Today you can search YouTube and watch a video of just about any surgery you care to study.
But when Rachelle Harner was growing up in rural Pennsylvania in the mid 1990’s, your best chance to watch doctors work was on a television show called The Operation.
“I absolutely loved that program, so that switched my entire career trajectory and I really wanted to come an orthopedic surgeon,” said Harner during a recent interview on the Anatomy in Clay® Learning System podcast.
Unfortunately, Harner developed carpal tunnel in her hands in high school. At age 19, she had surgery on both hands. Harner was left with permanent nerve damage. “That kind of curtailed the ambition of being a surgeon,” she said.
But Harner always loved science and soon made the transition into a career in education. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Physics and Secondary Science from West Virginia University and, later, a master’s degree in Instructional Design and Technology from Walden University. Since 2003, she’s been a science teacher in Maryland, Virginia and, for the past five years, at Geibel Catholic Junior-Senior High School in Connellsville, Pennsylvania.
She started teaching her first passion, physics. But Harner branched out and earned biology and chemistry certifications as well. The small enrollment at Geibel Catholic Junior-Senior High School, with only 150 students in all six grades, requires teacher versatility. Harner has alternated teaching anatomy and physics every other year.
The first year she taught anatomy, the class frequently studied and labeled diagrams. It Harner’s words, it was a “very run-of-the-mill kind of lecture, application, activity, and then some type of assessment.”
And then Harner spotted a mention of the Anatomy in Clay® Learning System in a teacher's group discussion on Facebook. That led to placing an order for the system. At first, she used resources she found online to guide her through various lesson plans. Then, in the summer of 2022, she took a two-day professional development via Zoom from the comfort of her school classroom.
“Incredibly informative,” said Harner of the two days of work. The professional development “really helped me to layout that timeline of how to use it consistently and in an effective way with the kids.”
Harner said her students were “a little apprehensive at first” about using clay in a science class, but she said building muscles helped students learn attachment points and also learn “how those muscles could cause the motion of lifting a limb.” The “visual aspect” of working with clay, she said. “really helped them to picture what is going on internally with their own bodies.”
And that, she added, has had a positive impact on self-awareness:
“Yes, they've had body systems before in a biology or a health class, but whenever we really dig down into the material, they understand more how homeostasis works and how what they put into their bodies affects their functionality and their overall health,” she said. “I do see that change over the course of the year where they internalize how their actions and how they treat themselves … can really have a massive impact on their health and their well-being.”
Harner has two recommendations for teachers who are new to the Anatomy In Clay® Learning System.
First, “let students get in there and start working with it.” Find a way to incorporate it in the curriculum, she said, ‘because it’s very worthwhile.”
And second, sign up for a professional development.