Monday, November 14, 2011

How to start concept mapping

Concept maps are a great way to bolster your understanding of human anatomy and physiology.

They're easy . . . concept maps are merely simple sketches that summarize the elements of a concept.  Concept maps can also show how different concepts relate to each other. 

By drawing out a concept, you are arranging ideas in the way that your mind works.  It's how you picture an idea, not how your teacher or your textbook author visualizes that idea.  Therefore, it makes the concept easy for you to understand and remember.

As you construct a concept map, you may run into spots where you're not quite sure how things fit together.  That's great!  This shows you where your "weak spot" is with the concept . . . something you may not have discovered until you faced it in a test.  But when you face it in a concept map, you can stop and figure it out.  You can even take your map to your instructor, your tutor, or your study group and ask for help in figuring it out.  Then you'll "own" the concept and will not likely forget it.

Because it's a picture of a concept, a concept map helps you recall a concept easily.  You'll have the concept stored in your mind as a picture that makes sense to you.  Memory experts tell us that pictures of concepts help us recall those concepts.

If you are primarily a visual learner or kinesthetic learner (or both), then concept maps may become a favorite (and efficient) way of learning A&P!

However, if you've never made a concept map, it may be hard to figure out where to start . . . HOW to start.  So here's a short video that shows you an easy way to get started . . .

Check out this pencast on how to start a concept map.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cells hate calcium!
I always tell my students to remember these three things:
Cells hate sodium ions (Na+).
Cells hate calcium ions (Ca++).
Cells love potassium ions (K+).
OK, that's not literally true.  As far as we know, cells are not conscious and therefore do not love or hate anything.  But they sure act like they do!

Think about it.  All living cells have Na-K pumps that pump Na+ out while at the same time pump K+ in. When Na+ leaks into the cell, out it goes.  Likewise, when K+ leaks out of a cell, it's pumped back in.

As far as cells are concerned, Na+ is like a rattlesnake and thus is repulsive and must be gotten rid of when it sneaks in.  And K+ is like a puppy that the must be brought in and cuddled.  Should K+ escape to the cold, cruel world outside a cell, it should be brought back inside and cuddled.

Knowing these facts about sodium and potassium ions is useful to A&P students.  Why?  Because it helps explain where these ions are likely to be found in the human body:
  • If you're looking for Na+, look in the solution outside the cell (extracellular fluid). You won't find much Na+ inside the cell, because it is continually pumped out of the cell.

  • If you are looking for K+, don't look in the extracellular fluid. You'll find very little K+ there. Most of the K+ will be inside the cell (intracellular fluid).
The fact that there are these sodium and potassium ion concentration gradients help explain the concept of membrane voltage (membrane potential). This idea, then, is the foundation of understanding nerve impulses and muscle stimulation.

During a nerve impulse, Na+ rushes into the nerve cell because of the concentration gradient described above (most of the sodium is outside the cell). This gives the membrane a temporary inside-positive charge… and that's what a nerve impulse is. The normal membrane voltage is restored quickly when K+ is allowed to rush out of the nerve cell, thus moving the net positive charge to the outside of the cell membrane.

All living cells have calcium pumps that pump calcium out of the cell.  Some calcium pumps also pump calcium into sacks (the smooth ER).  To a cell, Ca++ is like a cobra. When it leaks into a cell, and it will, it is pumped out quickly or pushed into a sack.

Knowing this fact about calcium ions is useful for understanding many different concepts in A&P.

For example, muscle fibers pump calcium ions out of the plasma membrane (sarcolemma) and into the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR, a form of smooth ER). When the muscle membrane is stimulated (see the paragraphs above), the Ca++ comes rushing into the intracellular fluid from the SR and/or from the extracellular fluid. Ca++ immediately binds to the cytoskeleton, which then produces muscle contraction.

