Blackboard or shared while watching in class.