Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Where are the ions?

(Terminology review: cations are positively charged ions, anions are negatively charged ions.)

Let's talk about ion concentrations for a moment.  Your book shows a figure (27.6) that shows the concentrations of several ions in intracellular fluid (ICF), extracellular fluid (ECF), and blood plasma.  Looking at the chart, we notice several interesting things.  The interstitial fluid is very high in sodium and chloride, with some bicarbonate.  The intracellular fluid is very high in potassium, phosphate, and protien anions.  And if we look at calcium, we see a concentration gradient present where calcium is higher outside the cell than inside the cell (although the relative concentration isn't as high as the other ions mentioned).

So outside the cell we have lots of sodium, chloride, and calcium.  Inside the cell we have lots of potassium.

These facts are factoring into conversations and lectures in both BIO 137 and BIO 139 right now.  Knowing where these ions are in high concentration is helpful for analyzing (there's that critical thinking again) what is going to happen in a physiological situation.

In BIO 137 we have just concluded discussing how neurons work to produce graded and action potentials.  In that context, we have discussed depolarizing and hyperpolarizing gradients.  The movement of sodium down its concentration gradient (into the cell) creates a depolarizing gradient, while the movement of chloride or potassium down its concentration gradient creates a hyperpolarizing gradient.  If these gradients are in graded potentials in the postsynaptic cell, they can be EPSPs or IPSPs.

So knowing where these ions are in high concentration can help you to determine where they will flow if an ion channel opens (because they move down their concentration gradients).  That can help you determine the effect on the cell (depolarizing/excitatory or hyperpolarizing/inhibitory).

In BIO 139 we are discussing kidneys and the effect of hormones on urine composition.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Bloom's Taxonomy

(I have a Wimba lecture on this in some of the Blackboard course shells, so you may have seen/heard this already.  But I realized that I didn't put it on the blog, where some people were looking for it.)

One of the goals of BIO 137 and BIO 139, in addition to learning the content of the course, is to teach you to apply the information in new and different ways.  That is an example of critical thinking.  All of our general education courses strive to teach you critical thinking skills.

When talking to students about developing critical thinking skills, I often show a website that offers a summary on Bloom's Taxonomy.  Bloom's Taxonomy is a philosophical framework that helps illustrate the levels of critical thinking.  We tend to go through these levels when learning any new concept.  First, we have to learn the terminology and what it means.  Then we have to be able to use those terms.  We have to learn some of the basic concepts, then we learn how they relate to one another.  Pretty soon we can explain the new concepts ourselves.  Later we can apply those concepts to new scenarios.  Eventually we can come up with new scenarios or situations that can use the information that we already know.  At the ultimate level of critical thinking, we use information to help us create information we didn't already have.  This is how scientific research works - scientists use information to create experiments and then analyze the results for new knowledge.

The verbs or "action words" in that link help me to discuss the wording of essay questions, and ways to approach answering them on exams.  A question that starts "define" will be answered differently than a question that begins "compare".

Even multiple choice questions can be constructed to assess students' mastery of different levels of Bloom's Taxonomy.  For example, I give the following series of questions on a quiz in Chapter 3:

1.  What is a hypotonic solution?
2.  What happens to a cell in a hypotonic solution?
3.  Which is greater: solute concentration in a hypotonic solution or solute concentration in a hypertonic solution?
4.  If the extracellular concentration of sodium decreases, what happens to the cell?

Each of those questions has a series of answer choices that follow it, making them multiple choice questions.  The first question is at the level of "define" - the student picks the definition of "hypotonic solution" out of the list of answer choices.  The second question isn't necessarily a higher level question either - the student can memorize the effect of each of the solutions that are shown in the figure in the book.  The third question starts to get into higher levels - the student is asked to compare two solutions and determine which is greater.  The last question is a scenario that the student must recognize is a hypotonic solution in order to pick the correct answer.  This analysis is a higher level than the previous three questions.

I think using these questions to illustrate the methods of developing and assessing critical thinking is helpful.  I recommend to students that they practice taking their material and putting it into questions at various levels.  I also recommend reviewing quizzes and tests from this viewpoint, to see if they are missing a number of the higher level questions or questions of a particular type (compare, for example).

