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Anatomy faculty present 'summer camp' for high school science teachers

July 31, 2014

The Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology and the IU Center for Anatomical Sciences Education recently hosted a weeklong educational event for local high school science teachers at the IU School of Medicine. 

The 11 Indianapolis-area teachers who participated in the first Anatomy Education Summer Camp from June 23 to 27 had the chance to learn about human anatomy hands-on through participation in human dissections as well as participation in educational presentations on innovative teaching strategies. 

"Anatomy is increasingly being taught at the high school level and we wanted to create an opportunity for high school biology teachers to gain hands-on training in human dissection, which is a unique experience most of them would not have had in college," said James Brokaw, Ph.D., director of IU Center for Anatomical Sciences Education and associate professor and vice chair for education in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology. "We believe that early exposure to the anatomical sciences by high school teachers can provide the “spark” that will encourage some students to pursue medical and scientific careers at IU."

The only eligibility requirements to participate in the camp were to be a high school science teacher with an interest in teaching anatomy.

For all 11 participants, the course was their first experience in human dissection, Dr. Brokaw said.

"Initially, it was a little unnerving," said Scott Johnson, an anatomy and physiology professor at Plainfield High School in Plainfield, Ind. "My students always ask if I've ever participated in a [human dissection], and I've always been interested in knowing what that experience would be like so that I could share it with my students who plan to pursue careers in medicine."

All sessions were taught in the gross anatomy laboratory and classrooms of the VanNuys Medical Science Building. Instruction was provided by faculty members in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, graduate students and medical students. Adam Wilson, Ph.D., assistant research professor of surgery at the IU School of Medicine, devised the curriculum and served as course director.

Participants engaged in morning sessions of cadaveric dissection followed by afternoon sessions devoted to education workshops on such topics as problem-based learning, team-based learning, digital resources and exam assessment. These workshops introduced some of the latest innovative educational strategies being used at medical schools around the country, including the IU School of Medicine.

The strategies were really presented in ways that demonstrated exactly how they can be used in my content area," Johnson said. "More importantly, being shown how they are used at the postsecondary level will be very beneficial as I try to implement them into my curriculum."

The lecturers for the afternoon session included Drs. Brokaw and Wilson, graduate students Keely Cassidy, Melissa Taylor and Courtney Traser, and M.D.-Ph.D. student Alexe Engel. There also were several medical students who assisted the teachers with their dissections in the lab.

"All the teachers really felt their increased knowledge of anatomy through exposure to cadaveric dissection gave them greater credibility as anatomy educators and provided them with a unique personal experience that they could call upon during their future teaching," Dr. Wilson. One participant even joked about awaking in middle of the night to record a "flurry of creative classroom ideas ignited by the educational session on apps and web-based resources."

A focus group held after the event confirmed the other participants' enthusiasm for the program as well.

"This was without a doubt the best professional development opportunity I have attended," Johnson said. "The most valuable thing that I took away from the experience was a better understanding of what students can expect from a college level anatomy class.  It has been 15 years since I took anatomy in college… knowing…other teaching strategies [currently] being utilized will give me the opportunity to better prepare my students." 

Organizers aim to make the Anatomy Education Summer Camp an annual tradition at the School of Medicine, and hope to expand the program to teachers across all of Indiana, Dr. Brokaw said. 

The 2014 summer camp was supported in part by an educational grant from the American Association of Anatomists.

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