This is the first of two blogs where I’ll tackle this subject. I will explain why Anatomy and Physiology is important for your students and outline three foundational principles that underpin all teaching and learning in this subject. In my next blog I’ll offer you some more practical teaching hints and tips.
If you have delivered the 2016 Cambridge Technicals in Health and Social Care, you will have prepared your students for the Unit 4 Anatomy and Physiology exam. Firstly, I’d like to congratulate you on meeting this challenge.
Anatomy and physiology is an important subject in Health and Social Care, and the difficulties teachers and students face in teaching and learning it have been well documented.
Thanks to medical advances we live longer lives. One unintentional side effect of this success is that we have an ageing population with increased morbidity. This means that health and social care workers, whether registered or not, are increasingly likely to have clients or patients who present with medical needs.
In order to care well, these workers need to have some understanding about how the human body works and how disease can impact on a person’s ability to live well.
Many carers will carry out basic medical interventions such as identifying when it is appropriate to send a person to the doctor or administering medication. In addition to this, many non-registered workers are being encouraged to enter the professions because they have demonstrated ability to provide good care and they bring valuable practical experience with them.
Anatomy and Physiology is required learning for the professions. Achievement in Anatomy and Physiology assessment prior to university supports students to succeed in these courses.
One of the reasons why students struggle with Anatomy and Physiology is because it requires scientific thinking of the type that is found in what would have been called the ‘natural sciences’. Although our students are capable of this type of thinking, for the majority of the time that they study, they are thinking within a different paradigm.
There are three foundational principles that will help you and your students to ‘switch’ to this kind of thinking:
All living matter is complex and constantly changing. This movement can be directly observed and experienced (e.g. breathing, heartbeat, blood flow) or can only be imagined or modelled on the molecular level (e.g. enzymes helping to digest food). The environment we live in is also constantly changing (e.g. temperature, the availability of food and water).
This means that the human body is constantly adjusting its internal processes (physiology). Because nothing within the body is ever static, whatever we choose to measure, for example heart rate and blood sugar; that measure will always result in slightly different parameters.
Homeostasis is the word we use to describe the body’s ability to keep all of its functions within boundaries, despite constant change. Homeostasis is a good place to start with your students.
This follows on directly from homeostasis. Your students need to understand that when you think about physiology (function) you are thinking about something where there is never ending cause and effect: a constantly moving target! Physiology is often described as ‘when x happens it will cause y to happen next’. Our students will often be required to extend this to ‘when x happens it will cause y to happen next because….’.
Here is an example of how these two principles are written:
When we eat, food is digested and nutrients are absorbed into the blood stream. Glucose is one of these nutrients and so blood glucose rises. When blood glucose rises insulin is released from the pancreas. Insulin is a hormone that causes blood glucose levels to drop back to a normal range. Once the normal range is achieved, insulin is no longer secreted into the blood so that blood glucose levels do not drop to below the normal range.
Finally, when we look at homeostasis and cause and effect, we find that how tissues and organs are structured (anatomy), is key to what function each performs.
Students need to be able to look at structures and explain how that structure helps the part in question, to do what it is made to do. This produces the sentence structure ‘x looks like y so that z can happen’. So for example:
Red blood cells have a concave shape because this maximises surface area for oxygen to diffuse into their cytoplasm. They have no nucleus because this maximises space so that as much oxygen can be carried as possible.
If you have any suggestions for good practice please share them in the comments below, and if you have any questions via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, sign up for email updates or follow us on Twitter @OCR_Vocational.
Aileen Walsh - Subject Advisor for Health & Social Care
Aileen is one of the subject advisors for Health and Social Care and Child Development. Her background has mainly been as a nurse in acute care and in nurse and health care professionals’ education. As Aileen’s first degree was in Biomedical Sciences, Anatomy and Physiology is one of her main subjects as a lecturer.