I think Bloom's Taxonomy can be a useful tool in helping students to understand how we learn, and to assess for themselves where they think they are in that process.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Review of Endocrine System

In lab, we studied the endocrine system using the following tools:

1.  The Torso Model - on this model we identified the thyroid, parathyroids, pancreas, and adrenal glands.  (The pancreas is further subdivided and has several numbers labeling it.  If asked to identify "pancreas", any of those numbers would be correct.)

2.  The flat model - the purple plastic teaching model was used to look at the endocrine organs.  On this model we identified thyroid, pancreas, adrenal (both cortex and medulla) and gonads.

3.  The figure in the book - this figure is what I usually use for the structures in the brain (hypothalamus, pituitary, pineal gland) since they are not shown clearly on the models.  This figure was the basis of your last lab quiz, which is graded and the answer key is posted in the lab.

4.  Slides - be able to identify pituitary and tell anterior (adenohypophysis) from posterior (neurohypophysis).  Be able to identify thyroid gland.  Be able to identify adrenal cortex and the three zones.  Be able to identify pancreas and the Islets of Langerhans (pancreatic islets).

Monday, October 10, 2011


Stop Letting Those People Touch The Cadavers Hand.

Sounds like a silly statement, but some students find mnemonic devices helpful for memorizing certain anatomical concepts like the carpal bones/bones of the hand.  Instead of " Scaphoid, Lunate, Triquetrum, Pisiform, Trapezium, Trapezoid, Capitate, Hamate", some people find it easier to remember a sentence like the above.  The first letter of each word of the sentence corresponds to the first letter of the names of the bones of the hand.  By remembering the sentence, you can remember the first letter of the bones in their correct order.

The trick to using mnemonic devices correctly is that you still actually have to learn the names of the bones of the hand, you still actually have to learn their position (in the device above, you need to know that the bones are of the proximal row before the distal row), you still have to memorize spelling.  So you will need to do some studying in addition to remembering "the sentence".  But once you do know the names of the bones, once you have reviewed their location on the models, using the sentence can help you remember the order that is sometimes the difficult step.

Where can you find mnemonic devices?  Sometimes textbooks include them in their discussion of each topic.  A simple web search can point you to websites that contain lists of a number of devices on anatomy topics.  But be careful if you try this route - some medical students are notorious for using shocking terms and themes in their mnemonics to make them memorable or amusing.  Some of those links you don't want to surf if your kids are around the computer!

Why not ask you study partners if they have any mnemonic devices that help them to remember the order of anatomy structures you are reviewing?  You never know when they might come up with something like "Oh, Oh, Oh, To Touch And Feel Very Good Vegetables, Ah Heaven" (that's for cranial nerves)!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Coronary Circulation

To teach the coronary circulation, I have to admit that I like the figures from a different textbook company much more than the ones our publisher uses.

The main coronary vessels we discussed in class today include:

Right coronary artery
Marginal artery, or the Marginal Branch of the Right Coronary Artery
Left coronary artery
Circumflex artery, or the Circumflex Branck of the Left Coronary Artery

Small cardiac vein
Great cardiac vein
Middle cardiac vein
Coronary sinus

All of these are shown pretty clearly in the images below.

Just as in our textbook, the heart is shown transparently to try to show the vessels as they wrap around from anterior to posterior.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Study Time

The beginning of the semester - and academic year - includes talk about Study Time: how much, how often, how much time to spend on each "thing" ...

So here are some things I think are helpful to consider when planning study time into your semester's schedule:

A&P faculty recommend students spend a minimum of three hours outside of class studying for every hour that you spend inside of class.  Since you spend 5 hours (between lecture and lab) per week in class, you will need to spend 15-20 hours a week outside of class studying.  Students who have efficient study skills can sometimes get away with spending less time than that some weeks, but then find they have to make up the time to study for exams or finals.  Planning 15 hours into your week isn't easy, but is necessary if you are going to be successful.