A similar thing happens at the end of a neuron when a nerve impulse (see the paragraphs above) gets to its farthest distance and permits Ca++ to flow into the cell. The Ca++ binds to the cytoskeleton and thereby triggers the movement of vesicles filled with neurotransmitter. These vesicles crash into the plasma membrane and release neurotransmitters by exocytosis, thus allowing them to signal another cell.

Ca++ gradients are also key to understanding how many hormones trigger their target cells. It even helps explain some of the functions of sperm cells and egg cells during human reproduction.

So you can see that this idea of cells hating sodium and calcium ions and loving potassium ions comes in pretty handy when trying to understand many of the concepts of human physiology.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Study Droid

Looking for a way to tame the thousands of terms you are flooded with in your A&P course?

Looking for a shortcut to memorizing  structures in your A&P lab?

How about an easy way to practice identifying histology specimens, anatomical structures, and important concepts?

Maybe you've already found out what bazillions of A&P students before you have discovered . . . flash cards!

One of many web-based tools that you can use is Study Droid.

If you want to see one student's take on Study Droid, then check out this video.

If you want a more focused tutorial on how to use Study Droid, then check out this video.

Already using Study Droid to study for A&P, then let's hear about your experience!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Bloodmobile

Sometimes catchy little songs can help us learn even very complex concepts.

My friend Ellen recently sent along this video with the snappy tune Bloodmobile.  This song from They Might Be Giants summarizes the main functions of the blood . . . a very timely topic for those of you at the beginning of your A&P 2 course.

While we're on a cardiovascular theme, you may recall seeing my previous post Pump Your Blood that features the classic song of the same name that has been used by countless A&P students to learn the path of blood through the heart.

Have any more?  Why not share them?

The Bloodmobile

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Learn your anatomical directions!

As you begin studying the structure and function of the human body, you'll find that you need to be thoroughly familiar with the terminology used in anatomy to describe directions and orientation.

It may seem overwhelming at first, but it's a necessary step in learning everything else in anatomy.  It's like knowing north from south and east from west when beginning a course in geography.

The Anatomy Coloring BookExtra time and effort spent to learn anatomical directions and orientation at the beginning of the course will make most of the next semester or two . . . and beyond into other courses and your career . . . go way more smoothly.  Really.  It's hard to see that now, I know.  But trust me!

Besides your learning in the lab and lecture course, and working through your textbook and lab manual, you may find this FREE mini-course to be helpful.  It's called simply Anatomical Directions and it's provided as a free service from Insight Medical Academy. It requires a free registration to use the course, so be sure to register before trying to access the course.  Here's a brief video explaining how the free course works.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sleeping through A&P

Research confirms it . . . sleeping helps you learn A&P! 

OK, I'm not talking about sleeping during your A&P class.  That kind of sleeping hurts your ability to learn A&P.

Although we've known about this for a long time, recent research in mice adds to the evidence that a session of uninterrupted sleep helps you learn things.  Here's a link to a brief, easy-to-understand explanation of the research:

What this means is that you should make great effort to get a good night's sleep every day that you study A&P.  That means sleeping well on nights that follow your lectures, labs, and study sessions. Or even better: getting a good night's sleep every night!

Yeah, I know . . . there are all kinds of things that interrupt your sleep.  What I'm saying is that it's important to reduce those interruptions as much as possible.  It may mean that you need to get others in your life "on board" with your learning goals, as I explained in a recent post. It may mean changing your schedule around a bit. 

The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night's Sleep (Harvard Medical School Guides)A lot of folks don't really have good sleep habits . . . at that prevents them from sleeping well.  Which prevents them from learning well.  There are a lot of resources for learning good sleep habits, so if you have trouble sleeping well you should do a bit of research or find some professional help.

Besides helping you learn, good sleep habits also help you stay awake during class . . . no matter how boring your professor is!  Regular, uninterrupted sleep also helps you stay healthy and live a longer, happier life!

My A&P students are always looking for ways to help them remember things.  So here's something that's easy: just make sure you get a good night's sleep!

