Anatomy and Physiology "Quickies"

Anne McDonald and Michael O'Hare
1991 Woodrow Wilson Biology Institute


While studying human anatomy and physiology, many quick demonstrations may be used to illustrate a particular point, or enhance a student's comprehension of a particular organ structure. Some of these ideas are listed below.

  1. Use chicken wings, legs, and thighs to demonstrate whole muscles, muscle fibers, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, bones, and marrow. Pull away the muscle tissue to observe the bone structure. Compare and contrast the bones of the wing to the human arm and hand bones. Do the differences have any adaptive purposes?

  2. Use chicken wings to demonstrate the principle of antagonistic muscle action by pulling on muscles on opposite sides of a bone.

  3. In any organ system, have student groups come up with analogies relating the organs of a system to a mechanical device or anything familiar to them.

  4. Use Rennet tablets to demonstrate the principle of milk coagulation by the action of the enzyme rennin. The separation of milk into curds (solid) and whey (liquid) is quite effective.

  5. Use balloons to measure students vital capacity, then measuring the largest circumference of the balloon for comparisons.

  6. To demonstrate the effect of cooling by perspiration, have the student apply a film of water to the back of the arm and then blow across it. To test the skin's sensitivity to liquid's having different rates of evaporation, compare water on the skin to alcohol on the skin. Which evaporates faster? Which feels cooler?

  7. To demonstrate the relationship between muscles and tendons have the student grip tightly their forearms while wiggling the fingers in hand of the arm being gripped. The muscles are quite a distance from the attached tendons.

  8. To study the endocrine system quickly, assign a student or a group of students to "be" a specific endocrine gland and role play for the rest of the class to get the idea of their function across to the rest of the class.

  9. Use cuts of meat from the grocery store to serve as alternatives to or in addition to dissection. Examples:

    • spareribs - show intercostal cartilage attaching to ribs, the two groups of intercostal muscles, and sometimes one can find a flap of the diaphragm attached to the ribs.
    • turkey necks - boiled and with the meat removed show the student how vertebrae articulate with each other, as well as the spinal cord running through the center of the vertebrae, and perhaps spinal nerves branching off of the spinal cord.
    • pigs feet - these are usually longitudinally sectioned when they are purchased, and show the anatomy of the long bones (metatarsals). Students can compare spongy versus compact bone, locate the parts of a long bone and observe joint structure. They can also locate tendons and ligaments, and identify fat and muscle tissue.
    • beef tongue - shows the four types of papilla and when cut in cross section, skeletal muscle can be observed. The students can map the types of papillae as to their location on the tongue and hypothesize as to a relationship to the four areas of taste present on the tongue.
    • sheep kidney - compares to human kidney. (Do not use beef kidney as it is convuluted)
    • tripe - stomach wall, shows rugae well.
    • beef heart - the blood vessels are usually clipped close to the heart itsfelf and may be hard to identify, but when cross sectioned, students can see the atria, ventricles, valves, papillary muscles, and the septum.
    • chitlins - (for those of us in the South!) Velvety lining of the small intestine which shows the villi nicely.

  10. Use Testape (available at drug stores) to test for the presence of glucose in milk. (negative) Then add tablets of LACTAID or DAIRY-EASE products (available at drug stores or large supermarkets), wait the specified time indicated on the package, then test again. (positive) This activity demonstsrates the function of the enzyme lactase which breaks down lactose. Discuss the genetic disorder of adult lactase deficiency and why these products are useful to individuals with this disorder.

  11. Creative writing ideas: poem - have your students write a poem or short story about a particular organ system. See an English teacher for various styles. The short story could be written in the first person (I am Johnny's liver) and could describe anatomy , physiology, and the effect of disease. sequence of events - have the students write a story on the changes that occur to a ham sandwich as it passses through the digestive system, or a molecule of glucose as it passes through the kidneys.

  12. If you are hesitant about doing a urinalysis lab using real urine, make your own with water, a drop of yellow food coloring, and some iodine until it reaches the correct color. Then dissolve whatever components into the solution you desire - glucose, salt, egg white for protein, phosphates, etc.

  13. To demonstrate lactic build up in the muscles, have the students open and close their fists as hard and as fast as they can for a few minutes until they can feel the fatigue setting in.

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