Try to plan some time for immediately after class if at all possible.  With only ten minutes between lecture and lab that isn't always possible, but even taking that 10 minutes to review the notes you just took can be incredibly helpful to "cement" the information in your brain (or to help build neuronal connections, which is what is really happening!)  Look through the notes you just took, and mark anything you want to come back and look at in more detail.  Fill in anything that is still fresh in your mind that you didn't get down on paper.  If there is something that is confusing, mark it and make a note to send the prof an email or ask at the beginning of the next class.  Sometimes you find that you stopped writing mid-sentence.  If you review your notes immediately after class, you are more likely to remember how it should be filled in, or you can at least make a note to make sure your question gets answered as soon as you can.

Try to find a partner to review notes with.  Pay attention to who you think is the most successful person in the class, and ask them to spend 10 minutes with you reviewing notes after lecture.  Reviewing notes with another person helps you to see if there is something they have in their notes that you missed, so you end up with a more complete set of notes.  Also, by making connections with more successful people in the course, you may have an opportunity to learn about their study techniques or an approach that might help you.

Study in small, manageable "bites".  You need to study A&P every day.  In order to learn the large amount of difficult content, and in order to continue building the concepts that are related, you need to work with the material on a daily basis.  That seems overwhelming to people, particularly if you are used to thinking about studying as a huge chore of getting your books out, getting "organized", finding the relevant material to study, and then blocking out three hours of time to study.  That leads me to my next point ...

Shift your mindset about "studying".  You don't have to be sitting in a particular spot to learn.  You don't have to study for a particular amount of time to learn, you don't have to have a particular notebook.  You do need to be focused to learn, so develop the ability to focus rather than relying on having your notes in a particular notebook, or only studying at home on the couch.  Get in the habit of taking some notes with you, so any spare moments you have can be spent reading over some notes.  Instead of games on your phone, get an anatomy app and spend the time quizzing yourself on bone markings and muscle insertions.

Learn to set boundaries.  Even if you aren't paying tuition, going to college isn't cheap.  This is a sacrifice you are making to invest in your future.  Some people will be on board with that, and others might not be.  Get good at setting boundaries around your schedule and communicating that information to others that you need support from.  If you need to study on Tuesdays after supper because you have lab on Wednesday, and someone has agreed its their job to give the kids a bath so you're free, don't get sucked into giving the kids a bath because that person "forgot".  It is very healthy to set boundaries and hold people accountable for the things they have agreed to, even if feels uncomfortable at first.

Figure out your schedule a week in advance.  If you've ever taken a high school "life skills" class, this will seem trivial to you.  Likewise if you've ever had an employer send you for Covey training to change your life and your work habits.  Seriously, though, it works.  Find some kind of time management system that works for you, and work it.  Once a week.  A weekly schedule is a small enough time frame that you can manage the things coming up and still figure out study time, with a broad enough frame that you can work in the time you need to study for the things coming up in all your classes.

Make connections.  Connect with as many people in your classes as possible.  Get phone numbers, email addresses, Twitter names, and connect with people on Facebook.  Some people naturally gravitate to one person as a lab partner, but for the best success, you will want to expand your learning network as much as possible.  There is a large social learning component to learning science, and using others in your class can be as much of a study tool as your notes or Wiley Plus.  Use the class as an opportunity to network with people that have the possibility to make you more successful than you would be on your own.

Have any other suggestions about Study Time?  Leave them in the comments!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Determining Your Learning Style

I am a firm believer that finding out about your individual learning style can be a very helpful tool when you begin an academic year (or program, semester, class, section, chapter ...).  I wrote about the topic previously in this post, where I linked to the Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire that I prefer to use with students.  You can find these everywhere: a simple web search of Learning Styles Questionnaires or Learning Styles Inventories will turn up a number of links.  I prefer to use one with a little bit of research behind it, and some that take less time actually give you less information.

While some personality tests also provide some information about how you best process information or learn, a learning styles inventory asks specific questions to help you not only determine if you are visual or verbal, but also if you are a global thinker or more sequential, if you are more active or not, etc.  Sometimes even the mode of delivery of the information matters: some people learn better by having something read to them, rather than them reading the words themselves.

Finding out early - in the semester, in the year, in your program - how you best deal with a content-rich course can help you use what you find out about yourself and your learning style to plan study habits that will provide the most impact to your learning.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I Stole This Idea, But It's Still A Good One

In my Twitter feed this morning, I saw a link to this article, about building a Personal Learning Network.  I really love this idea, and I wanted to share it.

