By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer
WYOMING - Mo Henning unfolded a note a student had scribbled on a brown paper towel four years ago. It's the kind of correspondence that teachers save for those days when they wonder if they're making a difference in a child's life.
Dr. Jennifer Kersten, a guest lecturer in Mo Henning's biology/advanced anatomy class at Wyoming High School, shows the class overhead projections of medical imaging.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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The towel bore the hurried handwriting of an excited high-school senior girl who had just witnessed an unforgettable lesson - the birth of a baby at Bethesda North Hospital.
"It was absolutely amazing," wrote Christie Smith, now a senior at Indiana University majoring in human development and family studies. "The baby was a boy - Ryan - and he was 10 lbs. 2 oz. Not chubby, but just big."
And in bold, uppercase letters, Christie wrote: "THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR LETTING ME HAVE THIS EXPERIENCE."
Unexpected teaching techniques like this are what make Henning's Honors Human Anatomy & Physiology class such a popular one for Wyoming seniors. Whether his students are bound for careers in medicine or auto mechanics, the 51-year-old Henning brings textbooks to life by providing close-up looks at how the human body functions.
Students agree: Henning's classroom works - and it is not for the squeamish.
Seniors work with first-year medical students and help dissect human cadavers at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. They observe surgeries at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. They view graphic photos of burn victims, shared by a guest speaker from the Shriner's Burn Institute.
For his innovative teaching skills, Henning was chosen as 2003's Ohio Biology Teacher of the Year by the National Association of Biology Teachers. He is to receive the award in October in Portland, Ore.
"The very first thing I try to do is hook them," Henning says. "I try to find some way to get them interested in what I am trying to present."
No problem there.
To introduce the digestive system, he tells students the story of Australian Dr. Barry Marshall, who infected himself to prove that ulcers are caused by bacteria.
When Henning introduces material on cellular respiration, he breaks out the disco tune "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees, emphasizing to students that cellular respiration is required to stay alive.
Henning has taught anatomy and biology at Wyoming for 13 years. But he's been a science teacher for 30 years, having taught 17 years at the former Greenhills High School in the Winton Woods City Schools.He also teaches anatomy and science classes at Xavier and Miami universities.
When he was hired at Wyoming in 1991, he picked up where teacher Marie Johnson left off when she retired. It was Johnson, he says, who relied on community residents to help educate students.
In a high-achieving district that is home to plenty of medical professionals, Henning has no trouble lining up guest speakers or arranging field trips to hospitals.
Last week, Dr. Jennifer Kersten, a radiologist at Fort Hamilton Hospital and mother of a Wyoming senior, talked about medical imaging. She showed samples of X-rays, CT scans, MRIs and ultrasounds to explain how these tools help make diagnoses. Students in both classes asked questions throughout her presentation.
She then showed them a "phantom breast." The breast, made from lemon Jell-O, contained green olives and red grapes to represent lesions. Using a medical instrument, students tried their hand at performing a biopsy.
Henning plans to bring in at least nine more speakers this year to talk about a wide range of medical issues, including burns; ear, nose and throat treatment; emergency medicine; obstetrics and gynecology; dermatology; neurology and cardiology.
"So many medical students say, 'Gee, I wish I had this opportunity in high school,''' Henning says.
Largest classes yet
This year, Henning has 48 students - the most ever - in two classes, largely because the senior class is so large. He's never turned students away, but this year's classes are filled to capacity. The year-long class is an elective.
And it's a popular one.
Michael Planalp's sister took the class two years ago and recommended it to him. The 17-year-old senior is considering a career in chemical or biological engineering with a pre-med degree, so he's striving to learn more about human anatomy.
"I like the fact we get to go down to the hospitals and work with the people there," Michael says. "We get to observe different surgeries and childbirth. We get to cut up cadavers."
It doesn't make him queasy. At least not yet. But he has some idea what to expect. "My sister said the smell is pretty different from anything she ever smelled before."
Everybody has reservations before that first trip, Henning says.
"No matter how you describe what's going to happen, you can't anticipate it ... (But) I've never had a student not be able to participate."
Henning says his philosophy is to take students beyond textbooks and give them hands-on experience to see how the human body is built and works. The sights, sounds and smells are just not possible to grasp in books.
"Students who have participated in this course tell me that seeing an actual surgery up close is the single most memorable experience of their high school years," says Leonard S. Mark, a psychology professor at Miami University. Both his sons took the class.
In some respects, Henning thinks he has it easy, because he believes anatomy is innately interesting. But if the mystery of medicine isn't enough, Henning is fast to turn to his bag of innovation and pull out "the hooks."
"Sometimes they work remarkably well, other times not so well," he says. "But I'm always looking for that hook."
About the class
Name of school: Wyoming High School
Name of teacher: Mo Henning.
Subject/grade taught: Honors Human Anatomy & Physiologyfor seniors.
Why the class works: "I have extremely motivated, bright, hard-working students," Henning says. "I have willing community members who jockey their schedules and come in on their days off, saying, 'I'd like to help with this program and am willing to contribute.' ''
Student quote: "You get to experience a lot of things other science classes just glaze over,'' says senior Ashley Horne, 17. "It's a real hands-on approach."
Number of years class has been taught by this teacher: 13.
Today marks the debut of "Classrooms that Work,'' a twice-monthly Enquirer feature that spotlights a local classroom where teachers are challenging students in bold, innovative ways.
To nominate a class, e-mail information to firstname.lastname@example.org, fax (513) 768-8398, or write Bill Cieslewicz, Education Editor, Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, OH 45202. Please include your name, daytime phone, e-mail and school.
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