Anatomy Practicals- Stackables that Teach: A Life-Sized Human Body Project- The Muscular System!


3D Learning in Anatomy… I’m HOOKED!

This year, I’ve been experimenting with providing my Anatomy classes opportunities to learn the human body in different ways, rather than the traditional “I can label a flat diagram with all the correct parts” that I might’ve used in the past (Guilty as charged! lol). My students just love using oversized diagrams and learned so much from the Gallery Walk we did at the beginning of the course (in case you missed the blog post, you can see it here ). I decided to create life-sized bodies so they would have an opportunity to manipulate structures as if they had a real patient. Since I don’t have the facilities (or budget) for a cadaver, I decided that paper & markers were the best way for this thrifty teacher’s students to achieve this! lol. (You can see what we did with the Circulatory System here ) .

So My Mission …. How Can I Help My Students Go From Simply Learning Individual Muscles..

To understanding the Muscular System?…

Since my students had to draw in all the muscles on their skeletons for the Gallery Walk assignment, I really wanted to come up with something better to help my kids really practice and learn the surface muscles… They always have such a hard time transitioning from labeling a flat “muscle man” to actually pointing to location of the tibialis anterior on their own shin.  So, after COUNTLESS hours of drawing, fitting, and adjusting, I have finally finished the muscles for their life-sized skeletons.  (YAY ME! 🙂 )


I wanted them to learn the most common surface muscles on the anterior and posterior surface. img_0219.jpg

I also wanted them to see how their muscles fit together, with some overlapping others.  This is so difficult for them to visualize on a diagram on a flat piece of paper!

This year, like most years, I have several students who have IEPs, as well as those who do not speak English as their first language.  So, I always want to make sure I provide them with as many opportunities as I can to master the topics we were learning. I purposefully designed the practice activities, as well as the diagrams I drew for them, so that providing differentiation would be seamless in my classroom.  At first glance, the activities look the same for all students, however, one student might have 1 version of the activity, while another has a different version……All dependent upon their personal level.  Here’s an example of some of the diagrams.. img_2755

One student may have the version with the names already written on it (like the diagram on the left), while another might be asked to identify a specific muscle by number (as in the assignment below).  Students can be given work that matches THEIR own level. I just love the flexibility in designing curricula like this! img_2769

I also created a Quizlet to help my students practice the muscle actions (the muscles in this Quizlet are also the same ones they have to know the location for in addition to the action the muscle performs) ( ) We played Quizlet LIVE to review before our exam this time.  It’s so much fun! If you haven’t used it with your class, give it a try- Your students will love it! (See my post on Quizlet live here if you haven’t used it yet)


If you are interested in this BIG Life-Sized Muscular System Project (it’s BIG, I’m not kidding… over 100 pages! ), please visit  my TpT store (I will be uploading it this weekend)

This Muscular System project includes everything you should need to implement this with your class, including the Anterior and Posterior Life-Sized Skeletons (which you can use for the Skeletal System!).  It also includes 2 versions of a practice activity (so you can differentiate instruction with your class), as well as full page diagrams (like those pictured above) for the:  Head & Neck, Arm/Forearm (Anterior View), Upper Arm (Posterior View), Trunk (Anterior & Posterior), Hip/Thigh/Leg (Anterior & Posterior).



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What is My Process for Drawing Sketch Notes for My Students? Here’s A Step-By-Step Guide!

You’ve Used Prepared Sketch Notes & Doodle Notes But You’d Like to Create Your Own…. But How?

I’ve been creating Sketch Notes for my students for several years (ever since I had a student in AP Bio whose first language was Arabic and I drew cartoons for her… I was desperate to help her understand the concepts!).  See this blog post for more info.

Pretty soon, almost my entire class would come back during my conference block for our “cartoon reviews”. One day, I looked around an almost full classroom, and realized that sharing information via simple pictures was helping students make very complicated connections in their learning. It was my desperation to help my Arabic student that paved the way for using Sketch Notes with all of my students.

If you’re like me, you might have reviewed the research on the effectiveness of using Sketch Notes in the classroom. See this blog post for more info on the research.   But, research is one thing and practical implementation into the classroom can be quite a different thing….

The Research Says Students Should Create Their Own Sketch Notes In Order To Learn Something….

