Winter Short: Storytelling, Featuring the Actin-Myosin Love Story
TAPP Radio Episode 130
Episode | Quick Take
Host Kevin Patton revisits some classic segments from past episodes. In the first segment, he explains why he thinks storytelling is the heart of effective teaching. Then. he tells a brief version of his actin-myosin love story—a playful analogy to help students learn about muscle contraction.
- 00:00 | Introduction
- 01:07 | Storytelling: The Heart of Teaching
- 15:36| Sponsored by AAA, HAPI, and HAPS
- 17:10 | Actin-Myosin Love Story
- 27:58 | Staying Connected
Episode | Listen Now
Episode | Show Notes
Guess what? This is another one of our winter shorts! Yep, that’s right, it’s a shorter-than-usual episode in which I present one or two, or maybe three or four, classic, evergreen segments from previous episodes that are remastered, reconstituted, and recycled for your listening and learning pleasure. But mainly it’s to give me a break for self-care over the holiday season. We’ll be back to our regular programming in late January.
Storytelling is the Heart of Teaching
Kevin explains why he thinks storytelling is the heart of effective teaching, especially in the A&P course. He outlines the “storytelling persona”; making sure there is a beginning, middle, and end to our stories, applying storytelling to both lectures and the entire course, using drama, conflict and resolution, and other techniques.
- This segment was first heard in Storytelling is the Heart of Teaching A&;P | Episode 12 and The Storytelling Special | Episode 48
- Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling (website with many resources)
- Crash Course in Storytelling (book on the basics of storytelling)
- Long Story Short: The Only Storytelling Guide You’ll Ever Need (book; the title says it all)
- Anatomy & Physiology Syllabus: It’s an Art | TAPP 120 (how the syllabus tells a story)
- Teaching Slides: Smooth and Simple Animations Dramatize the Story of A&P | TAPP 89
- The Proper Order of Topics in A&P | Leaderboards | Student Frustration | TAPP 88
Sponsored by AAA, HAPI, and HAPS
A searchable transcript for this episode, as well as the captioned audiogram of this episode, are sponsored by the American Association for Anatomy (AAA) at anatomy.org.
The Master of Science in Human Anatomy & Physiology Instruction—the MS-HAPI—is a graduate program for A&P teachers, especially for those who already have a graduate/professional degree. A combination of science courses (enough to qualify you to teach at the college level) and courses in contemporary instructional practice, this program helps you be your best in both on-campus and remote teaching. Kevin Patton is a faculty member in this program at Northeast College of Health Sciences. Check it out!
The Human Anatomy & Physiology Society (HAPS) is a sponsor of this podcast. You can help appreciate their support by clicking the link below and checking out the many resources and benefits found there. Watch for virtual town hall meetings and upcoming regional meetings!
The Actin-Myosin Love Story
Kevin tells the story of actin and myosin a characters in the process of sliding filaments during contraction as an analogy to a classic love story. This playful story reflects the focus of many past episodes about the use of storytelling and analogies in teaching A&P.
- This segment was first heard in Actin & Myosin & A Love Story | Episode 15
- Episode 12: Storytelling is the Heart of Teaching A&P (introduces the strategy of storytelling)
- Episode 13: Playful and Serious is the Perfect Combo for A&P (introduces the value of playful analogies)
- Survival Guide for Anatomy & Physiology (Kevin’s brief manual for A&P students features a version of the actin-myosin love story)
- Excitation-Contraction Coupling in Skeletal Muscle: A Love Story? (article from HAPS Educator with a version of this story)
- Metaphors & Analogies: Power Tools for Teaching Any Subject (book that addresses many issues, including English-language learners)
Production: Aileen Park (announcer), Andrés Rodriguez (theme composer, recording artist), Rev.com team (transcription), Kevin Patton (writer, editor, producer, host)
Need help accessing resources locked behind a paywall?
Check out this advice from Episode 32 to get what you need!
