Monday, September 29, 2014

No Red Pens!

Red F grade

All teachers use red pens to grade student work, right?  Not this teacher.  I haven't used a red pen in over a decade.  I have strong reasons for that.

Many years ago, I happened to be scanning some information about research on the psychological effects of colors.  I was planning a major overhaul of my writing studio and wanted to find a paint color that would not interfere with my focus and productivity—or perhaps even enhance my productivity.  That's when I ran across something that pointed out some unintended adverse effects of using a red pen for grading student work.

As we all know, red is an alarm color.  Red signals danger, right?  So it's alarming—perhaps downright scary—to see red.  That works great when you are designing a stop sign or painting an alarm box.  But perhaps it's not so great when you are trying to provide helpful feedback.

Yes, I know that red ink stands out from the black or blue ink in student work so it can be easily distinguished.  But you know what?  So does green ink!

I've found that making comments in green, whether praising a great effort or correcting an error, has an overall positive effect on reactions by my students.  Green is the color of growth and reassurance, after all.  A whole different signal than red's message of danger and anger.

There's some evidence that blue ink may be a better choice.  But some of my students use blue ink themselves, so my comments would blend in too much. I've had good luck with green, so I'm sticking with it for now.

It may just be that by switching to green ink, it was me that changed.  Perhaps every time I grade with a green pen, I'm reminded that I want to be nurturing and positive in my feedback—not mean and condescending.

Don't take my word for it!  Try it yourself.  I realize that this seems silly and trivial, but it works. I doubt whether you'll go back to red for grading again.

What can we use from this in teaching undergraduate A&P?

  • Grading papers and assigning grades in green sends a nurturing signal, not an angry message.
  • Providing written feedback in green to colleagues (peers, supervisors, subordinates) maintains a positive, constructive tone rather than an angry tone.

Want to know more?

Color and psychological functioning: The effect of red on performance attainment.

  • Elliot, A J. et al. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol 136(1), Feb 2007, 154-168. doi: 10.1037/0096-3445.136.1.154
  • Research reporting a negative effect of using red in learning situations.


  • KW Jacobs and J. Suess Perceptual and Motor Skills 1975,Volume 41, Issue , pp. 207-210. doi: 10.2466/pms.1975.41.1.207
  • Research article showing that red tends to increase anxiety levels in undergraduates.

Parents to teachers: No more red pencils

  • Associated Press. 4 March 2005
  • Article on reactions to grading in red.

Red Ink May Lead to Lower Grades

  • Guy Raz National Public Radio 29 May 2010
  • Audio reporting on the unintended effects of color use in grading—actually affecting the grade.

School Bans Teachers From Using Red Ink Because Everyone Knows Red Ink Is Mean

  • Maria Guido Mommyish 20 March 2014
  • Blog post by a mom reacting to a local school's ban on grading in red ink.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Sweeteners Alter Gut Microbiome to Promote Glucose Intolerance

I'll never forget when Ira Fritz, my doctoral committee chair, practically slapped a packet of artificial sweetener out of my hand as I was about to put it into my iced tea.  "That stuff will kill you!" he said as he extracted from me an oath to swear off the stuff.  I'm not sure I quite believed him, but to this day I still drink my iced tea unsweetened.

As usual, Ira was right.  Recently another brick has been added to the foundation of his concern about sugar substitutes. Researchers have found that sweeteners such as saccharine, sucralose, aspartame can alter the microbial ecosystem of our gut in a way that promotes the development of glucose intolerance.  Glucose intolerance is part of metabolic syndrome, one of the most significant epidemics of our (or any) era.

At least as interesting as this microbial mediation between our diet and our metabolic function is the fact that only those human subjects who were responders exhibited the changes observed.  This underscores our emerging view about the individualized nature of human nutrition and metabolism.

What can we use from this in teaching undergraduate A&P?

  • We have yet another example to share regarding why and how the human microbial system plays such a vital role in our body.

  • This may be an interesting story to bring up when discussing immunity in our A&P course, perhaps giving a preview of later topics on the gut microbiome and nutrition/metabolism.

  • Nutrition and metabolism are not the same for everyone.  So the basic principles learned in an A&P course are likely to be generally true for humans, but not necessarily entirely true for every individual.

  • Yet another example of the principle "you are what you eat."