Here's a short video on good sleep hygiene using tips from the CDC and acted out by students at Miami University.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The art of listening

I just ran across a short video in which "listening expert' Julian Treasuresummarizes five easy ways to become a better listener. 

He also points out why listening is important and why it's a skill that, as a culture, we are losing.  And perhaps more importantly for our quest for success in our anatomy & physiology course, he mentions why good listening skills are important for students.

I see so many students "out of focus" and "out of tune" with what is happening in the A&P lecture and lab.  So I know that good listening skills are not common in today's students.  This video will help make you a better student!

Mr. Treasure also talks about having the"listening position" appropriate to the kind of listening in which we are engaged.

He sums up with a quick acronym, RASA, that helps us remember some key points in listening effectively:


Check out the video! (and listen carefully) 
Click image to view video

Friday, May 20, 2011

Not just for A&P!

If you've wrapped up your A&P course, you may think you no longer need advice, tips, and shortcuts from this blog.

But you'd be wrong!

As I mentioned in a previous article (, this is just the beginning of a lifetime of using A&P!  I suggest staying tuned in to this blog because you can continue to benefit from most, if not all, future articles as you struggle through your professional training and the continuing education that is required of working health professionals.

An easy way to keep up with this blog is by signing up for the FREE email updates using the form at the right of the blog page or at

And while I have your attention, I'd like to make my usual end-of-semester plea:

Do NOT sell, give away, recycle, or burn your A&P textbook!

Really, I mean it!  You will regret it if you do. You're going to need it as you progress through future studies and into your practice as a health professional.  See my advice at

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Future Health Scholarship

Are you pursuing a career in health care

Could you use an extra $5,000 or $10,000 to help pay for your schooling?

Then you should check this out:

Tylenol 2011 Future Health Scholarship

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Synapatic Cleft rap video

Need a fresh perspective on the function of nerve signaling?

Here's a parody of Wu-Tang's "Gravel Pit" made by students to help them integrate their knowledge of synaptic signaling and the role of neurotransmitters.

Check out the video (after making sure that your speakers are cranked up):

Download the audio

You may want to review the nerve cell outline before or after watching the video.

Did you know that the discovery of the first neurotransmitter happened in a dream?  Really! Check out Receptors by Richard Restak.

Looking for other silly songs?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Use Word Stash for learning new terms

In several previous articles, I mentioned that the first step in learning the concepts of anatomy and physiology successfully is to learn the language.  You need to master the terminology before you can begin to understand the ideas.

And in many of those previous articles, I pointed out that learning new terms--even a huge number of new terms--can be fast and easy if you simply practice, practice, practice.  Every day.  Several times a day.  But just a few minutes at a time.

And an easy way to practice is using flashcards.  Flashcards can be either traditional paper 3"x5" index cards or any of the many computer-based variations of the flashcard technique.

Recently, a reader of this blog recommended another of the web-based varieties of flashcards.  It's called Word Stash it's a great FREE tool that's very easy to use.

Mosby's Anatomy & Physiology Study and Review CardsIt gives you several options to create word lists, using previously used definitions from a database or using definitions that you write or copy from your course materials.

If you tell your A&P professor about Word Stash, they can create a "class" and load in word lists from their course.  Or your study group or tutor can create a "teacher account" and create a list that is shared by anyone who is part of that class.

I created a class called, you guessed it, The A&P Student . . . and loaded in a word list to show you how it works. Join this "class" to see how Word Stash works:

Password: theapstudent

You'll have to register as a user during the process of accessing this class and word list.  Then play around with the different ways to practice the terms!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Video on running concept lIsts

What in the world is a a running concept list, anyway?!

Put simply, running concept lists are a set of lists, each list relating to a single concept, that you update continually as you learn more about each concept.  They are easy to make and to maintain.  And they are very handy tools for learning new concepts . . . or for reviewing old concepts.

But they are even more helpful for learning the connections between concepts . . . thus developing your critical thinking skills!

Concept lists are also called connection pages because they help you see connections.

I've outlined this ongoing study technique several times before. You may want to review those previous articles.