Part of me agrees with this, but the real-life teacher who tried (and failed several times) to get her 9th grade non-honors Biology students to create Sketch Notes on several topics last year, disagrees. It’s one thing to take simple notes on a lecture, speech, or reading passage using Sketch Notes…. But, it’s a whole different ballgame when you are faced with a complicated, multi-faceted scientific topic or process. In my experience, you really have to have a good conceptual understanding of the WHOLE topic (especially a complicated scientific topic!) before you can create a graphic that represents it visually in a simple way.  Think about the process of Cellular Respiration. You have to understand the “big picture” of what happens in the whole process before you can visualize the individual steps involved in the process.  I’m a “whole-to-part” kind of learner. I need the overview so I understand why the individual parts are important. While some students might come into your class prepared, on grade level, with the previous year’s science standards mastered, sadly most students do not (or at least they don’t in my class). With my 9th graders last year, I tried having them create their own Sketch Notes several different ways:  1) at the beginning of a topic (so I could possibly see their misconceptions about it) 2) after our discussion/exploration of a topic (I tried after an inquiry lab so I could possibly see the connections they were making) and 3) as a review at the end of a topic (I thought they might be able to apply their knowledge of a topic to another situation). How did it turn out? Epic FAIL in all 3 situations! While #3 (as the review) was slightly more successful than the other 2 situations, I still wasn’t really impressed with the results my students produced. See my reflection of last year in this blog post.

So, What Was I Missing With My Students?

To help me help my students, I took a good look at the steps I used to draw Sketch Notes for them.  I understand that my subject matter knowledge of most scientific concepts is greater than my students, so I really needed to figure out a way to help them learn to draw Sketch Notes for themselves.  I decided to change my approach with our current Cardiovascular unit for my Anatomy & Physiology students and be more deliberate in developing the skills they might need (Blog post on this coming soon!) In the meantime, here is the process I personally use in drawing Sketch Notes for my students…..

1. Pick ONE Topic for Your Sketch Notes and Take Notes On That ONE Topic

Learning is messy. My initial notes are messy. I’m only interested in gathering information about a topic, not creating anything.  As an example, here are my initial notes for my latest Sketch Notes on how opioids/opiates work and how Narcan can reverse their effects (We are studying Toxicology in Forensics and I’ll use it in A & P with the Nervous System). I watched 3 videos on Youtube and utilized 2 different books for this topic.  img_2736

2. Refine and Polish Your Notes

I’ve done this ever since I was in high school. I ALWAYS go back and re-copy/reorganize the notes I took in class. I think this is key to helping me understand something new.  Here’s what my notes look like at this step: img_2735

I also look up anything that needs more clarification in my mind (for this topic, one of the things I looked up was the respiratory feedback loop).  I try to make connections and have my notes paint a picture in my own head.  I use doodles and anything I can think of to help me visualize what the words actually mean. It’s these connections that help me create my Sketch Notes. I also usually type up these notes and try to keep them to no more than 2 pages. This limit helps me be concise with my explanation of a topic.

3. Produce A Rough Draft

I tend to sketch out my ideas on a piece of paper to make sure I get all of the important concepts included.  I also put them in the general area on the page I think will work best. This is my rough draft for the Opiates Sketch Notes. img_2738-1

Since I now use my iPad Pro with Procreate to draw my Sketch Notes, I will use the picture of my rough draft as a guide as I draw.

4.  Create Final Sketch Notes

For a long time, I drew my Sketch Notes in pencil, then inked them in with permanent pens.  One of my absolute favourite things is not knowing exactly how they are going to turn out until everything gets erased lol. When the new iPad Pro came out in November, I decided to use the money I’d been saving and purchase one and the new Apple Pencil. … Game.Changer! I love drawing on it. I use the Procreate App and it creates Sketch Notes that print beautifully clean lines. It’s really a fabulous combination. Here are my final Sketch Notes on Opiates img_0285 The Procreate App allows you to draw in “layers” so it is really easy to hide labels and words on the Sketch Notes.  It really makes creating fill-in-the-blank versions of my Sketch Notes really easy!

Concluding Thoughts

If you are interested in creating your own Sketch Notes, or guiding your students as they develop their own, I have a couple of words of advice……

