Using Histology in your Human Anatomy Course
Updated: Aug 15
When you think of anatomy and physiology labs, chances are you think of dissections or other hands-on lab experiences. Perhaps that's one reason the study of cells and tissues (called histology) is often overlooked in the high school anatomy classroom. Medical professionals understand that histology is essential to our understanding of how the body functions and provides critical data about diseases and disorders. Despite the importance of histology in the medical profession, however, many Anatomy and Physiology teachers are reluctant to include microscope work in their high school classrooms. Students and teachers alike are often eager to move on with the study of larger human body systems rather than spending time on the microscopic study of cells and tissues.
Histology is also essential to our understanding of gross anatomy. In fact, the structure of a specific body tissue can provide clues to its function within the body. This link between structure and function is known as the principle of complementarity. For example, goblet cells are a type of elongated epithelial cells that secrete mucus. Tissues that contain goblet cells are found in the respiratory system, reproductive system, and gastrointestinal tract. Students should be able to hypothesize that these tissues provide mucosal secretions due to the presence of these cells. In short, by weaving the principle of complementarity into the study of the human body, cellular biology becomes easier to understand.
Some teachers prefer to teach histology in the context of each body system. Personally, I like to begin with a short histology unit on the four tissue types and then provide more specifics as we proceed through the rest of the course. I also use a mixture of prepared microscope slides in class and virtual labs for histology that can be found online. If you are teaching students in a pre-med course, you may want them to have practice using a microscope. If you are teaching a more introductory course, you may want to use the virtual slides to save time. Students often need weeks of practice to master the use of a microscope, even if they’ve used one in a previous course.
If you’re planning to have students draw the slides, you may be interested in using the following guidelines. These will improve the results you will see from student microscope drawings.
Use pencil. Add color only when instructed to do so.
Title your drawing.
To label structures, use lines (not arrows) made with a ruler. Label lines should not cross each other.
Neatly print the labels at the end of the lines.
When making a drawing from a microscope, include magnification. When making a macroscopic drawing, provide a scale.
Fill as much of the space provided as possible.
If you're new to teaching Anatomy and Physiology, you may be interested in this free Histology Guide to assist you in adding some histology components to your course. It includes teacher tips, microscope drawing pages, and links to virtual slides.
If you're looking to add a few histology labs to your existing Anatomy course, check out this Microscopy Lab Bundle. Brand new to teaching Anatomy & Physiology? You might be interested in the full Anatomy and Physiology Course, which includes all the PowerPoints, labs, activities, and notes you'll need for the whole year!