Obviously I think that using social media as a learning tool is pretty effective, which is one reason I wanted to start using Twitter and blogs to reach students.  My personal Twitter feed is a mishmash of mothers that use cloth diapers, professors tweeting anonymously about students, Community College and Higher Education organizations, feminists, scientists, and basketball analysts.  My interests are quite varied, as you can tell. 

What's great is that, by building that network of people that I know and who have gotten to know me, I have a ready resource of people that can provide answers to questions that I send out.  Sometimes they are just providing some commiseration when, for example, I tweeted that I thought I had lost a document that I had been working on for an hour.

Social media is, well, social.  So it is easy to just tweet about your daily activities.  But what if you could use social media to build a network of people who could help you learn?  What if you could build a network of friends and followers so that if you needed to, while studying, you could seek help?

We know there is a huge social learning component when studying science.  That's been proven in the academic literature, and you know the stories if you've been to my introductory lab sessions.  Students who study together are more successful.  But how do nontraditional students fit study groups into an already crammed schedule?  I think this is where social media can be most helpful to students.

There are phone apps for learning anatomy, there are websites that have animations for physiology, but having someone to help you interpret is really helpful.  Tweet a link to a site and see who else is interested.  Learned a new mnemonic device for remembering the bones of the hand?  Share it with your friends on Facebook.  You never know when they might post something equally helpful to you.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Learning Styles

At the beginning of each semester I offer students in BIO 137 an opportunity to earn some extra credit.  I used to be a firm disbeliever in extra credit - if you have time to do something extra, you have time to do the work for the class.  However, this is something that is truly "extra" since it outside the content of the course, and it's something that I find to be effective and important.  So I don't mind offering a few points to motivate students to participate.

In addition to the extra credit, it is an opportunity to learn something about themselves and develop some self-awareness.  I think that is the biggest benefit, but sometimes the points help to motivate students to do the exercise.

On the Blackboard course shell, I place this link.  I also inform students that if they complete the inventory, print out the results page, and turn it in to me by a certain deadline, they will earn two points extra credit.

The link is to a Learning Styles Inventory created by faculty at North Carolina State University.  It has around 45 questions that you answer, and at the end it reports back to you the results by showing where you fall on a continuum between two different learning styles.  For example, some people are more verbal, and some people are more visual.  One set of results shows a line from visual to verbal and shows where you fall.  If you are close to the middle, you have a good balance between learning information presented visually versus learning information presented verbally.  If your "X" is toward one end or the other, it means that you prefer that style more than the other in learning.

I discuss this exercise with students in the class, because I think being aware of your learning style is important.  I also discuss it because it helps students to understand how I have constructed the course.  I am a very visual person - when I started teaching, I taught how I learned.  So my powerpoint presentations would have a bunch of the figures from the book, that I would spend time explaining, and very little in the way of slides with words.  That's great if my students are also visual learners - but what if they're not?  So over time I developed "word" slides to go with the "picture" slides.  I point out to them that if the visuals seem overwhelming or confusing, to try reading the "word" slides, and see if that helps.  By knowing your learning style, it also helps you to know what forms of information to rely on in studying and trying to understand information.

The outcome of this exercise will benefit students far beyond the walls of my classroom.  I have had students report to me that it helped them in other courses they were taking at the same time, and some students told me it helped them in later courses in their academic program.  One student, who was a very verbal oriented learner, said she noticed when a program faculty member was teaching in a very visual style.  She would listen to the instructor explain the visuals, and she would write that explanation out to use to study.  Being aware of your learning style is a key step in creating study aids that will be useful to you.

So if you haven't already tried it,  click the link and see what your results are.  Think about how you can apply that information to your daily and academic life.  See if it makes a difference for you, as it has for some of my other students.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Permission for Hybrid BIO 137

I will be teaching a BIO 137 class in the fall that is a "hybrid" format course.  The lab will be held face-to-face, but the lecture material will all be completed online.  For students to be successful in this class, they will need frequent, and often lengthy, access to the internet, and the ability to learn independently and be self-motivated.  For this reason, the course is available for registration by instructor permission only.

Students who are interested in registering for the class will need to make an appointment to meet with me.  At that meeting I will determine permission for you to register for the class.

