Monday, September 7, 2009

Learning anatomic structures

When you first face human anatomy in the lab course, it can seem overwhelming. All those parts. And parts of parts! Yikes!

Many inexperienced students feel that their objectives consist entirely of memorization. Often, they feel that memorizing the particular models, specimens, and diagrams available to them in the lab course are the beginning and end of the process facing them.

That's wrong on several counts.

First, what good is taking this course, if you are simply going to memorize things that will be useless to you outside of this particular course . . . when you'll face other specimens, perhaps even real human bodies?

Second, there is a far easier way to learn your anatomy—even a long list of required structures—than merely memorizing them. If you first construct a conceptual framework, before learning all those parts, your learning will be faster, easier, and more accurate. AND you'll be more likely to hold on to that information (and recall it when you need it) so you can use it in the future!

A conceptual framework is just a "picture in your head" of how it all fits together—a rough pattern to begin with. When you fit new knowledge into a pre-existing pattern, after you know what to look for and remember, the new learning has meaning for you.

Usually, the lab manual, handouts, pre-lab activities, and other explanations your lab instructor provides give you the framework upon which you can hang all that new stuff you are learning. It's just that most beginning students just don't recognize these helps for what they are.

For example in my textbooks and lab manuals, I provide lists of what the different bone markings are.

A foramen is a simply a hole, for example. But I can't tell you how many students jump into their lists of bone markings without even knowing that every part with "foramen" in the name is hole!

They're poring over diagrams and trying to figure out whether it's the hole or the nearby bump . . . or maybe it's that little depression. Yikes! No wonder it takes them so long to learn . . . and what they learn is so easy to forget.

Starting with a framework, what the names of bone markings mean, makes learning all the markings fun and easy!

For a link to a sample of a framework you can use, go to the related article in the Lion Den.