As you grow your library of running concepts lists, you'll find that you have constructed a personal encyclopedia of knowledge!  One that you can build on (and refer back to) for a lifetime.

If you haven't bothered to learn about running concept lists before, you may want to reconsider this powerful tool.

Recently, I added this video to my page on Concept Lists found in the Lion Den Study Tips & Tools.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Why are you here?

I know this sounds like a dopey question, but I'll ask it anyway . . .

Why are you taking this course in anatomy and physiology?

Based on my experience of decades teaching A&P, I've found that all too many students can only answer, "because it's required."

An answer that is much better for the student is, "to learn the concepts of human structure and function that I will need in later courses and in a lifetime career in a health or sports career."

Really, the A&P course is required of you for a reason.  It's not simply to jump through a hoop.  Or to weed out the weak students. The reason is simple.  You cannot fully understand, or even begin to understand, many of the concepts you'll run into later without a thoroughly embedded understanding of the principles of human anatomy and physiology.  Period.

If you pick up ANY textbook from a course in the health professions, you will find references to human anatomy and physiology principles scattered throughout.  Many such textbooks will even refer to "what you learned in your anatomy and physiology course," sometimes providing a quick review before jumping into a more complicated topic.  If you fail to learn your A&P now, then those quick reviews won't be just a review, will they?  They'll be a warning sign that you are about to get into something you are not prepared for!

So why do I ask this question?  And propose a "correct" answer?

Because if you get on board with the "correct answer" now, you'll dramatically change how you study A&P . . . for the better!

The sooner you realize that you'll need all of these concepts to be successful in your later learning--and in your ongoing career--the sooner you will realize that studying for the test just won't cut it.  You have to shift out of the short-term view and start thinking about learning for a lifetime.

Instead of cramming just before a test, to learn some facts that will stay with you for only a few hours, you'll study every day so that you'll never forget what you are learning.  You'll continually review material from previous topics because you'll notice them coming up again and again.

With the long view, you'll also start working on understanding relationships among the various principles you are learning.  You'll begin to see why it's important to know the basic principles deeply because it makes everything you encounter in human science more understandable and thus easier to learn.

Not to scare you, but a conversation I recently had with some teachers in a health-professions program confirmed again for me the fact that you will fail your professional courses if you don't remember most of your A&P.

Isn't that a good reason to evaluate how you approach your studies in A&P?

[Need some help in finding ways to learn more deeply?  Besides asking your A&P professor for advice, why not try the tips I offer my students at the Lion Den Tips & Tools?]

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Concept Map Video

I've outlined the benefits (and how-to instructions) of concept mapping several times before. You may want to review those previous articles.

Also known as mind maps, these tools are simply a way to visualize a concept.

Concept maps are diagrams that related different elements of a concept to each other and/or to the main idea.  These diagrams can be simple or complex—depending on your own style of learning and what helps you understand the concept.

If you haven't bothered to learn about them before, you may want to reconsider this powerful tool.

Recently, I added this video to my page on Concept Maps found in the Lion Den Study Tips & Tools.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Help significant others help YOU

Do you struggle with balancing the time and effort it takes to succeed in A&P with the time and effort you'd rather be devoting to family, friends, or your partner?

Welcome to the club!  This is a common issue in rigorous, time-consuming courses like anatomy and physiology.

A&P is a foundational course, one that you really cannot skimp on because the whole rest of your training and your career rests on success in learning the concepts of A&P thoroughly.  But then again, you need your personal relationships to succeed, too!

One strategy that I've seen work well is summarized in my book Survival Guide For Anatomy And Physiology: Tips, Techniques And Shortcuts. It's actually pretty simple and pretty easy, for something that works so well!

As early in your studies as possible, take some quality time with those close to you to bring them on board with your commitment to doing well in A&P.  Explain to them what your career goals are and how success in achieving those goals may benefit them as well.  If for no other reason than they love and support you.  But sometimes, career success may bring many other rewards to family and spousal relationships.