  1. Find an example of a font you like (maybe bubble letters), along with some basic arrows, page dividers, frames, etc. and print them out or pull them up on your computer.  Having a few examples of things to look at as you create can make a blank page less frightening!  There are a lot of great ideas on Pinterest.  I especially like the simple step-by-step instructions for drawing basic doodles. Check out my “Journaling” board on Pinterest if you need ideas to get you started.
  2. Do your research FIRST before you start to draw.  Your notes = your plan.  It’s very difficult to create Sketch Notes on a topic if you don’t have a clear, big picture of the idea you want to convey to your students.
  3. Practice!  It gets easier, I promise! You don’t have to be an artist (goodness knows I’m not haha). Much of the impact will come from the way your Sketch Notes are set up in an orderly, logical arrangement.  They should tell a story in pictures.
  4. Use the graphics in your Sketch Notes to “connect the dots” for your students.  Make connections.… Give them concrete, simple examples to associate those complicated concepts with so they can recall and remember.  That’s the point right?  My students use their Sketch Notes to study for exams more often than they use printed or handwritten notes.  They always tell me it’s so much easier to remember pictures than words.
  5. Finally, HAVE FUN using Sketch Notes!  This tool has truly transformed my classroom! My classroom environment is so different now. Students are relaxed. We color together and talk about complicated processes.  It really brings the stress level down a notch.  My students love it!


To see all of the Sketch Notes I have developed for my students, please visit my new website  (subscribe to my newsletter and download a FREE  Sketch Notes sample) and also my TpT Store at  Make sure you FOLLOW ME to be notified when I post new Sketch Notes!

Posted in Anatomy & Physiology, biology, Forensics, Instructional Coaching, Sketch Notes, Strategies, Teaching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Draw an Anatomically Correct Heart the EASY Way! Just in Time for Valentine’s Day

Learning the Structure of the Heart is So Easy When You Can Draw It!

When we cover the structure of the human heart, I like to draw it for my students as we discuss it. This is an easy method that I learned one summer in an anatomy workshop. It is amazingly easy and my students rarely ever have trouble recalling the structure of the heart. You start by drawing 2 elementary school era “birds” connected by 2 circles. Like this:


Then, add in the Vs (V= Valves) img_0270-1

Connect the wings of the outer “birds” and create the myocardium (the muscular outer walls of the heart) and draw in the septum (division of the ventricles) between the 2 circles. img_0271-1img_0272-2

Off the first circle, create the pulmonary trunk and the pulmonary arteries. The pulmonary trunk is a major vessel of the human heart that originates from the right ventricle. It branches into the right and left pulmonary arteries, which lead to the lungs. Each of these vessels has elastic walls similar to those of the aorta, though somewhat thinner, and they are considered to be arteries even though the blood they carry is not oxygenated. The trunk itself is relatively short and wide. The function of these vessels is to transmit oxygen-depleted, carbon dioxide-rich blood from the right ventricle to the lungs. img_0273-2.png

From the second circle, create the aorta which is situated behind the pulmonary trunk and arteries. The aorta is the largest artery in the body. The aorta begins at the top of the left ventricle, the heart’s muscular pumping chamber. The heart pumps blood from the left ventricle into the aorta through the aortic valve. Three leaflets on the aortic valve open and close with each heartbeat to allow one-way flow of blood.

The aorta is a tube about a foot long and just over an inch in diameter. The aorta is divided into four sections:

• The ascending aorta rises up from the heart and is about 2 inches long. The coronary arteries branch off the ascending aorta to supply the heart with blood.

• The aortic arch curves over the heart, giving rise to branches that bring blood to the head, neck, and arms.

• The descending thoracic aorta travels down through the chest. Its small branches supply blood to the ribs and some chest structures.

• The abdominal aorta begins at the diaphragm, splitting to become the paired iliac arteries in the lower abdomen. Most of the major organs receive blood from branches of the abdominal aorta.


Just under the pulmonary trunk and arteries, connect the lines to create the left atrium and right atrium. These are the top 2 chambers and receive blood returning to the heart from the body. Label the Right Atrium (R.A.), Left Atrium (L.A.), Right Ventricle (R.V.) and Left Ventricle (L.V). img_0275-1.png

Connect the pulmonary veins to the Left Atrium on the right side and left side of the heart. Make sure to draw 4 dots to represent the places where the pulmonary veins return oxygenated blood from the lungs into the left atrium of the heart. img_0276-1.png

Draw the Superior Vena Cava above the Right Atrium and the Inferior Vena Cava next to the Right Ventricle. Make sure to draw 2 dots to represent the places where they return deoxygenated blood from the body into the Right Atrium. img_0277-1.png

I draw this heart as we go over all the parts and have students draw along with me. Once we are finished, we set a timer and see who can draw it the fastest (correctness counts 🙂 ) Hope your students have fun with it!

Posted in activity, Anatomy & Physiology, Sketch Notes, Strategies, Teaching | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Need Inspiration for an Interdisciplinary PBL for High School Students? Check Out What Our Students Did!

title pic dna proj1

Etowah students explore DNA, databases, and the Fourth Amendment

The teachers of Etowah High School have come together to give their senior class the learning experience of a lifetime.

