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Functional Neuroanatomy is a course designed to help students learn the function and anatomy of the human nervous system. Historically, students have had difficulty with the spinal tract curricular unit and frequently resorted to memorization to "learn" the material. They performed poorly on exams and failed to demonstrate competence in the functional application of their knowledge. In an effort to improve learning and promote critical thinking in this course, the instructor revised the curriculum to include 1) shorter, less detailed lectures; 2) a set of practice problems that presented the spinal tracts in an applied context; and 3) a manipulative, which was composed of a magnetic bulletin board and a kit of magnets representing structures of the nervous system. Student learning, as assessed by summative exams, improved under the revised curriculum. Scores on knowledge, analytical, and synthesis questions were significantly higher than scores from previous classes using the traditional lecture curriculum (P < 0.05). This curricular protocol could potentially be applied to other topics where students resort to memorization and fail to comprehend concepts and processes.
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