Academic journal article The American Biology Teacher

Design Projects in Human Anatomy & Physiology

Academic journal article The American Biology Teacher

Design Projects in Human Anatomy & Physiology

Article excerpt

Very often, some type of writing assignment is required in college entry-level Human Anatomy and Physiology courses. This assignment can be anything from an essay to a research paper on the literature, focusing on a faculty-approved topic of interest to the student. As educators who teach Human Anatomy and Physiology at an urban community college, we believe it is important to provide students with an assignment that challenges not only their knowledge of the subject, but also their imaginations (McGraw, 2004b). To achieve this goal, we assign Design Projects in Human Anatomy and Physiology.


Kingsborough Community College, in Brooklyn, New York, is one of six community colleges in The City University of New York. In the Kingsborough Department of Biological Sciences, a two-semester sequence of courses in Human Anatomy and Physiology is required of students majoring in one of the Allied Health Science fields, such as Pre-Physician Assistant, Pre-Physical Therapy, Pre-Nursing, Pre-Occupational Therapy, and so on.

The first semester includes study of anatomical terminology, basic chemistry, the metric system, the cell, tissues, and the skeletal, muscular, nervous, and endocrine systems. The second semester focuses on the digestive, cardiovascular, respiratory, immune, excretory, and reproductive systems. In each semester, one writing assignment is required for successful completion of the course. The assignment can be a review of the literature or an alternate of the instructor's choosing. This is where we opt to assign a Design Project.

The First Semester

It has been our experience that first semester students of Human Anatomy and Physiology are often overwhelmed with the volume and complexity of material they are required to learn. Students sometimes express that the material is "boring" and dry. To add some spark to the class, we have assigned one of several design projects to challenge our students and to help them get a handle on the course content.

Design Project 1: New Organelle for the Cell

A portion of the course is devoted to the study of the cell, the basic unit of life. The cell is examined in general, and the structure and function of each organelle is studied in some detail. Aside from traditional testing on this topic, we wanted another way to ascertain whether our students really understood the workings of the cell. Hence, our first design assignment was born. The assignment is to design a new and different organelle for the typical human cell. The student must name his/her organelle, fully describe its structure and function, how it interacts with other organelles of the cell, how it will improve the cell, and what potential problems this new organelle may impose on the cell. An accompanying diagram of the new organelle and of the organelle's location in the cell is also a requirement, as well as each student's opinion of the assignment.

Over the years, we have been taken aback by the creativity of our students. For example, one student designed the "Michelobia." The student had a taste for beer, and thought it would be wonderful if she could enjoy it without getting drunk. This organelle had detoxifying properties to allow cells to process beer and prevent the ill effects of alcohol. Another student felt like he never had time to eat properly. He thought it would be wonderful if he, like plants, could make his own food. So, he designed a chloroplast-like organelle to do the job.

Design Project 2: New System of Measurement

Although this topic is not always included in Anatomy and Physiology courses, at Kingsborough (where this is an entry-level course), students must comprehend the international system if they are to understand standard physiological data.

The metric system can be a challenging topic for students who have spent their lives up to this point immersed in the English system. An innovative approach to under standing the metric system is to assign a design project where each student must create a completely new system of measurement, including units for length, mass and volume, and explain how these units relate to the metric system with relevant examples. …

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