The project was based upon the premise of whether or not people own their own DNA, because of the recent arrest of the Golden State Killer. In the case, authorities worked with, an open data personal genomics database and genealogy website. It was created as a genealogical analysis tool for amateur and professional researchers and genealogists.

An investigator from the case was able to match DNA from one of the crime scenes of this elusive ’70s killer to a distant family member.

“Instantly, the pool of suspects shrank from millions of people down to a single family,” according to a Washington Post story by Avi Selk, published April 28, 2018.

The Etowah seniors were given a fictional arson case to investigate, with a DNA component similar to another case, Maryland v. King, in which the defendant’s DNA was obtained for one crime, which linked him to an unrelated cold case.

The project culminated in a mock trial, exposing students to a real-world situation. The trial also allowed them to examine ethical issues as well, such as what really happens to DNA in the justice system. Every senior played an important role, from the prosecution to the defense, judge to jury.

The project was the result of previous years’ seniors becoming overwhelmed with individual class projects at the same time. The strenuous workload became such an issue that the students had to decide which ones they had to pass and which ones they could afford to fail.

To combat this issue, the science, history and English departments worked as one to come up with a cross-curricular idea that would allow all of the students to work together to solve an issue relating to a current event.

Each department was responsible for its own different component of the project.

dna proj pic2

In the science department, science teachers Karen Hammonds and Dr. Shelley Montgomery dealt with DNA, DNA profiling, DNA fingerprinting and DNA in court cases. The history portion, over which government and economics teachers Ryan McClendon and Brandon Johnson presided, dealt with court proceedings and the Fourth Amendment. The English topics, which dealt with research and legal briefs, were guided by English teacher Sandra Bost.

In addition to the high school’s teachers, real expert witnesses from the community, such as firefighters and policemen, volunteered their experiences to support the seniors’ verdicts. Even Attalla City Schools Superintendent Jeff Colegrove was called as a witness by the defense in one class to give testimony about a fire he and his family experienced.

The project lasted two weeks total, concluding in six trials that spanned across two days. In the end, no two trials reached the same verdict, despite covering the same case.

In addition to the senior class, the project reached some juniors, sophomores and freshmen as well. With the help of Bost, who also heads the journalism department along with Anna Usry, as well as the art department’s Rodney Jackson, they acted as courtroom photographers, investigative journalists and sketch artists, documenting the scenes as they happened and interviewing members of the court and audience.

The project was such a success this year that Etowah’s teachers plan to do it again next year, using this year’s experience to improve their ideas and correct their mistakes in the future.

Caylie Moore is a junior in Etowah High’s journalism department.

* Original article posted in The Gadsden Times on February 9, 2019.  Source:
Posted in activity, Forensics, Instructional Coaching, Project Based Learning PBL, Teaching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Evaluation of Bloodstain Patterns Project Authentic Learning for Forensics!


Students Become Blood Spatter Experts

My students love Forensics because they get to do activities that are authentic. Forget just reading about how Criminalists process crime scenes…. In Forensics, my students take it to another level and actually ARE Criminalists and they LOVE it!

We actually just finished this project last week and had “court” Monday and Tuesday.  For this project, my students were divided into groups of 6 (I have 24-25 students in my Forensics classes this year).  Each student was an expert in a field and had a job (complete with job description to keep things equal) within the group:

The group then had to decide upon a “story” they would illustrate using bloodstain patterns that they created (at least 1 stain had to be a medium velocity).  I supplied the “murder weapons” as well as various accessories (butcher paper & food service gloves*cheap from Sams!*, paint brushes, pipettes, spray bottles, etc) they used to recreate high, medium, and low velocity spatter.

I’ve found that the more realistic I can be with their assignments, the better participation and “buy in” I have from my students.  So, I always create real-world forms/ reports for each of the experts to go along with their specific responsibilities. Once student groups got their “story” illustrated, they submitted all of their forms/reports to the “crime lab” (aka me).

Since I have 2 classes of Forensics, I let the “stories” from one class become the “unknown” that my other class investigated.  As part of the investigation, students were expected to calculate the angle of incidence for 15 blood drops in a medium velocity bloodstain.  Then, they used string to create a model of the blood droplet’s projected path.  This string was then attached to a stationary object (we used big cardboard shipping tubes that I saved).  Once all the blood droplet paths were modeled, the overall area of convergence was easily determined from the location that the majority of strings crossed.  img_2445Once the model was created, groups had to examine the reports and other paperwork submitted by the group who created the spatter in order to determine whether the story was consistent with their analysis or not. clip bloodstain pattern slide

Groups prepared a short presentation via Google Slides for our “court” day.

