Thursday, February 26, 2009

Reading the textbook

The key to reading an A&P textbook effectively is to use a reading strategy!

The Academic Skills Center at Dartmouth has a nice web page that summarizes some of the best strategies to make textbook reading less time-consuming and more effective:

What should strike you about the information there is that you must abandon what you think you already know about how to read a textbook! Reading a textbook is WAY different than how one reads a novel or magazine article. For example:
  • Once is not enough. You have to read the material several times, using different methods each time, to really "get" what you are reading.
  • You must have the courage to skip parts that don't apply to your goals
  • You can read faster, with better comprehension, by simply forcing yourself to read faster
  • You do not have to read every word
  • It really does matter where you do your reading
If you find that the assigned textbook for your 2-semester A&P course is too difficult to read, try this one that is specifically designed for reading efficiency:

. . . and encourage your instructor to consider efficiency of reading when selecting assigned textbooks and other readings in the future!

Stay tuned to this blog for more tips on how to get more out of reading your textbook with less effort.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


If you don't want to miss that one A&P study tip that will change everything for you, then you ought to consider a subscription to The A&P Student blog.

One popular way to subscribe is to sign up for The A&P Student Newsletter, a FREE emailed newsletter that automatically delivers every article from the blog to your inbox. Just fill in the form:

Enter your Email

Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz

If you already use a feedreader on your desktop, homepage, or wherever, you may want to subcribe to The A&P Student blog feed. Just click the link:

And don't forget to share the link with others by clicking the BOOKMARK icon in the upper right column of any page on The A&P Student blog and choosing your favorite way to share the link!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Free protein synthesis animations

I was subbing in an A&P class for my friend Mary Ann, and used some animations of transcription and translation.

I nearly got far enough to use some FREE animations available online at Virtual Cell.

The topic of protein synthesis, which includes some processes that I think are best visualized with an animation, has been the subject of many, many, many animated video clips.

A quick search of YouTube reveals several hundred entries for protein synthesis. Other keywords to search YouTube include transcription and translation.

Here are some examples . . .

Here's a good one that I found on YouTube . . .

This is an interesting video that animates the process of protein synthesis using people!

[If you can't see the video players in your email or news feed, then go directly to The A&P Student blog to view the videos.]

Have you found some nice animations on this topic?
If so, share them with us by "commenting" on this article
. . . or email me directly at

Monday, February 16, 2009

Running concept lists

Running concept lists are handy tools for learning new 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.

How to make a running concept list:

Choose a concept, such as "plasma membrane functions," that you see show up frequently in your reading or class discussions. (Also use concepts that your A&P teacher mentions "will come up again.")

Put the name of the concept at the top of your list.

Write notes on everything you know about this concept so far.

Be brief but direct and clear.

Draw pictures if that helps you understand the concept better. (copy the pictures from your book if you need to)

Make a separate list for each concept.

How to "run" the concept list:

Keep each concept list with your notes, perhaps a separate section started from the back of your notebook.

Whenever the concept appears again, add the new information or the new example to your concept list.

For example, list each new function of the plasma membrane as you run across it. When you see the same function appear in new contexts, add that to your list, too.

How to use the list:

Just by making the list and keeping it current, you will be learning to see applications and relationships . . . important "critical thinking" skills that will help you later.

This exercise will help improve your skills in noticing which concepts are the more important ones.

When it is time to prepare for a test or exam, you will already have a list where comparisons are apparent . . . you will see information that would not be easily seen in your notes or the textbook.

When you need a "cross-referenced" glossary to check on information for a test or class discussion question, your concept lists may help.

When you need to summarize (such as reviewing for a big exam) or in reviewing your material before taking another course that uses these concepts, you'll have a handy "connected" list of concepts.

Don't forget:

Run a separate concept list for EACH important concept.


For more on concept lists, including a list of example topics for each concept list, see Concept Lists in the Lion Den.

Also check out my previous blog article Concept Maps.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Pump your blood

When learning the structure and function of the cardiovascular system, it is wise to develop a thorough knowledge of the pathway of blood flow through the heart and vessels--the general scheme of blood circulation.

I'm not talking about a vague understanding that might permit you to figure out where the blood goes when it leaves the right ventricle after some consideration, and quick look at a diagram or your notes . . . I'm talking about a thorough understanding, so that you can immediately state with confidence, "past the aortic valve, through the pulmonary trunk and arteries toward the lungs."

And not just for the short term . . . long enough to pass your next test . . . but so thoroughly familiar that it will not likely ever be totally lost. And with occasional refreshers, will pretty much always be there for you.

Why such a thorough knowledge of this particular concept? Because you'll find it necessary in order to understand many, many other concepts about human structure and function. Once you learn it, you'll find yourself using it when studying pretty much every other major system of the body. And when you start applying A&P to clinical or athletic applications, you'll find you need it there, too!

So this is one of those things that seem daunting at first (but is really not so bad) and will be well worth a little effort up front.

How to manage it? Well that depends on your learning style of course.