Episode | Transcript
The A&P Professor podcast (TAPP radio) episodes are made for listening, not reading. This transcript is provided for your convenience, but hey, it’s just not possible to capture the emphasis and dramatic delivery of the audio version. Or the cool theme music. Or laughs and snorts. And because it’s generated by a combo of machine and human transcription, it may not be exactly right. So I strongly recommend listening by clicking the audio player provided.
This searchable transcript is supported by the
American Association for Anatomy.
I'm a member—maybe you should be one, too!
Kevin Patton (00:00):
Guess what? this is one of our winter shorts! Yep, that’s right, it’s a shorter-than-usual episode in which I present one or two, or maybe three or four, classic, evergreen segments from previous episodes that are remastered, reconstituted, and recycled for your listening and learning pleasure. But mainly it’s to give me a break for self-care over the holiday season. We’ll be back to our regular programming in late January.
Aileen Park (00:34):
Welcome to The A&P Professor, a few minutes to focus on teaching human anatomy and physiology with a veteran educator and teaching mentor, your host, Kevin Patton.
Kevin Patton (00:49):
In this episode, I explain why I think storytelling is the heart of effective teaching, then tell the actin-myosin love story.
Storytelling: The Heart of Teaching
Kevin Patton (01:07):
Over the decades, I’ve come to appreciate the idea that good teaching involves story telling, that teaching is a kind of story telling. I firmly believe that if we think of it as story telling, if we acknowledge the fact that teaching is story telling, our teaching becomes more effective. What do I mean by story telling in the context of teaching?
There’s a wide spectrum of things that we do when we interact with our students in, of course, ways that facilitate their learning. There are, of course, lectures and mini lectures, and online lectures, and discussions we lead in and so on that are obvious opportunities for story telling. Telling the story of how the human body is built, and how the human body functions.
When we approach our entire course in an opportunity for story telling, it gets even better. It’s sort of like…
a film maker, or an amusement park designer, or amusement ride designer who thinks of it as telling a story. So, there’s a beginning, a middle, and end. If we think of that as a beginning, a middle, and an end, and take those things that we know about teaching and learning such as learning outcomes that we expect, the place that we’re kind of starting from, like what do we want the student to learn, and then how are we going to get there? Then, how are we going to wrap it up at the end and conclude and pull all those threads together?
We can do that when we’re physically telling a story in a classroom, let’s say in a lecture context, but we can also do that in the entire course design. The design of each component of that course, if we think of it as a story, then I think it works better in our own minds, and therefore it translates better for the student. Once the students start thinking of these as stories … My students, I use that terminology with them.
I’ll say, “Remember when I told you the story of how the nephron works?” And they start getting that mindset of these are stories, and that makes it more accessible to them, I think, than when they think of it as a lecture on the nephron. If it’s the story about the nephron, wow, suddenly it takes on a whole different flavor than it did before.
It’s not just using that terminology and presenting things the same way we’ve always presented them. I think it’s important for us to think of them as a story, with a beginning, a middle and an end, and with protagonists and antagonists, and good guys and bad guys, and amazing things that happen. I think that where that starts is to understand that we are walking the classroom and taking on the persona of a story teller.
It’s a kind of acting. If you’ve ever heard professional story tellers, or even amateur story tellers, I think you can kind of see the transformation that comes over people. Especially if you have a friend or a family member, or something, that likes to tell stories. Sometimes, their effect will change just a little bit, maybe a lot, when they get ready to tell some favorite story of theirs. Especially if they’re talking to children, but even when they’re talking to adults and telling a story to adults.
I think a lot of us as teachers do that, and I think that’s a great thing. It’s a good thing to have that story telling persona, that teacher persona that we walk in with. Especially for those of us that are introverts. I think that if we think of walking into a classroom, and we’re naturally very shy in front of crowds and so on, but we think of it as an acting role that we have.
We walk in, then it puts us and our students at much more ease because now it’s not Kevin the Teacher anymore, it’s Kevin the Story Teller. I’m going to come in and tell you some stories, and I’m an actor for that time that I’m spending with you. That acting part is important.
Once aspect of that is that people … Usually when they’re story tellers to be living the story with them. Sort of as if the story teller is hearing the story for the first time as well. Most story tellers do not speak in a monotone, and just kind of rattle off the events of the story and so on. They get somewhat dramatic. They move their arms a little bit. They move around a little bit. They act out certain parts. They change their voice at certain parts.
