Icebergs in Anatomy

So it’s the first day of Saturday Anatomy Class, yeah you heard me right: SATURDAY 8am ANATOMY class.  So I teach Anatomy. On Saturdays.  At 8am. But wait, it gets better.

Nothing elicits a more confused and awkward look than this picture I post the very first day of class, posted right here:  [To where I proceed to ask the students to give me their input on exactly what this is. Can you guess?  I’ll give you a moment to think.]

iceberg bw

No this is not a collagen fiber, the fossa ovalis, or an alveoli cluster in the lung.  In fact, you couldn’t find this this structure in the human body at all. (If you did, I’d have some of my own questions to ask you!)

Alas, this is nothing more than an iceberg. “An iceberg?” you say! What in bootstraps does an iceberg have anything to do with Anatomy? Keep reading.

This iceberg was allegedly the very one responsible for sinking the Titanic.  Can’t be quite sure, but scientists have pinpointed that black/white pic you see above to the approximate location of where the tragedy occurred at sea.  Truth is what seemed like just a mere flicker of icy gloss spread across the surface probably had a much broader view looking something like this:

real iceberg

Eeeek! This is huge. Quite interestingly crazy and horribly tragic indeed; but again, what does this have to do with anatomy class?  My point is coming as such- bear with me:

In the course of studying for anatomy & physiology, and any class for that matter, the analogy of the iceberg can be used.  Truth is, when most students study, they only display a level of knowledge that represents the ‘tip’ of the ‘iceberg of information’ needed for adequate retention.  Simply coming to lecture, reading assigned material, and performing mandatory hands-on dissection and clinical analysis in lab (although very helpful and certainly necessary) is NOT merely enough to substantiate a thorough understanding of information.  The activities I just mentioned are a part of learning as a Passive process (only the ‘tip’ of the iceberg).  See here below:

learning pyramid

My goal as an instructor is to get a student to go beyond (in the words of the infamous Buzz Lightyear: ‘to infinity…and beyond!’) the learning stage into the greater, rarely surpassed, deeper stage of Active Learning.  It is during Active learning- when a student forms discussion groups to dissect the material, quiz other peers, and teaches themselves & others (without using notes/texts/materials, of course) that the information gets a chance to ‘marinate’ in their brain in such a way that they can apply dry concepts found in textbooks to flavorful applications in life. [That was an exceedingly long run-on sentence. My English teacher would not be proud. Oh.]

In this particular learning pyramid diagram, it’s clear to see that the average retention rate (in English: ‘how well you can recall the material you just spent reading for the past 3 hours’) increases as one goes deeper into the ‘Active’ learning stage: aka, beyond the tip of the iceberg.

So there you have it folks! There are icebergs in Anatomy.

(Sorry I called you ‘folks’).

In other words, the best way to learn is to teach.  And the best way to teach is to learn.


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