One this is sure: just staring at the diagram in your book is not enough! That's the place to start, of course, but you have to do something active to fully understand and "own" this concept.

The next step is to make a list of the parts you "need to know" for your course in the order in which blood passes through them. An example of such a list is found at my Cardiovascular Learning Outline in the Lion Den. But we're still just getting started.

One great way to learn is to draw yourself a concept map of the pathway of blood through the pulmonary and systemic pathways, including through the heart chambers and valves. This is especially useful for visual and kinesthetic learners. Draw it the way the makes the best sense to YOU. That may be quite a bit different than

For auditory learners, try this favorite of a whole generation of A&P students . . . learn the song Pump Your Blood. It's just a start, but

Here's the video of the first verse of Pump Your Blood as animated in a St. Joseph's aspirin commercial:

Here's another version that includes all the verses AND the lyrics:

[The video players embedded here may not appear in your news feed or emailed newsletter. Go to The A&P Student blog to access the video viewer.

Click here for a version from the classic TV show Happy Days (episode #142) . . . this is the "original" version of the song (performed here byAnson Williams, who acted in the show as Potsie) . . . the version I first saw (and used) to help me learn the blood flow pathway.

For a printed version of the lyrics click here (includes a link to a Pumps Your Blood

What methods have YOU found to be successful?

Anki Learning System

In a recent post, I talked about a shortcut in how to learn the overwhelming terminology of A&P--flashcards.

This is another great tool for learning the terminology of A&P . . .

My friend Jane Zeiser told me about this tool. Jane is a foreign language professor and her students use it to learn their vocabulary words.

It's called Anki and it's a FREE program that creates a database that is something like a virtual deck of flash cards. Students can load in (and share) their A&P terms and learn them by practicing with them.

The program is SMART because it uses a proven algorithm to repeat items that are missed in a pattern that promotes efficient learning. As the student learns, the program alters the pattern to focus on the terms that need more practice . . . without forgetting to review the terms already learned.

Anki can be downloaded and used on a PC or Mac, it can be used on a mobile device (such as an iPod, iPhone, or SmartPhone), or on the web.

Of course, memorizing the meaning of terms is just the first step in thoroughly learning A&P . . . but a very important first step. Success with the first step leads to success during the rest of the journey, eh?

Please "comment" on this article if you've already had experience with Anki . . . we'd love to hear some first-person reports!

Find Anki at

Watch this screencast to learn about Anki . . . .

A nap after class?

Research shows that a short, five- or ten-minute nap after class or after studying can improve learning.

A current theory is that during the process of falling to sleep we sort through our recent memories and possibly filter and organize them. This may "lock in" important memories of what was learned in the classroom or while reading the textbook or studying.

Hmmmm . . . perhaps colleges should offer more napping spaces in classroom buildings to enhance learning. Not a bad idea, eh?

To read more, see this quick summary at NewScientist:

Are catnaps as beneficial as actual sleep?
Colin Barras
NewScientist 21 February 2008

Monday, February 2, 2009

Learning terminology

Take learning new terms in your A&P course as seriously as you would learning vocabulary words in a foreign language course.

It sounds silly, but you learn as many new words in an A&P course as you do a beginning foreign language course. Really --there's been research to prove it!

The easiest way to learn new terms is to use the flash card method.

Yes . . . it reminds us all of elementary school, I know. But I also know that it works in college --I still use it myself. In fact, it was a college professor at St. Louis University (Dr. Steve Dina, my ecology professor) who taught me how valuable a tool this can be in a college science course when I went to him asking for help with the overwhelming terminology of his course.

An easy and effective way to use flashcards to learn A&P terms is demonstrated at my study tip on new terms at the Lion Den.

There's also helpful information in my book Survival Guide For Anatomy And Physiology: Tips, Techniques And Shortcuts

But remember, learning the language is just the first step!

To truly understand the structure and function of the body, you have to know what the concepts really mean and how they relate to one another. And most importantly, you have to be able to apply what you've learned.

FREE Office suite

Do you need a comprehensive Office suite for your home or laptop computer?

But you don't want to (or cannot) pay a large sum of money to get it?

Then you may want try Open Office, a FREE MS Office-compatible office suite from

Components include:
  • Writer (word processing)
  • Impress (slide show creator/presenter)
  • Draw (drawing/graphic editing tool)
  • Calc (spreadsheet)
  • Base (database)
This open-source software isn't exactly the same as MS Office (of course) but the general functionality and productivity is equivalent. And the files you produce in one Office suite are able to be used in the other Office suite.

[NOTE: The newer XML default file formats used in MS Office 2007 (such as .docx, .pptx, and so on) can be opened in Open Office 3.0 but cannot be saved in those formats.] has just released their latest version Open Office 3.0 . . . so's now is the perfect time to get on board. (or update your previous version of Open Office). has a nice little summary and introduction for educational use at their website that I suggest you explore.

If you try it, or are already using Open Office, then please hit the Comment button below this blog article and let us know about your experience.