I think that if we do that … And not only that, but have fun doing it. I’ll never forget, I’ve mentioned before in this podcast, that I used to be a lion tamer in the circus. I spent a lot of years learning how to do that, and going to circuses and watching other animal trainers and other circus performers and so on. My mentors pointed this out to me that you always go in and act like you’re having fun.
If you act like you’re having fun, then everyone around you will have fun. Pretty soon, even if you weren’t, you are now having fun. Psychologists tell us that that happens. They often use a technique to help people who are having a hard time having fun, or having a hard time smiling and being happy is to, well, just smile a lot, and you’ll feel better. Maybe there’s some physiological things that go along with that.
My point being, that if we walk into our classroom and consciously think about the fact that we’re taking on a new persona, a persona whose going to have fun telling a great story. Then, the next step is that most people in our classes, or most people who want to hear a story, have curiosity about certain things. I think that our students have a natural curiosity about the human body.
My theory is that everybody who lives in a human body has some level of curiosity about how the body is built, and how it works. I think our students in particular come in with that, because they’ve been drawn to a career path that involves the human body. So, they already have that curiosity. We can start out with, “Did you ever wonder how the kidney does what it does? What does the kidney do? You got any ideas?”
Then, move from there and say, “Well let me tell you about the nephron. The story of the nephron is an amazing story. It’s the weirdest things that happen, and the most unexpected things that happen.” But at the end, we’ve end up reaching our goal of maintaining homeostasis. So, telling it as a story, and having characters in that story, identifying the characters in that story, the different segments of the nephron tubule, for example, could be characters.
Or, the ions and other molecules that are moving glucose and so on, that are moving back and forth across the wall of the nephron. Those could be characters in our play. We have a lot of recurring characters in our stories, don’t we? I often will say this, “Here’s calcium again. Here’s our recurring character, has come back in for another episode of A&P.”
So, having that story perspective is important. Having a beginning, middle and end is important. I think if we can introduce some conflict and resolution, that will help. Talking about the nephron, we can talk about how if a negative ion is pulled across the membrane, what are the positive ions going to do? We’re going to have this electrical charge building up. Is that something that we want to continue? Are we going to allow the positive ions to follow the negative ions, or vice versa.
Are we going to pull these ions across, and let the water just stay there? Are we going to have an osmotic imbalance? Are we going to let the water come across, too? We set up conflict, we identify conflict, and then we say, “How is that resolved? How do things naturally occur?” A lot of times, the audience of the story, or students, they kind of know how it’s going to go.
Don’t you have that experience when you’re listening or watching stories? I know in movies, sometimes I’ll feel like I’m getting to know a character, and I can predict what they’re going to do next, especially in mini series, and television series, and things like that where you’ll start to be able, in your own mind, predict how a character is going to react.
I think if we set that up for our students, they can start to do that, too. They can sort of tell what’s going to happen when there’s an electrical imbalance across a membrane. Or, an osmotic imbalance across a membrane. Or, any one of the number of other kinds of conflicts that they’ve seen resolved in other areas of the body. When they do that, they’re just not being good listeners to the story, they’re starting to get to those higher levels, or maybe I should say deeper levels, of understanding of how the human body works.
They are just naturally being drawn to higher level thinking skills, to higher level understandings of what we want them to understand. I think another aspect of story telling that can be very effective is when there’s some shock and awe [inaudible 00:17:33]. What I mean by that is, “Oh my gosh, how can this happen?” How can this happen in the body? You know, is this what we’re really going to do, if we think about all of the fluid that is filtered out of the [inaudible 00:17:47] into the nephron?
We think, “Oh my gosh, you add all that up, that’s gallons and gallons and gallons of water that are going to end up lost from the body. That’s shocking.” That is awesome. Then, we resolve that. We say, “Well, wait a minute. Do we really pee 50 gallons a day?” I don’t think so. So, something’s got to happen. What could possibly happen before that fluid gets out of our body that restore the balance and prevent us from drying out almost instantly?
