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Episode 13 Transcript
Playful & Serious Is the Perfect Combo for A&P
Kevin Patton: The learning expert John Dewy once wrote to be playful and serious at the same time is possible and it defines the ideal mental condition.
Aileen: Welcome to the A&P Professor. A few minutes to focus on teaching human anatomy and physiology with host Kevin Patton.
Kevin Patton: In this episode I explain why the term meatus is such a weird word and I continue the discussion of story telling, focusing on playfulness and analogies. The term meatus is a weird one. The plural form is not what you might think if you’ve never heard it before. In anatomy the term meatus of course refers to a passageway, or opening in to, or through a tube. Meatus is a noun, it’s derived from the Latin verb meare which means to pass. For example external acoustic meatus refers to the tube like opening in the temple bone that allows the passage of the tube like canal of the the external ear, which bears the same name.
There are many examples of meatus throughout the body. Now wait a second did I say that right? Examples of meatus, shouldn’t I have said example of meati Well no, I really meant it the way I said it the first time. Considering that many nouns in science and medicine that end in US are pluralized by changing the US to an I at the end. One would think that the proper plural form of meatus is meati, but that’s not right. The term meatus is a weird one remember? It’s proper plural form is either meatus, or meatuses. Why this weirdness? Well the plural form meatus comes from the fact that in Latin it belongs to the fourth declension, class of nouns.
I don’t want to get into the declensions of nouns. I spent too much time in Latin class worrying about that, but just trust me. It’s a weird class of nouns that pluralizes oddly. Because it’s in that category, meatus is the proper plural form in Latin. We’re importing that Latin version into English when we use it as an anatomical, or a medical term. Meatus is singular and meatus is also plural. We have some words in English that are like that too, but you can also use meatuses as plural. When you do that, that plural form meatuses adopts the English form of pluralization. That also happens frequently when we import Latin terms into English.
You can either use the Latin pluralization, or the English pluralization and both are right, but what’s wrong is meati. Let’s try to keep that straight. By the way the combining form of meatus is meato-, as in meatoscope, which is a scope that you might use to look into the urinary meatus. There is our weird term of the week.
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In the last episode of this podcast episode 12, I introduced the idea of story telling as a strategy for teaching and learning and I want to continue that story now. I’m doing story telling, continue the story. In the last episode our hero was hanging from a cliff and then this episode … No, no, we’re not going to go in that direction, but I do want to continue my story of story telling. I want to start with the quote that you heard at the beginning of this episode, in which John Dewey stated to be playful and serious at the same time is possible and it defines the ideal mental condition. I’ve taken that on as sort of my motto for my story telling persona that I use in the classroom.
In the last episode I mentioned this idea that when we walk into the classroom it might be useful to take on a particular story telling persona, where we may be a little more dramatic than we would be in an ordinary conversation. That we consciously think about the beginning, the middle and the end of the story. Where we want to go with this story. We bring in characters and even identify recurring characters, such as this ion, or that ion, or this kind of cell, or that kind of cell, or this kind of a membrane protein, or membrane structure, and that kind of a membrane structure and so on in our stories.
The persona that I use when I tell stories most often is a very playful one. That’s part of just my approach to doing a lot of things, including this podcast if you haven’t noticed by now. But it’s certainly my approach to teaching, because I think that anyone has a little bit more connection to, a little more engagement with activities that are playful, that engage that play … Are playful nature, than those that are overly serious. There’s a time and place to be very serious, but I’m not sure that we need to be doing a lot of that in our courses. I think playfulness really has a role and as John Dewey has pointed out and I agree with the playful and serious and coexist together and maybe that’s ideal when you have playfulness and seriousness coexisting together when we’re doing things.
One example that kind of pops into my mind of when I’m particularly playful with my students in A&P, is when I pull out my box of phosphorylation frogs. What these are is a box full of these tiny little toys. Something you would get in kid’s meal at fast food or something, although they’re probably not rated for children two or under, or whatever, but they’re little plastic frogs. Just fit right in your hand, easily in your hand and they’re made of hard plastic. Coming from their base is a spring and sort of encircling the spring is a suction cup. If you push the frog down toward the table, let’s say you’re sitting at a table. You push it down toward the table.