Awesome Sites for Additional Research

Analyze a practice case at

Explore a career as a Blood Spatter Analyst

Overall, this has to be one of my favourite projects for my Forensics class to do.  It really involves them in authentic,cross-curricular learning.  To purchase this entire project (including all instructions, forms, and alternative enrichment assignments), please visit my TpT store at

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Life-Sized Cardiovascular/Circulatory System Models!


The Struggle is REAL…..

My students struggle because most anatomical diagrams are small and can be difficult for them to analyze. My class created big bodies with basic organs from an outline I drew for their Gallery Walk  at the conclusion of our first unit on the body systems. It was SO beneficial for them!  Check out my previous blog post on this here loved having such large-sized structures to work with and told me that it really helped them remember the organs. I looked for pre-made life-sized bodies with organs, but sadly only found things appropriate for elementary students.  Definitely not detailed enough for Juniors and Seniors in high school, many of whom plan to pursue a career in the medical field.  So, I decided that I should create LIFE-SIZED diagrams which I knew would focus on the important structures of the system but, at the same time, be RIGOROUS enough for my high school Anatomy students…

So here is a little peek at the finished products for the Cardiovascular/ Circulatory System we are doing this week and next (in honor of Valentine’s Day)…

These easy to interpret diagrams are drawn over 8 pages and are easily trimmed and taped together to create a large human body. I drew this project with a lift-the-flap labeled heart, as well as the major circulatory pathway throughout the body already drawn in for students so they would know what to color red and what to color blue.  I plan to use these in teaching the flow of blood as well as the types of vessels. We will also be using the Anatomically Correct Heart Valentine for our heart study.  See it in action in my class here  (Link to purchase the bundle on TpT is here )

I will also have my students color and label the most important arteries and veins. Here’s a picture from a previous class (please excuse the wrinkles, I folded it and put it in my filing cabinet lol) They also used yarn instead of coloring.  img_0137

This is the list of arteries and veins we will learn and label. img_0138-e1549454313238.jpg

This is new in my TpT store!  You can check it out here –>

It is the first installment in my newest project called Anatomy Practicals! These will cover each body system and provide your students with life-sized diagrams as well as the important organs included… all rigorous enough for high school Anatomy students! I have also bundled these with instructions for the project that my students did for each system.  Stay tuned for all systems to be posted!


Posted in activity, Anatomy & Physiology, Teaching | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Looking for a Cute Thanksgiving Activity for Anatomy? How about an “Anatomically Correct” Hand Turkey…


Every Kid Loves to Make a Hand Turkey at Thanksgiving Right??

My students are in the middle of the Skeletal System right now.  Since they are having a lot of trouble remembering the bones of the wrist, I tried to think of a creative way for them to practice, yet still have fun (especially since Anatomy & Physiology can be so heavy on the memorization at times).  I always like to have a little fun around the holidays (and give students a reason NOT to check out of school right before a break lol) so what better way to practice than to go old school elementary school and make hand turkeys!! 🙂


I think students do much better in Anatomy if their diagrams are larger and easier to label (totally not a proven scientific fact lol! However, it is my own personal opinion but it really does help).  So, in addition to drawing Sketch Notes, I’ve also been drawing their diagrams in a manner that cuts through all the “extra” stuff and narrows it down to the important structures.  (another blog post on this later so stay tuned).

renderedimageAnyway, I drew the hand diagrams really large for my students and used the Ventral View of the Left Hand for this one (… before you ask, YES I did draw it from tracing my own hand lol and that’s how I got the idea for them to do a hand turkey from the diagram).  I made a chart of all the bones and the corresponding colors for each one.  To differentiate for my students, I will probably number the bones and put the corresponding number next to the correct bone in their chart.  That way, they can check themselves with the numbers and not have to just remember the name of the bone.  The picture above is how the turkey should look colored correctly. Students will add eyes, feet, feathers, etc and turn it into their own Thanksgiving turkey.  Hopefully, this will help them practice learning the bones of the wrist and hand.

Like to try it in your classroom?  Visit my TpT Store for the activity that INCLUDES the large hand diagram!

Like the LARGER diagrams?  Follow me on TpT so you can stay updated when I post additional things!

Posted in activity, Anatomy & Physiology, Strategies, Teaching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
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