Red ribbon with bowIn the spirit of the holidays, I thought I’d seek out some extra special gifts for teaching our meds students.   Here are some great ideas to make 2014’s teaching even better!

I’m sending you these, from the UG Educational Team,  with a wish for peace-filled and joyful holidays with family and friends .

First gift:  A way to find out what your students are thinkinggifts 1

Did you know we subscribe to Poll Everywhere for our year 1 and 2 students?
And that you can use it with up to 40 other learners otherwise?  It’s clickers without clickers—students can use their phones or laptops to answer questions anonymously in the classroom. Teachers can use word document, or PowerPoint, or ask a question orally to solicit the answers.  Questions can be multiple choice, or they can be open-ended!

To get Poll Everywhere to work, you can visit their site for a demo video:

Or you can look at their explanation:

Or you can contact Theresa Suart in the Ed Team at, or Lynel Jackson at MEdTech at

Second GiftDiagnostic process (and winning points):

gift 2Dr. Tony Sanfilippo isn’t only our UGME Associate Dean extraordinaire, he’s also an intuitive teacher.  One of his cases, Megan, is one I use for explanations all the time with faculty.  Here is a slide from his Megan case that gives the diagnostic process in a nutshell.

And while I’m at it, another gift he gives us is the idea of getting students to rank their ordering of investigations, winning or losing “points” (often in chocolate) depending on how rational their choices were.  2 ideas from Megan

Third gift:  A Graphic Organizer: gift 3 blue


Have you ever wondered if you could synthesize a concept or unit so that students could grasp it visually?  Dr. David Lee from Hematology has done a great job of this with my favourite slide of all time:  the algorithm for Hematapoiesis.  Here it is:   hematapoiesis slide Dr David Lee    Why not see what you can do with your ideas?   And if you need help with graphic organizers, Theresa or I can give you a hand—they’re one of our best tools.

Fourth Gift:  A way to take our student’s pulses:  RATS and Muddiest Points:gifts 4

Dr. Lindsay Davidson has won so many teaching awards, I can’t keep track.  Here she offers 2 ways you can take your students’ pulses.

In our professional lives, many of us are used to “taking the patient’s pulse”.   This, and other clinical observations, inform our assessment and management plans.   Similarly, as teachers, we can “take the pulse” of the students – finding out what knowledge they bring into a session or checking in to determine if important concepts have been grasped.

One of the best ways to do the first of these is a readiness assessment test.    Readiness assessment tests – or RATs – are used at the beginning of a curricular theme (normally spanning about a week of the curriculum).  These 10-15 question tests are designed to assess foundational concepts needed to progress to problem solving – they are quite different from the questions given on midterm and final exams.   A RAT should be linked to one pre-defined preparatory resource (such as a section from a textbook, an online module or a review article).   Students complete them individually and then re-take them as a team.   The whole process is complete in 30 minutes, leaving the teacher time to speak to any questions or topics identified as difficult or confusing.

Another way of checking the class’ vital signs is a “muddy point” exercise.   Popularized by former Queen’s Chair of Teaching and Learning Tom Russell as the “ticket out of class”, this exercises asks students to submit a note to the teacher (either on paper or could be electronically using polleverywhere’s open ended question function) outlining the “one thing” they do not understand.   A review of the submissions allows teachers to begin the next class clarifying any items multiple students identify as confusing.

Interested in trying a RAT or Muddiest Point?  Check in with Sheila or Theresa.

Fifth Gift:  Music to lighten and focus the teaching and learning load:  gift 5

There are several tasteful and (ahem) not quite so tasteful music videos out there where people have created peons to everything from medical careers to organ systems.  Perhaps you could use one as a memory tool or a way to introduce a concept.  Theresa recently found this takeoff on What the Fox Say, in Harvard Medical School’s What the Spleen Do  I’ve always loved Pinky and the Brain on the Brainstem:  More lyrically, Dr. Jackie Duffin sent this lovely excerpt about the muscles in the gluteous maximus:

I just found Lullabye for a recovering addict by Jake Silver: (Thanks to U Sask’s Deidre Bonnycastle’s scoop on music videos!) and Dr. Heather Murray and I crossed paths sending each other Viva la Evidence by James McCormack:  a parody of Coldplay’s Viva La Vida – a song all about evidence based:

And finally, here’s the song Clouds written by 17 year old Zach Sobiech after being told he has months to live:  and

And my last gift:  gifts 6

This was really a gift that was given to me, and I’d like to share it with you as a way to close out 2013, and look forward to 2014.

I’m going to have to tell you a little story…Once, long ago…

Some of you will recall the days when we worked hard to infuse small group learning into our curriculum.  Going back about 5 years, our students were resentful and confused, and I was concerned our teachers were just confused. emoticon-smiley-thumb7130916  Sitting in those classes, week after week, I worried that small group learning would never work—that lectures were too much the pattern of learning and that all the reasons that had bubbled up—too long, too complicated, inefficient, students don’t like it…all these reasons for not teaching this way would overcome our efforts.

Flash forward to a C1 class in September 2013.  I was wandering the back of a class given by Dr. David Taylor.  He put up a clinical case on the screen.  There was a pause—a discernable beat– while 100 students looked at and read from the screen.  Then, as one, all of them turned to their group members and began to talk.  Books were hauled out, computers fired up, tasks divided, and the usual wrangle about who’s the note-keeper soared overhead.  It was a symphony of sound of minds at work.  Even more beautiful:  it was commonplace and accepted. The students knew exactly what to do.  The teacher did what he was supposed to do—stand back and let the students wrestle that learning to the ground before taking to the stairs and moving around the room.

I can’t tell you how wonderful it felt!  I saw this again even more recently as Dr. Michelle Gibson had her C2 class working on a graded team assignment, reconciling medications for a patient. Again the class gave their attention to the screen and then again the busy hum.  And the results were wonderful—groups passionately prepared to defend their new prescriptions, and scathingly and brilliantly able to articulate why they had taken several prescriptions away.

I guess the gift for me is that after 5 years, small group learning is now part of the status quo.  Teachers feel comfortable.  Students know how to make this kind of learning work for them and are used to using it. They haven’t abandoned learning from lectures, nor have they stopped reading.  But they look at the screen…beat…and they turn to their peers.  I tell you, it almost brings tears to my eyes.

So this is my last holiday gift for 2013:  our faculty have made innovations in teaching work and our students are making innovations in teaching work.  Thank you for that gift!

And may 2014 bring us many more gifts!  Red ribbon with bow


Do you have any gifts to share?  Musical, textual or other?  Write back and let us know.