You have to compress that spring. You have to push, push, push. Then the suction cup hits the base. When it hits the base and you push down hard enough, it sticks. But that spring is pushing against the frog. It’s there between the base and the frog and it’s pushing the frog away from the base and eventually it’s going to overcome that resistance of that suction cup and that frog is going to jump. That’s the whole idea of this little toy.
I distribute those in class and every student has one in front of them and I tell them, go ahead and play with a little bit. Here’s how it works. You push it down and five or six of them are pushed down in front of me and one will pop. Then another will pop and we kind of play around with the idea that some frogs pop faster than other frogs do. Then I’ll say, “Why are we doing this?” Partly why I’m doing it is to give them a little bit of a brain break, so that they can tackle the idea of phosphorylation in a fresher frame of mind and also in a playful, yet serious frame of mind.
I tell them this is like the phosphate group on ATP. In order to get that phosphate group on there, we need to put some energy into it. We need to push it on there. Where does that energy come from? We have that discussion of where the energy comes from for phosphorylation. We say, that energy is used to push phosphate on to the ATP, just like we’re pushing the frog onto the base. Then what happens to the frog? It pops off right away and that’s what happens with ATP. That third phosphate group pops off right away. When it does it releases energy, just like that frog releases energy. We can see that’s it’s releasing energy, but that energy is being used to do the work of making the frog hop.
At that point I tell them, “Come on, keep doing it. Put that frog back together and keep doing it and keep doing it.” I tell them, “This is what the cell has to do. Mitochondria are business of putting that frog back and it hops off and they have to put it back and they have to … It hops off, they have to put it back. They’re doing oxidative phosphorylation. They’re using a oxygen consuming process and what they’re doing is phosphorylating the ADPs an they’re going to pop off and we can use those phosphates to do work in the cell, or even within that Mitochondria and that’s useful work.
We’re doing that constantly. It’s a constant effort of pushing the frog back down, pushing the frog back down. Then it hops. Push it down, then it hops again. It’s a very playful situation, intentionally playful situation and yet whenever I recall those phosphorylation frogs, they’ve been here for a long time. I can always go back to that when phosphorylation come up and it does come up quite a bit in an A&P course right? Every once in a while we’re back to that whole idea of using ATP as a source of energy. We can recall those phosphorylation frogs and they can visualize in their mind’s eye this visual, and kinesthetic and auditory and process that they went through in playing with those frogs.
That’s just an example of playfulness being part of a story, in this case the story of a phosphorylation frogs. That brings us to another aspect of story telling I wanted to talk about in this episode and that is analogies. That frog, that phosphorylation frog is an analogy of the process of phosphorylation. I don’t know any A&P teachers out there who do not use analogies somewhat at least in their course. This is nothing new to you, but I do want to stop and think about and analyze that use of analogies in our courses, because there’s some things that I think it’s important to think about.
One is, not all students understand analogies, or at least understand them as well as we do. I think we need to address that issue. One aspect of that is that not everyone has the same cultural experiences we do. Sometimes it’s because of age. There are analogies that I have used that I don’t know that my student are of an age group where they would remember the story that I’m using as an analogy. Here’s an example. When I talk about why it’s important to have such complex control of digestive function, that is function through the digestive tract. Especially controlling secretion and motility in the various organs of the elementary canal.
I use the analogy of that episode from I Love Lucy. It goes way back even before I was a kid and where Lucy and Ethel get a job in the chocolate factory and there’s miscommunication and the chocolates are coming faster than they can package them and it gets all crazy. It’s hilarious. What I do when I use that analogy is I show them a little clip, it shows them that. Most of my students, even the very young students will say, “Oh yeah I’ve seen that before. I love that.” Maybe I don’t need to show it, but it’s fun. It breaks things up. It gives a little brain break and now we can tackle that idea of the neuro endocrine control of the digestive organs, which is pretty serious, but we’re being playful about it when we do and say, “Look this is like Lucy and Ethel and we get the signal ahead to speed up, slow down, so that things don’t backup and get all crazy and things are not process efficiently as they move through the digestive tract and are absorbed from the digestive tract.
