Students Take Hands-On Approach To Learn About Health-Related Careers

Jack Guilliams, a faculty member at WilliamFleming High School in Roanoke, Va., is a firmbeliever that technology can help students understand complexsubjects and feel less intimidated about their future. His jobinvolves introducing students, mostly sophomores through seniors, topossible careers in the health sciences field. Because the highschool participates in a magnet program, his classes are open to anystudent in the surrounding area. During the first year, students hearfrom many speakers and take several field trips to learn about healthoccupations. The following year consists mainly of "shadowing"health-care professionals and engaging in hands-on activities.Guilliams' background includes experience as a flight paramedic. Inaddition, for ten years he taught emergency health sciences at theCollege of Health Sciences, where he also coordinated student"externships."

Invaluable Discovery

After joining the faculty at William Fleming High,Guilliams discovered what would prove to be an invaluable tool forteaching health and science curricula. While attending a professionaldevelopment course required by the state department of education, hecame across a flyer for Science Instruments Co. (SIC),of Baltimore, Md.

The flyer advertised the firm's wide range of"hands-on" laboratory equipment covering the fields of electricity,electronics, industrial controls, computers, biomedicalinstrumentation, biotechnology, and air conditioning/refrigeration.Over 50 pre-packaged courses are available, complete withlab equipment and student manuals.

Guilliams paid particular attention to thebiomedical courses: Concepts of Biotechnology and BiomedicalInstrumentation. In 1994, the high school's Health Related CareersProgram received a federal grant, a portion of which Guilliams usedto purchase SIC biomedical equipment.

Classroom Usage

Taking turns in groups of 2-3, students completehands-on activities that relate to a specific occupation, whether anEKG Technician or Lab Technician. To learn about cardiology, forexample, class members manipulate the EKG apparatus to look at theheart patterns of each other when resting, standing up, speaking,etc. After collecting data, students can chart their EKGs on graphpaper, and compare them to other cardiac patterns.

In an exercise about muscles, kids apply anelectrical stimulator to a nerve in their hands, causing a finger tocontract. "This helps them understand something that is very complexand can be overwhelming for them," Guilliams says.

Concepts in Biotechnology beginswith nerves and muscles and progresses through nine units, includingthe senses, the heart and the nervous system. The units, soldseparately or as a set, come with a detailed textbook, workbook andall necessary equipment.

In Guilliams' classroom, two Windows PCs are setaside for SIC courses, while two Macintosh machines permit Internetaccess. Two doors down lies a full-fledged computer lab, which offerspackages such as A.D.A.M. Essentials from A.D.A.M.Software.

Guilliams notes that his students enjoy the labsimulations so much that they often "moan and groan" when he spendsan entire day lecturing. He adds that he has experienced no problemswith the biotechnology instruments. Before implementing the SICcourses, Guilliams relied on outside sources for similardemonstrations. For instance, paramedics would visit the classroom toillustrate their procedures, but this provided little opportunity forstudents to get directly involved.

Tying Everything Together

The classes still interact with health-careprofessionals, mostly through field trips to local hospitals. Thesetrips "tie together everything they've heard and done," explainsGuilliams. He notes that many students have pre-conceived notions ofthe health-care profession based on what they see on TV. "It's notalways as glamorous in real life." By doing hands-on work in classand observing actual situations off-site, students can make moreinformed decisions about their career options. "My job is also tohelp them find out what they don't want to do," Guilliamssays.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.