If we are bringing that shock to the fore … If we’re dramatizing that and bringing it out, but not that, but acting shocked ourselves. Don’t good story tellers do that? Don’t they act surprised even though they’ve practiced this story a million times, and probably have told it a thousand times?
But they do. They act out, they dramatize that shock. I do that with my students, like “Oh my gosh, how can we do that?” They know that I’m not being totally sincere. They know that I know the end of the story, and what’s going to happen. But, it helps to tell the story, and it helps them hear the story.
I’ll never forget a ringmaster announcer in a circus that I saw several times. He’s French, and even though I did see him in the United States, I also saw him over in Europe. He’s one of the best ringmasters I’ve ever saw, even though I only understood about half of what he talked about, because he usually spoke in French. I mean, he did do a little bit of English, especially when he toured in the United States, but he mostly announced things, announced the various circus acts in French.
He was so good. You don’t think of the ringmaster as being one of the stars of the show, but he was always one of the stars of the show, in whatever circus that he appeared in. The reason was that he became the story teller. He would not just announce an act, he would stay around, and he would watch. You could see him act out the shock and the awe when a high wire artist was going across, and maybe was teetering a little bit.
You would see him, and his face would change. He would appear to be just as shocked as the rest of us. He would laugh … There was a comedy circus act on … Maybe comedy acrobats, or something like that. In a very dramatic way, he would act out his reactions, and what that did was get us as the audience more involved in the circus act that we were seeing at that moment.
That’s the kind of teacher I want to be. I want to be just like that ringmaster. I want to be expressing that shock, that awe, and that amazement of the human body to maintain homeostasis under a wide variety of conditions, and even when bad things happen, can recover from it, if things are happening normally. We can be shocked and saddened when things get broken, when the heart valves don’t work right, or when the kidney doesn’t maintain homeostasis consistently in terms of our fluid and electrolyte balance.
One last thing that I’ll mention, there are many other things about story telling, but one last thing is to use a lot of pictures. Don’t use a lot of words. I think anatomy and physiology, both ends of that, the anatomy part, the physiology part, lend themselves to visual story telling. Where we show a picture, and walk our audience, our story telling audience, through that part of that story.
Then, we change the scenery, and we walk them through that part of the story. Putting up 25 bullet points in one slide is not going to help story telling. What we should do is use a title, maybe one or two little bullet points, especially if there’s subtitles of that story, to help the students understand sort of where we’re going in that story.
It’s sort of like when you go the theater, and you look at the program. What you will see is a very, very short outline. It will have Act One, Act Two, it will list the scenes and tell you some short little thing about each scene. Maybe, it tells you where it occurs, or what major thing happens, or could be happening in that scene.
If we’re going to be using slides or other visual aides, make it mostly pictures. Make them be very few words. I think you’ll tell a much more effective story. Your students will be listening to your story, rather than try to read the slide and copy it down, if we do it that way. So, a few story telling tips for your next A&P class. Have fun with it.
Kevin Patton (15:36):
I know. I know. I know.
Nobody is eager for a sponsor message. But not only do federal regulations require it, believe it or not, our sponsors expect it. And they’re financially supporting this podcast so that there’s no cost to you. Yay!
Besides that, I’d be mentioning them from time to time anyway, because all three are great organizations that I’m intimately involved with and they benefit all faculty teaching anatomy and physiology. Can I say that? That I’m intimately involved? I hope that’s okay.
One of our sponsors is AAA, the American Association for Anatomy. Check out all the resources and membership information at anatomy.org
Another sponsor is the Master of Science in Human Anatomy & Physiology Instruction, the HAPI degree. Check out this online graduate program at Northeast College of Health Sciences at northeastcollege.edu/hapi, that’s H A P I.
And rounding out our sponsor list is HAPS, the Human Anatomy & Physiology Society. You can check out resources and membership information online at theAPprofessor.org/haps, that’s H A P S.
