Jennifer B. Esty
The primary object of this unit is teach students how to interpret two dimensional diagrams as representations of a three dimensional reality. The inability to interpret diagrams, whether the diagrams are graphical representations of data, anatomical illustrations, charts of biological timelines, or physics diagrams, is common in all of my classes. These skills are also more broadly applicable to life in the form of reading maps, interpreting diagrams for furniture construction, continued education in the form of magazine and news paper articles, and even basic tasks like giving and receiving directions. Therefore, my primary goal in writing this unit is to develop methods of instructions which will build the capacity to interpret diagrams in my students. I have chosen to write this unit for my anatomy and physiology class, where the need for this type of education seems to be presently most essential. However, teachers of other subjects should feel free to adapt the techniques found in this unit to their particular subject areas as well, and, where possible, I will make suggestions as to the adaptability of a particular technique to subjects other than anatomy.
This curriculum unit is being written for a high school anatomy and physiology class. It comes out of a need that I have seen in my anatomy and physiology class. I have noticed that my students have quite a bit of trouble understanding the three-dimensionality of the human body when they learn about it from a two-dimensional drawing in their textbooks. Essentially, they have trouble interpreting the two-dimensional diagrams as three-dimensional realities. So, the primary objective of this unit is to teach students how to see three-dimensional objects when they look at a two-dimensional diagram. Secondarily, this unit will be used to teach about differing intelligences and how they relate to student learning. Specifically, I want my students to understand that what they have been previously taught as “proper note taking techniques” are merely guides that work well for some people but that there may be other ways to take notes which work better for their type of learning. For example, when I was in school, many of my classmates used pneumonics to memorize just about everything. I found that not only could I not remember the material I was supposed to learn, but I also could not remember the pneumonic either. Clearly, this technique did not work for me, but it did for others. Incidentally, I later found other ways to remember things that worked better for me. This is a secondary skill I hope to teach my students. Finally, I also hope to teach my students some basic drawing skills for two reasons. First, much of anatomy requires that students know how body parts relate to each other, and the easiest way to show this is to draw it. So a basic understanding of drawing should make the process of recording information less frustrating for my students who choose to take notes this way. Second, my hope is that if students are taught how to draw objects, they will observe them more closely and more carefully. Anatomy and physiology, and science, in general, are full of important details that students frequently overlook.
When I first read about Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences in graduate school, the truth of his theory resonated with me in a way that many of the other theories we studied did not. My experience in teaching so far leads me to believe that many of the forms of intelligence are being ignored. With the recent emphasis on accountability through standardized testing, there is less teaching and there are fewer assessments using forms of intelligence not readily measured by computer scantron sheets and other paper-based methods. I suspect this may be part of the reason why so many of my students come to me lacking the ability to read diagrams. Furthermore, I suspect the emphasis on those same standardized test in lower grades combined with the effects of poverty has denied my students the time they once might have had as children to play with things like blocks and playdough which would have built their special abilities. The ability to read diagrams, particularly anatomical diagrams depicting three dimensional objects, seems to me to be largely a spatial ability, similar to the ability to see a three dimensional landscape when looking at a topographical map or imagining the vastness of the distance between New York and California when looking at a geographic map. My students, incidentally, frequently appear to lack these skills as well. So, a major strategy and a major focus of the activities of this unit will be to use skills that my students have mastered to help them discover the relationship between the diagrams they see and study in the book and the three dimensional reality in the world around them.
Although this unit is being written for an anatomy and physiology class, the ideas have applicability to many different subjects. As Howard Gardner states in
, there are many fields of study which require spatial intelligence abilities, including practitioners of the visual arts, engineers, architects, interior designers, mechanics, industrial designers, landscapers, foresters, biologists, anatomists, surgeons, and many others. As a result the professions have had to come up with ways to educate initiates to the profession in methods of reliably displaying complex spatial information on pieces of paper, which are more readily transferable than most other methods of communicating such information. This unit will occasionally dip into some of these diverse fields to borrow ideas, which will help students to better understand how three dimensional objects can be related to two dimensional images.