  • And here's another case of continued scientific research refining the story of what we know about human structure and function.  Consider mentioning it when you are explaining scientific methodology and it's relevance to A&P at the start of your course.  An interesting discussion may ensue after asking, "does this mean we should stop using sugar substitutes?"

Want to know more?

Artificial Sweeteners Linked to Glucose Intolerance

  • Beth Skwarecki. Medscape Medical News. September 17, 2014
  • Article summarizing the recent research.

Sugar Substitutes, Gut Bacteria, and Glucose Intolerance

  • Anna Azvolinsky. TheScientist. September 17, 2014
  • Another plain-English article covering how the consumption of artificial sweeteners results in glucose intolerance is mediated by changes in the gut microbiota in both mice and humans.

Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota

  • Jotham Suez, et al. Nature. doi:10.1038/nature13793 September 17, 2014
  • Research article outlining the discovery of the sweetener-gut-glucose intolerance  link. Includes numerous illustrations.

Metabolic Syndrome 

  • S Wang, et al. Medscape. Updated 23 April 2014
  • Detailed Medscap entry summarizing various aspects of metabolic syndrome.

Diet Sodas, as Well as Regular Ones, Raise Diabetes Risk

  • Miriam E. Tucker. Medscape Medical News. February 14, 2013
  • Article summarizing research showing that women who drink large amounts of diet soda are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Consumption of artificially and sugar-sweetened beverages and incident type 2 diabetes in the Etude Epidémiologique auprès des femmes de la Mutuelle Générale de l'Education Nationale–European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition cohort

  • Guy Fagherazzi, et al. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. January 30, 2013. 
  • Original research article about the diet soda-diabetes link.

Photo: S. Snodgrass

Monday, September 15, 2014

Updated Cell Transport Slides

Many longtime readers of this blog know that I have a set of animated PowerPoint-compatible slides available for you to use FREE in your A&P classes.  These slides—the Lion Den Slide Collection— supplement the publisher-supplied slides or homegrown slides that you are already using.

I recently updated, improved, and expanded the set of slides that animate several key cell transport processes such as diffusion, osmosis, endocytosis, etc.

If you've accessed the Lion Den Slide Collection in the last several months, you've already registered in the system and probably have already received an email notification of the update.

If you're new to the collection (or accessed it before June 2014) then you need to go to the Lion Den Slide Collection page and click on the link to the form.  It takes a few steps, but by filling out the brief forms you register for a service that will notify you (if you want it) of any updates or additions to the collection.

Here is a preview the newly updated Membrane Transport Animations
Click image for download

When you download the linked file, you'll be able to play it in PowerPoint or any other program that plays "show" or PPTSX files.  The slides can only be viewed, not edited or added to your own slide deck.  To do that, you must download the fully editable PPTX files from the Lion Den Slide Collection

Once you download any slide deck from the Lion Den Slide Collection, you can mix and match them to blend them with your existing presentations.  You can also alter the content or timings to suit your needs.  

I'm hoping you'll also get some ideas from them to create new additional slides!  If you modify, create, or already have any slides (for which you own the content) that you want to place in the collection for sharing, please contact me directly. 

Want to know more?

Presentation Zen
  • Kevin Patton The Electronic Professor 6 August 2014
  • The zen approach to presentations.  Includes a video and links to resources.

Are your students dodging bullets?
  • Kevin Patton. The Electronic Professor. 28 July 2011
  • My blog article on improving slide presentations.  With illustrated examples.

Handling bullets safely
  • Kevin Patton. The Electronic Professor.  3 August 2012
  • Another of my blog articles on improving slide presentations. Includes my own video on how to trim down those wordy slides to something that actually works in a slide.

Monday, September 8, 2014


A story broadcast recently on National Public Radio (NPR) highlighted the role of a Pre-A&P course in student success.

Listen to the story yourself (link below) and tell me you don't recognize the issues brought up there.  Students failing A&P because they just don't know how to read a science textbook, don't know how to study, and don't have higher-order thinking skills.

You may recall my bringing up some of these issues in a recent blog post Help Your Students Get Off to a Good Start.

The story mentions a course to help students through these difficulties at West Kentucky Community and Technical College.  But I know of a lot of colleges that are taking this approach to improving student success, including my own.