The Actin-Myosin Love Story
Kevin Patton (17:10):
In a past episode, I talked about how story telling is important in teaching in general and in teaching human anatomy and physiology in particular. And that led to a discussion about how being playful and serious at the same time really works well, and coming out of that discussion was the idea that playful analogies can be very helpful. And of course, with analogies, they’re never really 100% true to the concept that the analogy or the model is trying to represent, but they sometimes help the little gears inside our brain to connect with the reality of the concept. So, keeping that all in mind, I want to, as promised in a past episode, share with you one of the analogies, one of the little stories that I tell, and it’s kinda playful and fun, but it’s also very serious. And I’m going to do that in this episode.
Before I get into this story, which is a shortened version of this story, we don’t have time for a mini-series here. It’s a version that I put into a little booklet that I created a while back called The Survival Guide for Anatomy and Physiology. It’s just a handy little helper for students who are struggling in A&P, and it’s got a number of analogies in it, and this is one of them. So keep in mind it’s an abbreviated version of the story I tell, and you can imagine how it can be expanded to include some other details of the concept that I’m going to be getting into in a moment. And the concept is the process of muscle contraction and relaxation, what’s happening at the molecular level within the muscle fiber. So I often call it the muscle love story. It’s more or less loosely based on the idea of Romeo and Juliet and other kinds of old classic love stories, and so it does have some traditional gender roles in it, so be forewarned because of it being built on these old classic love stories.
And before I get into it, i just want to mention also that there are previous stories that I’ve told in my class that get the students ready for this. Particularly I put a big emphasis on the cytoskeleton when we are discussing the cell early in the course. I know for a long time I just kind of skipped over the cytoskeleton, but I’ve realized that it’s really an important character in many of the stories of the body, and of course science in general has been realizing that, and we’re starting to learn more and more about the cytoskeleton and how the components of the cytoskeleton and how they function, really are central to understanding a lot of the basic principles of A&P.
One of the things I do when I’m discussing the cytoskeleton is bring up the idea of motor molecules, and I even mention myosin and look at it, just a very simplified way, how motor molecules work, and tell them that there’s going to be this later story where myosin is going to be a major character and it’s going to be interacting with an actin filament, and it’s going to be doing this motor molecule thing. And that’s how muscles contract and I’ll leave the details of the story ’til later. Well, now it’s later. Here we are. Back to the future.
Anyway, the first thing we have to do is set the scene for this story and introduce the characters. And before I do all that and really start the story, I’ve already described for my students, the typical muscle fiber and, more importantly, the myofilaments and the sarcoplasmic reticulum, or SR, and what it does and the T-tubules and where they’re at and what their characteristics are, and all the important parts, their structures and their physical relationships to one another. So they have all that down and their heads are spinning and they’re trying to figure out what’s going on, so now’s a good time for a brain break, right? We can step away from that and play for a little bit. And so I put even more drama into my voice and start moving around a little bit more to tell this story.
And so, once upon a time in the land of the muscle fiber, several interesting characters lived. Myosin is in love with the girl next door. Her name is Actin. The problem is, as it often is in these love stories, the problem is, that some of the villagers want to keep Myosin and Actin apart. Young lovers are never a likely match according to the other people around them, are they? There’s a group of women there too. Each of them is called Troponin, or Troponin if you prefer, and they constantly try to keep Myosin getting to his true love, Actin, by holding up poles made of tropomyosin. These tropomyosin poles could be easily knocked out of the way by the brave and strong Myosin, but all those Troponin girls are very strong too, and they keep the tropomyosin in it’s blocking position.
Every good love story needs tension like that. Something keeping the lovers apart. In addition, there’s a good subplot. Turns out, Troponin girls are in love too. They all pine away for their true loves, all of whom are named, Calcium. The problem for them is worse than for Actin and Myosin. All of the Calciums are under guard in the SR, the sarcoplasmic reticulum. The SR, as it turns out, happens to be a sort of prison yard on the banks of the rivers which travel through the village, and those villagers call them T-tubules. Given their situation, it’s very unlikely that any of the Troponins will ever be visited by a distant Calcium imprisoned in the SR. Poor things.