After they are on board with your careers goals, make it clear how hard--and how time-consuming--some of the steps along the way are going to be.  Explain how success in A&P is a critical first step . . . a step that will be particularly draining and time-consuming.

After explaining the sacrifices that you'll be making--the great effort that you'll be putting into success--ask them if they are willing to help support you by giving you the time you need.  Explain that by doing so, each of them will by part of your team.

Assuming that those who love you want to be part of your team, work together to find specific ways they can help you.  The more that they can come up with on their own, the more ownership they will take in their part of the team effort.

Here are some examples your team may come up with:
  • Trying not to pester you when you study

  • Taking over one or more of  your household/farm/yard/work chores

  • Not giving you grief when you have to occasionally reduce your fun time with them

  • Agreeing to occasionally help you with your studying (like quizzing you with flash cards)

  • Acting as a child sitter or backup child sitter when you need to go to

    • class

    • participate in study sessions

    • get help from your professor

    • visit the library or learning center

    • have time alone to study

Such a discussion, if handled well, can go far in helping you balance things in your life while you tackle A&P . . . by bringing your loved ones on board early and making them part of the process.

Something that is especially helpful for families, couples, or friendships, is to work together to compose a pledge that you can hang on your refrigerator or keep in your notebook.  This pledge would state the kinds of support that you can expect.   And your pledge to be mindful of their efforts and your intent to be appreciative. When things get tough, it may help diffuse the frustration by calmly renewing your mutual pledge.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Record with your pen!

Sometimes newfangled technology products really do revolutionize how we learn.  One of the newer, niftier learning aids is the set of Smartpens offered by Livescribe.

Smartpens are pens that record both sound and what you write as you use it. 

For example, you can turn on the  Smartpen as your A&P class begins, then record the professor and student discussion as you write your notes.

After class, all you have to do is tap on a part of your notes to replay the audio that goes with it!  Or you can replay the whole class!  If you are using the earbuds that come with the pen, you could also replay a part of the class that you want to replay.

If you want to, you can then dock your  Smartpen in a small USB penholder that comes with your  Smartpens to upload the recording to your Livescribe library.

Once a recording is in your library, you can upload it to the Livescribe site as a pencast.  You can then review the pencast any time you like.  You can keep your pencasts private or you can share them publicly.

This is a great way to replay an entire class to review it . . . or to go back to a part of the class that puzzles you so you can replay your note taking while the voices of your professor and classmates are also replayed.  What a great way to review your newly learned A&P concepts!

If you use the  Smartpen to record others, make sure you have their permission first. Not all professors permit their classes to be recorded. And test out the volume settings and your location in the room to get the best recording.

Here is a simple example of a pencast that quickly summarizes one concept in A&P.

Bone Cell Actions
brought to you by Livescribe

A great study project for your A&P study group would be to produce pencasts like this example and post them to share with the whole class!

To use the Smartpen you have to use the special paper that comes with the pen. Livescribe also provides a file that allows you to print the special paper on your computer printer. However, I prefer to use the inexpensive notebooks available from Livescribe.

This video briefly summarizes the concept of the Smartpen and how you can use it to improve learning.

If you already have some pencasts for A&P that you've posted for public viewing, why not post the link here? Just "comment" on this blog article and include the link.

Friday, January 28, 2011

FREE body browser

I recently saw a story about one of the newest Google Labs creation: Body Browser.  I immediately thought of how helpful this will be for A&P students.

The Body Browser is a FREE online tool that you can use to explore the anatomy of the human body in a "virtual dissection" format.  Using the familiar Google Maps navigation tools, you can . . .
  • Peel (or fade) away layers of the body . . . removing the skin, then muscles, then bones, to reveal the internal organs

  • Select systems (skeletal, muscular, nervous, cardiovascular) to view

  • Click on any structure to show its label

  • Type the name of any structure in the search box to find it in the body

  • Tilt, zoom, turn the body to a variety of positions to see organs in more views that usually available in a textbook, atlas, or chart
The Body Browser runs inside any WebGL-enabled browser, meaning that you don't have to worry about having the latest Flash or Java plugins installed.