That is an example of where I needed to be careful to make sure that everyone could picture that scenario, so I showed them the scenario. There are a lot of analogies where we talk about catching a fish with a hook. Well maybe not everyone has had that experience, or maybe everyone has, so that’s what we need to do sometimes, is sort of explain the idea behind the analogy and then use the analogy in our course to explain the concept that we’re using, the concept that we’re trying to teach, or have our students learn in the course.
Another aspect of analogies and models, which are a from of an analogy is to explain exactly what they are and what they’re not. A lot of students really have a hard time with analogies. At the beginning of my A&P 1 course I always have a brief discussion. I tell them, “Look, in science we use analogies all the time.” Not just in teaching and learning, but we use them in describing concepts like the sliding filament model, for example that’s a model. It’s an analogy and it explains the concept. I tell them that look there are these models and one of the first models I introduce to them, or the first times I use a model in my class is in explaining homeostasis. I use at least three different models to explain homeostasis.
You know why? Because any one model isn’t enough to really tell the whole story of homeostasis, at least no on my mind. I remember being part of a conversation a number of years ago among anatomy and physiology teachers, where they were talking about using a model of like a teeter board, or a balance and we’re pointing out there’s a lot of things about homeostasis that that model fails to cover, that fails to address. They were very concerned about this. I was very puzzled at their concern, because of course it’s a model. It’s never going to explain 100% what’s going on. If I have in my hand a model airplane, or a model frog. Let’s go back to that and say this is a model frog.
If you’ve never seen a frog ever in your life and I showed you that, you would have some idea what a frog is. But if fails in a lot of areas. It doesn’t have the texture of a frog. It’s not the size of most frogs, although there are some frogs the size of that little toy. Frogs have functioning lets, not springs and suction cups at the bottom, so it fails in that regard. There’s a lot of ways in which it fails, but it dos give you the idea of a frog, at least to some extent. Same thing with a model airplane sitting on my shelf. You can say well that’s not right, because there’s no people inside drinking tiny little drinks with too much ice and that would be more realistic if you could do that.
Well yeah, it would be more realistic, but it’s just a model that sits on my shelf. It’s not really the real thing. There are a lot of concrete thinkers that have difficulty with that sort of aspect. That is I give an analogy to begin with. Then secondly the idea that it’s not really going to cover everything. How we can deal with that? Well we need to explain ourselves and say, “Look this is an analogy and there are some aspects of this story that I tell, or this scenario that I describe, or show to you that are just like the concept I’m trying to teach. Here are the ways it’s similar, but keep in mind that they’re not the same thing. One is just being used to illustrate the other thing.” I think there is always that handful of students that have a variety of challenges in their thinking and they’re going to need us to maybe work with them a little bit outside of class kind of explaining things a little more carefully, maybe more than once, before they start to get the hang of it.
But most people even if they start with a difficulty with analogies, if they know the story, that is they’re culturally aware, or experientially aware of the story you’re telling and what is really going on there. They can be coached along, so that they understand how that story relates to the concept that you’re trying to explain to them. It does take though … It’s not just throwing our allergies. Allergies, throwing out analogies. Don’t throw out allergies either. It takes us more than just throwing them out there. It takes us kind of thinking about, is this analogy going to work? Do I need more than one analogy? When I do homeostasis I use at least three different analogies that cover different aspects of how homeostasis works.
In a future episode I’ll go through those analogies and maybe you use some of the same ones that I do, maybe you have some better ones that you can share with us. My point is, is that we need to do a little metacognition and think about how we’re using analogies, how that applying to all the many different kinds of individuals we have in our course. That is a very effective tool for story telling, using analogies. Playfulness also very effective.
Aileen: The A&P Professor is hosted by Kevin Patton, professor, blogger and text book author in human anatomy and physiology.
Kevin Patton: This podcast was produced without the use of antibiotics.
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