Thursday, August 30, 2012

The "Blank Page" Exercise

Usually this time of semester, right before the first lecture exam, I often make a short diversion in lecture to talk about ways to study.  This semester was no different.  I talked in class last week about the Learning Styles Inventory and how to use those results.  I talked about Bloom's Taxonomy and how it helps us understand developing higher levels of critical thinking skills - and being able to answer questions at those higher levels.  I talked about Mind Mapping (which will be the subject of the next post).  And I also talked about what I call the Blank Page Exercise.

I had two favorite techniques for studying at home when I was in graduate school.  The first was to stop periodically when reading or reviewing to explain what I was reading to my dog.  I had an adorable pup named Darby who was a cocker spaniel/golden retriever mix.  She didn't care what I was saying to her as long as I was talking.  But the process of putting what I was reading into words was a very helpful step.

Then my next technique was a bit of a self-quiz.  After I felt like I had mastered a topic, and thought I was ready to take a test on it, I gave myself a test.  I would write a question, or even a topic, at the top of a blank sheet of paper.  Then I would see how much I could fill in without looking.

Because really, isn't that what the test experience is?  You think you are ready, you get your test, and you are asked to explain the concepts without looking at books or notes.

So does it make sense to have that experience for the very first time at the actual test?  Or does it make more sense to have that experience for the first time while you are still in the studying process? 

No one else has to see your blank page.  It doesn't have to be perfect.  It is simply a tool to help you figure out what material you already have mastered enough to write about it on paper - and what material you still need to work on in order to get to that point.

The first lecture exam in both BIO 137 and BIO 139 are next week after the Labor Day holiday.  Yes, reviewing your handmade flashcards will be helpful.  Yes, creating outlines to help you mentally organize the information will be helpful.  But taking a moment to test yourself, to see where you are, using a blank page ... that can be a very powerful technique.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Red, White, and .... yes, Blue

In BIO 139 lab this week we are studying the morphology (form, structure) of human blood cells.  We are learning to identify cells based on shape, size, color, nucleus, granules, etc.

There are two main types of cells that we are identifying on the human blood smear slide, Red Blood Cells and White Blood Cells (hence the title of this post!)

A helpful website explaining how to identify some of these cells can be found at a website maintained by the University of Nebraska Omaha.  This Blood Cells website shows photomicrographs of all of the red and while blood cells while pointing out some of the features used to identify each cell type.

Keep in mind that while identifying blood cells, where you look on the slide is very important.  This photo from the Blue Histology website shows that the area of the slide differs because of the way the blood smear is made.  A blood smear is made by placing a drop of blood at one end of the slide, then applying even pressure to spread the blood cells out across the slide.  Ideally you will have an area where the cells are spread out flat enough to see the shape and attributes of the cytoplasm and nucleus.

So, what about the "Blue" in the post title?  That refers to Basophils, which often stain with blue-colored granules.  Basophils often give students fits because they are the most rare cell type on blood smears, and are often hard to find during lab.  Blue Histology has a page with some blood cell information on it that contains several photomicrographs of basophils.  Also, here are a few other photos of basophils.

It is the presence of blue/purple granules in the cytoplasm of the basophil that is characteristic.  One way to tell a basophil from a lymphocyte is to try to view an area of just cytoplasm.  The lymphocyte will have light blue or lavender colored cytoplasm without any granules.  The basophil's cytoplasm will contain granules.

What about functions? gives some general functions for each of the types of white blood cells.  Of course, your lab sheet points out the table in your book that can give you similar information.