What sorts of things do I base the permission on?  Firstly, I would prefer students who have a high GPA register for the class.  This demonstrates that a student knows how to study and what it takes to be successful in college courses.  I will not give permission to students who are in their first semester of college.  I will not give permission to students who are on academic probation - this class will likely NOT help you bring your GPA up.

I am looking for evidence that a student understands how to be successful in college courses.  This means a history of ... being successful in college courses.  If I see that a student has struggled in the past, I can't imagine that an online lecture - where even more of the responsibility is on the student to work through the material on their own - is right for them.

I will also ask the student what other courses they are planning to take concurrently (at the same time as this course) and what their study habits and techniques usually are.  I'll likely ask if you already know your learning style, since that is an extra credit assignment I will offer for the class and I'm curious if students are already aware of how they learn.

Overall, my aim is to get a general sense of how prepared the student is for the rigors of learning A&P online.  Why am I doing that?  A&P is a difficult course in a normal format for many students.  With the additional difficulty of an online lecture, I want to try to choose the students that will be most successful in this type of class format.  I don't want someone to take the hybrid course just because it fits in their schedule better, and not be aware of how this course will be different.  Since students only have a limited opportunity to complete the course, I want students to be set up for the best opportunity possible.

If a student has taken A&P I before and not passed - received an E, a D, or a W, I will likely not give them permission to take the hybrid class.  If a student wasn't able to learn the material in a structured lecture setting - with the instructor right in front of them - then it doesn't make sense that they would be more successful with the lecture material entirely online.

The good thing is, I am also teaching a section of the course that meets entirely face-to-face, and only uses Blackboard for course documents and supplemental materials.  Any students who decide after our meeting that the online lecture is not for them - or students that I determine I don't want to give permission for - can still register for a "regular" section of the course. (Make sure you search for the classes at the Tech Campus, since that's where the class will be meeting.)


Monday, February 7, 2011

Red and Blue

(This post is a draft - I still have to download the photos! Photos now added!)

Not in terms of whether you root for the University of Louisville or the University of Kentucky!

In terms of blood vessels.

Definitions: arteries carry blood away from the heart, veins carry blood toward the heart.  Red (on a model or diagram) denotes oxygenated blood, blue denotes deoxygenated blood.

While it is true that most of the time, the vessels carry oxygenated blood out into tissues (away from the heart) and return deoxygenated blood back toward the heart, this only holds true for the systemic circuit.

The pumonary circuit is an entirely different story, and this is why pulmonary arteries and pulmonary veins confuse so many students.

You see, after the oxygenated (red) blood goes to the tissues, and the deoxygenated (blue) blood returns to the heart, it then has to be pumped to the lungs to be re-oxygenated.

So the blood leaving the right side of the heart, going into the pulmonary arteries to travel to the lungs, is deoxygenated.  This is one case where you will see arteries depicted in figures and models as blue.

After its circuit through the lungs, the blood has become reoxygenated, and returns to the heart to be pumped to the body.  This is one one case where you will see veins depicted in figures and models as red.

So you can't really use blue and red as rules of thumb about veins and arteries, especially the vessels that come out of the heart.  You can, however, use what you know about where the blood is coming from, and where it is going next, to help you determine what vessels they are.

Here are some views of the models to help with this discussion.

This is a closeup of the pulmonary veins.  They are bringing blood into the heart (veins), into the left atrium.  They are carrying oxygenated blood (red) that will be pumped through the left side of the heart to the systemic circulation.  The fact that these vessels lead into the left atrium helps you to identify that they are pulmonary veins, also that they are carrying oxygenated blood helps you to know they just came from the lungs.

This is a closeup of the pulmonary arteries.  They are pumping the blood from the heart to the lungs.  From the right ventricle, a single vessel, called the pulmonary trunk, divides into the pulmonary arteries.  The fact that these vessels lead from the right ventricle helps you to identify that they are pulmonary arteries, also that they are carrying deoxygenated blood helps you to know the blood is headed to the lungs.

To help you make sure that you understand these vessels, make sure you can identify them correctly on different models.  Here they appear on the circulatory model:

and here they appear on the respiratory system model:

Pulmonary trunk is seen well in this picture leaving the right ventricle

Arteries away!