Moist organs and kinesthetic learnersWhen EMS students experience anatomy with hands-on training

Recently, I’ve rededicated myself to making my EMT classes more interactive and engaging to the students in active learning exercises. I’m a strong speaker, and my natural tendency is to expound on a given subject at length and engage my listeners in discussions. But while using Socratic dialogue in a conference presentation works well to engage listeners who already have some knowledge base, it falls flat when your students are hearing the information for the very first time. Sure, they’re supposed to read the chapter and do the online assignments before class, but so many of them don’t, and many more flail helplessly at the textbook and never absorb anything, simply because no one has ever taught them how to study. Hence, my zeal at using what Dan Limmer calls “dynamic learning exercises.” Dan has a wealth of them on his website, and inspired me to make up a bunch of my own.

One thing I’ve done for the past four years is teach a pluck lab in my EMT courses. I cover anatomy – and most especially, physiology and pathophysiology – in great depth compared to most EMT classes, and it pays off later in class when we discuss various medical emergencies. When the students already have a solid understanding of how things are supposed to work, it is relatively easy to understand what happens – and what to do – when those mechanisms go wrong.

CONTEXTUALIZING ANATOMY FOR EMS STUDENTS Students have a hard time contextualizing information like, “The heart is a muscular organ with four chambers whose function is to … ”

It’s just esoteric information to them. But let them put their hands on a heart – not a plastic anatomical model – and suddenly, they’re paying attention when you talk about pulmonary pumps and systemic pumps, or semilunar valves, or coronary arteries, or where the tricuspid and mitral valves get their name, or how blood can collect and clot in the atria in an atrial fibrillation patient who isn’t on anticoagulants.

“It’s so … muscular! I had in mind this sort of … bag of blood.” — EMT student I invariably get incredulous comments like that from my students when they feel the muscularity of the left ventricle versus the right, or observe atelectasis in pig lungs and watch how we can reverse it with a BVM and peep, or feel the cartilaginous rings around a trachea.

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