How much detail should a high school Anatomy student be expected to master? Is it the same level of detail as a college student taking a similar course? Why or why not?
I teach Anatomy and Physiology at the high school level and offer that course as concurrent credit with our local junior college. The current arrangement is that one semester of high school anatomy grants one semester of college credit (after earning a C or better). A student interested in going into nursing or medicine can leave my Anatomy course with 8 college credits and get some prerequisite courses out of the way.
I recently had a great talk with the anatomy instructor at the junior college about how we run our anatomy courses. I showed her the portfolio-based documentation that we use and also looked at some of the tests that I give.
My overall impression of the differences between the college and high school anatomy courses from this discussion can be summarized as follows:
- I spend a lot of course time having students design labs that measure various aspects of human physiology. This does not appear to happen as often at the college level.
- My evaluation system is primarily based on collecting evidence of performances of practices of science rather than a focus solely on content-area vocabulary and concepts. Grades at the college level seem to be solely determined by exams that test content-area vocabulary and concepts (including my own junior college course that I teach in the summer).
- The pace of the high school course is slower than that of the college course, so much so that some concepts that should be “covered” in the fall semester (according to the college syllabus) are not encountered until spring and spring semester units are very short compared to the college.
- The level of detail (vocabulary and concepts) that college students are expected to master far exceeds that seen in my high school classes. An example would be the muscular system unit for which I have students learn muscle physiology, but not the names and locations of most major muscle groups, as the college does. We do learn many muscle names and locations through the cat dissection later in the year, however.
- The college instructor reported that a large percentage of students drop the course in the first few weeks whereas my students generally stay in for an entire semester, if not an entire year.
TL;DR of the above conversation: High school anatomy class is being taught very differently than the college version, but for the same credit.
Is this a problem? If so, what are possible solutions?
Most likely the junior college, given the current focus on its accreditation review, would consider this a problem. Students not on their campus are being granted credit for a different set of work than those on campus.
But is different “bad” or undeserving of college credit in this case? Maybe. It depends upon what we are issuing college credit for.
What should the goal of an Anatomy and Physiology class be? We should award “credit” based on whether these goals have been met or not. I can think of at least a few possible underlying philosophies that we might apply as the stated aims of this course:
- Students learn about the structure and function of their own bodies so as to make healthy, informed choices both now and in future medical care for themselves and their families.
- Students practice lab design, data collection, and scientific argumentation in the field of human anatomy and physiology.
- Students gain a solid understanding and appreciation of medical concepts that will inspire them to pursue a career in the medical field.
- Students learn detailed medical terminology in order to pass future examinations such as the MCAT and nursing boards.
Right now I operate my class from a mashup of the first three, with a minor emphasis on the 4th. I am almost certain that the college course primarily follows the 4th philosophy.
How then do we reconcile the issuance of credit for these very different goals? Ultimately, the college holds the trump card in that they are the issuing authority of the credit. If they decide that high school students should take the same exact exams as the college students, then that level of detail will need to be taught and the pace of the course quickened, probably at the expense of lab experiences.
But should it? I’ll end with this pondering:
Would it be better to not offer concurrent credit for this anatomy course and continue to focus on goals 1-3 or should I move the concurrent credit course towards a faster-paced, more test-prep focus to match the college more closely?
Comments welcome, as always.