However, one day an odd thing happens, as it always does in these stories. A stranger, of course it’s a stranger, there’s always a stranger. A stranger called Acetylcholine is sent by the governing Nervous System. Acetylcholine, or ACh to his friends, hits the sarcolemma, which is the wall around the village, and that launches a traveling voltage fluctuation. Now you and I would call it an action potential, but the villagers think of it as a lightning strike. Well that voltage travels right along the sarcolemma. When it gets to each of the T-tubules, it travels right down the T-tubules, and thus criss-crosses the village. As it travels down each T-tubule, the voltage zaps the SR, which sure does startle the guards. The guards are so stunned that they let many of the Calciums escape and run all over the village. Oh my.
The Troponins, of course, can hardly believe it. They dreamt last night that they were surrounded by Calciums, and lo, it has happened. The Calciums and the Troponins embrace. In the heat of passion, they twist around a little bit. And the Troponins completely forget about holding up the tropomyosin poles. Well, that gives Myosin the chance he and Actin have been waiting for. He moves across the barrier, and Myosin and Actin immediately start … Well, getting passionate with each other. Myosin is very exciting, just keeps Actin moving along. I’d get into sliding filaments here, but it’s a family show okay? You get the picture. We have contraction because Actin is being actively pulled along by Myosin, who is using a lot of energy.
In the meantime, back at the SR, the guards have recovered, are now rounding up the Calciums and taking them back to the SR where they belong. As each Troponin tearfully bids her Calcium goodbye, she realizes that she was not paying attention to her job, and so she gets back to it. The next time Myosin is ready to cross over to Actin, he can’t. He’s again blocked by those tropomyosin poles, and they’re being held in place by the Troponins ’cause they’re back on the job, remember? Thus, the little village returns to it’s relaxed state. If you can call it that. It’s just a matter of time until it all happens again. All of the old attractions are still there and some day, Acetylcholine, or ACh as his friends call him, will ride into town and stir up another electrical storm.
So that’s the end of that chapter of the story, but I keep coming back to that story as we start to add layers of information onto that. For example, I always take the opportunity of discussing muscle contraction to bring into the consciousness of my students the idea of metabolism, particularly how the myosin gets the energy. The myosin, of course, gets energy from ATP, but where does ATP get the energy? Well, the ATP … Those are like little batteries, those are recharged in the mitochondria, and so where is that energy coming from that those ATPs can be recharged, mostly in the mitochondria, not entirely, but mostly in the mitochondria? Well, ultimately, that comes from glucose.
And so we can talk about that whole process and bring that into, “Well why do we need to know about metabolism? Why do we need to know about ATP? Why do we need to know how glucose breaks down and releases energy, and that’s transferred to ATP? Why in the world do I need to know about oxidative phosphorylation? I’m only going to be a nurse.” As if only is appropriate when talking about any of the health professions. The idea being like, “You’re trying to teach me too much” but now they can see that, well, it all fits into the story. There’s a lot of interaction here, there’s drama, and who can’t relate to a good dramatic story?
So you might already be using some kind of a story like this, and this might give you some other ideas to maybe change up your story a little bit, or add to, or take away. You might have a different story and if so, I’d really love to hear it, and I am sure other listeners would, so call into the podcast hotline…and I hope you all live happily ever after.
Kevin Patton (15:13):
If you don’t see links in your podcast player, go to the show notes at the episode page listed at theAPprofesssor.org/podcast. And while you’re there, you can claim your digital credential for listening to this episode.
And you are always encouraged to call in with your questions, comments, and ideas at the podcast hotline:
Or send a recording or written message to
We’ll pivot back to fresh, full episodes in late January, when I’ll be giving my predictions for next year. If you have a prediction for where A&P instruction is headed, please send it in!
I’ll see ya down the road!
Aileen Park (27:58):
The A&P Professor is hosted by Dr. Kevin Patton, an award-winning professor and textbook author in human anatomy and physiology.
Kevin Patton (28:10):
This episode has been reconstituted from concentrate using only 100% pure electrons from a natural spring.
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Patton, K. (2023, January 3). Winter Short: Storytelling, Featuring the Actin-Myosin Love Story. The A&P Professor. https://theapprofessor.org/podcast-episode-130.html
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