Some of you have already participated in one of my past seminars on how we did it.  It involves a two-phase approach:

  • Pre-A&P Foundations in Science
    • An elective, developmental-level one-credit course.
    • Completely online, self-paced course.
    • Ten modules reviewing basic concepts needed for success in A&P:
      • Science Basics
      • Introductory Chemistry
      • Biological Chemistry
      • Introduction to Cells
      • Cell Transport
      • Getting Energy
      • Making Proteins
      • Introductory Genetics
      • Tissues
      • The Human Body
    • Each module is comprehensive, reviewing all prior modules.
    • Mastery-based: students proceed to the next module only if they pass the current module by 85% or better. 
    • Passing the comprehensive final exam at mastery level earns a "Pass" grade.

  • A&P 1 Supplement
    • An elective, 200-level one-credit course.
    • Runs concurrently with A&P 1 lecture/lab sequence.
    • Addresses basic study skills, as applied to what students are studying in A&P
    • Specifically addresses "trouble spots" typically encountered
    • Provides coaching and support of students in real time

What can we use from this in teaching undergraduate A&P?

Look at what others have done and consider trying your own version of Pre-A&P and/or supplemental A&P study-skills courses! 

If you are interested in our take on this, then listen to my seminar (link below). But I've helped several other colleges get their own version of this strategy off the ground, and it's working. 

Want to know more?

The Toughest Class In Nursing School Is The First One

  • Zoe Chace. Planet Money (NPR). September 02, 2014
  • Radio story of one example of Pre-A&P helping students (and increasing A&P success rates).

Helping Students Succeed: Using Supplemental Courses to Reinforce Concepts and Promote Learning Skills

  • Kevin Patton. The A&P Professor. Accessed 5 September 2014.
  • Narrated video seminar with handout outlining my two-phase approach to helping A&P students succeed.

Pre-A&P Foundations in Science

  • Kevin Patton. Lion Den. Accessed 5 September 2014.
  • Peek at some course documents describing my course.  Includes a brief video "rationale" for such a course (used to recruit students).

A&P 1 Supplement

  • Kevin Patton. Lion Den. Accessed 5 September 2014.
  • Peek at some course documents describing my course.

Survival Guide for Anatomy & Physiology

  • Kevin Patton. Lion Den. Accessed 5 September 2014.
  • In case you haven't seen it yet, this is a short description of my handy student-success handbook.

Thanks Maureen Loomer at Wayne Community College for passing along the NPR story!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Help Your A&P Students Get Off to a Good Start

Your Brain on A&P

I recently posted an article in The A&P Student called Getting a Good Start in Your Anatomy & Physiology Course. In it, I run down a brief list of practical strategies students can employ from the start of their course to get a solid start in a rigorous course—a course that intimidates many beginners who are not fully prepared.

My suggested strategies are organized under three subheadings:

  • Learn to read and raid your textbook
  • Brush up on your study skills
  • Take A&P seriously

For each of these broad categories, I list several practical and proven tips for A&P students to get a handle on things early in the course.  All have links to more detailed and specific advice from various resources.

What can we use from this in teaching undergraduate A&P?

  • Early in your course, mention the importance of getting off to a good start—not waiting until the first test looms to get organized and begin working.
  • Link to the article in your syllabus and/or your course web page or LMS course shell.
  • QR code for the Getting a Good Start article
    • Consider putting an unlabeled QR code (shown) in your syllabus or on your classroom wall.  Many students will scan the code and find the article simply out of curiosity.  Just like a snare trap!
  • Have a link to the article ready to give to students who contact you about being overwhelmed with the rigor of your course.
  • Consider suggesting to your students that they subscribe to The A&P Student newsletter (delivered by email, FB, LinkedIn or Twitter).
    • Consider subscribing yourself—a great way to keep up with various tips and strategies you can pass on to your students.
  • Even if your course has already started it's not too late to share these strategies with your students!

Want to know more?

Getting a Good Start in Your Anatomy & Physiology Course

  • Kevin Patton The A&P Student 26 August 2014
  • Outlines several practical strategies to begin the anatomy and/or physiology course on solid footing.  Link to this article from your syllabus and/or course web page.

Subscription for The A&P Student

  • Choice of FREE delivery by email, Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn

A&P is the Foundation

  • Kevin Patton Lion Den Slide Collection
  • FREE animated PowerPoint slide you can use in your introductory course presentation.  The link takes you to information on accessing the entire collection.  Find this one in v2, Study Tips, AP-is-foundation
Download free slides, including this one, to use in your A&P course
Free animated slide