2016-09-30 / Schools

Local educators go on a clay date

Hands-on class teaches about the human body
By Hector Gonzalez


THIS IS HOW THE BODY WORKS—Workshop leader Starla Ewan uses a hands-on project to show educators how to teach students about the human body during a workshop at the Ventura County Office of Education’s Career Education Center in Moorpark on Sept. 15. 
Photos by RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers THIS IS HOW THE BODY WORKS—Workshop leader Starla Ewan uses a hands-on project to show educators how to teach students about the human body during a workshop at the Ventura County Office of Education’s Career Education Center in Moorpark on Sept. 15. Photos by RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers Starla Ewan pinched out a half-inch of brown modeling clay from a plastic baggie and fashioned it roughly into the shape of a tiny human liver.

The 33-year anatomy teacher from Lubbock, Texas, paused for a moment so her class of eight middle and high school teachers from Simi Valley, Camarillo and Moorpark could catch up.

“Does everyone have their livers made?” she asked.

Playing with clay was a requirement during “Hands-On Body System Teaching Techniques for Teachers,” a class for local educators that was held Sept. 15 at the Ventura County Office of Education’s Career Education Center in Moorpark.


IT’S WHAT’S INSIDE THAT COUNTS—A teacher creates a bile duct from clay during a workshop for educators that demonstrated how to use the hands-on method to teach students about anatomy. IT’S WHAT’S INSIDE THAT COUNTS—A teacher creates a bile duct from clay during a workshop for educators that demonstrated how to use the hands-on method to teach students about anatomy. Presented by the county office’s VC Innovates program and the Simi Valley-based nonprofit Workforce Education Coalition, Ewan’s day-long training session provided the teachers with detailed lessons on the human heart and respiratory structures, the lymphatic and immune systems, and the renal, hepatic and gastrointestinal systems.

The teachers will incorporate Ewan’s method into their medical terminology and health classes. Their students, many of whom plan on working in healthcare fields, can use the hands-on technique to learn difficult material while enjoying learning, Workforce Education Coalition President Marybeth Jacobsen said.

As the teachers-turned-students worked through each system of the human body, Ewan explained where the organs are in the body, what they do and what they look like. Then she showed the educators how to mold miniature replicas of the body parts out of modeling clay.

“I love watching students enjoy building the systems and seeing how each system interacts with the other systems,” said Ewan, who’s taught anatomy at the college level and still teaches high school anatomy in Lubbock.

She said she came up with the idea of using clay in human anatomy lessons 20 years ago, when she worked part-time for a company that produced clay models of muscles for the massage therapy industry.

Today she travels around the country showing other teachers her method.

“Ewan is fabulous,” Jacobsen said. “She was our instructor a year ago in our summer healthcare program for teachers.”

During the class this month, the teachers attached their clay models of internal body parts to an 8-inch piece of cardboard bearing the outline of a human body. When completed, the outlines looked somewhat like the “Visible Man” clear-plastic model kits that allow people to get a peek under their skin.

As a teaching tool, clay is inexpensive, Ewan said.

“It’s about $7 for the entire lesson, including the flat board and the clay, and the student can take the whole project home and use it for reference later on,” she said.

Sculpting body parts with clay is also a low-tech way of teaching students in an age when most schools are using laptops and computers in classrooms, but that’s precisely why it works, the teacher said.

“If they build it with their hands, it’s kinesthetic learning, the most powerful way to learn. It’s like riding a bike or driving a car. The only way you can learn to do those things is to actually do them,” she said.

When students look at a body part on a computer screen, the image might be more detailed and lifelike, but it’s still only a picture.

“It’s only visual, not kinesthetic, so the student’s body doesn’t program organ placement because they have to do that by experience in order for them to really retain the information,” she said.

After attending Ewan’s lecture, Tammy Harter-Hohensee, director of the medical health careers program at Simi Valley

High School, said she plans to incorporate the anatomy program into the school’s medical terminologies classes.

“It provides so much more information than just reading the terminology in a book,” she said. “I think students will enjoy doing the hands-on part, but they’ll also be learning.”

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