I think Body Browser a is a great FREE tool for A&P students to have access to an online model of the human body that can be used for a beginning study of anatomy.  Because it allows the user to type in the names of organs for which they are looking, you can be certain it will work well with what you need to know for your course.

There are a few minor limitations of the Body Browser:
  • The only available specimen is female (that is, there is no male specimen available to complement the female specimen)

  • The specimen is partially clothed.  Although one can see some of the underlying surface structures as the "skin" layer fades back, it's not the same as seeing these structures clearly.  An odd feature that makes certain regions of the body "off limits." (I've seen some hacks to fix this, but none of them work for me using the Chrome browser)

  • Some of the organs are roughly rendered, so it's not as detailed (at least in some areas) as you may like to see

  • Only a few systems can be shown in entirety.  Some useful system views that are missing are the lymphatic system and the respiratory system

  • You cannot select or hide individual organs for display
  • I could find no documentation or even a help button (pretty typical of the experimental Google Labs resources)
Even with some minor limitations, Body Browser is still a fantastic learning and study tool.  As an A&P student, you might use Body Browser as . . .
  • a study tool during a solo or study group session to demonstrate the location and structure of specific organs

    • you could use it live or you could record a session with Jing or similar recording tool and use the pre-recorded exploration to review or to share with others in your study group or class

    • you can send the URL of a specific view (perhaps with a label) to a student or group of students or post it to Facebook, Twitter, or a class website

  • alternative lab model to use along with physical models in the lab

    • use it as a reference side by side with your lab manual and your laboratory model

    • use it in place of a laboratory model when studying at home or away from the lab
  • a way to create images for
    • your class notes
    • concept maps
    • study guides and review sheets
    • class presentations, lab reports, term papers, and other assignments

Do you have some other ideas for using Body Browser in an undergraduate A&P course?  Just use the comment feature and share your ideas with us!

Check out this video to see a demo of the currently available features of Body Browser

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Painless memorization with Quizlet

Understanding anatomy and physiology often begins with building a foundation of basic terminology and identification of structures by name and location.  Yikes, that means memorization.  

A lot of folks dread memorization tasks because they simply don't know how to do it in a quick, pain-free manner. Once you know the tricks of memorization, it's not that bad.

The essential trick is to practice, practice, practice. 

That means every day, several times a day, if possible.

However, this will only work if you spend just a few minutes at a time practicing.  If you try to get in all in one long session, it won't work . . . or at least least is won't work very well.  In fact, the "long session approach" can sometimes burn you out so badly, it'll be hard to make yourself study the same topic again.

One of the easiest ways to practice painlessly is to make and use flashcards.  I have a previous blog post and a study tip web page and even a YouTube video devoted to methods of using flashcards to study A&P effectively.

My friend Monica Hall-Woods (another A&P professor) reminded me recently of a website called where you can easily make a set of flashcards online (for FREE) and use it to study and to quiz yourself.  In fact, gives you some alternative methods to quiz yourself, including some fun, game-like activities.

The more practice sessions you do on, the more you'll almost effortlessly pick up the basic facts that you are trying to learn. helps you keep track of what you've studied and how you are doing.

You can also upload photos from . . . which means that you can take photos of your lab specimens with your smartphone, then upload the images into a set of flashcards!

Another great feature of is that you can form study groups.  This allows one or more users to post and share sets of flashcards related to a particular topic. also lets you use flashcard stacks that others have created.  (Warning: be careful those you use are accurate before using them to study.)  Here's a stack of cards that I created simply by cutting and pasting a list I already had into the editor:

Try it!  Use different options for quizzing yourself and playing games. I think you'll have fun with it. Which is the point . . . the less pain, the more gain.  At least in this case.

Let me know what you think!  And use the comment feature (below this blog article) to post your favorite sets you've made or found . . . so other A&P students can benefit.