For students interested in pursuing a career in the health professions, Anatomy & Physiology is a “make or break” class. The class is required to enter most health-related programs, and how well students do in the class can determine whether they get accepted into competitive programs such as nursing.
Wendy Armstrong, an associate professor of biology at Temple College, has seen grades in her Anatomy & Physiology classes improve since she began using variations of popular games to help students learn complicated topics such as bones and blood types.
One of her most innovative ideas is using the concept of “escape rooms” to teach students about bones. The class divides into teams, and each team is given an “escape envelope” with problems they have to solve. The team that solves the problems first gets bonus points on their next test.
Armstrong says she came up with the idea after taking her daughter and some of her friends to an escape room for her 13th birthday.
“The kids loved it,” Armstrong says. “I thought it would be cool to figure out how to do that in class.”
Armstrong has been incorporating escape rooms into her classes for four semesters.
To help students learn the various blood types, Armstrong brings in specially made donuts from a local donut store. She orders donuts with pink frosting to represent negative blood types and donuts with red frosting to represent positive blood types. Then she has various combinations of sprinkles put on the donuts – blue sprinkles to represent Type ”A” blood, yellow sprinkles to represent Type “B” blood, and blue and yellow sprinkles to represent “A/B” blood. Donuts with no sprinkles are Type “O” blood.
“Students never miss the blood groups on a test now,” Armstrong says.
Armstrong has come up with other techniques to engage students such as scavenger hunts, “Nervous System Bingo” and playing Pictionary to help them learn about cells and chemistry.
“Students get bored with just lectures and lab,” Armstrong says. “This way they are studying but they don’t realize they are studying.” Each semester, she tweaks her activities to improve them.
Armstrong says she has noticed a definite improvement in student grades since she started incorporating the games into her classes. And this spring, only two students have dropped her Anatomy & Physiology I class.
Armstrong says it is important for her students to really know concepts – as opposed to just memorizing answers for tests – because her classes have a comprehensive final at the end.
But it’s not just the students who benefit from her innovative teaching.
“If they are going to be nurses, all of us will be better off as well,” she says.