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)!