Free Lesson Plan: Anatomical Planes, Positions, and Directional Terms

For students, the beginning of an A&P course can feel like wading through a sea of confusing new terminology. Who knew there were so many ways to describe where things are located in the body, or how the body is positioned, or what plane a cross-section is on?

If you’re looking for a way to help your students navigate these concepts, Visible Body is here to help! 3D visualization of human anatomy is our specialty, after all. 

Here are some short class (or homework) activities in Human Anatomy Atlas 2020 that your students can do to explore anatomical planes, positions, and directional terms!

 

Use Gross Anatomy Lab (GAL) views to distinguish between prone and supine positions

One of the principal distinctions students need to understand is the difference between prone and supine anatomical positions. In this class activity, students will use the Gross Anatomy Lab views in Atlas to explore the differences in dissecting models in prone and supine positions.

First, have students select the first GAL view (Back) in Atlas. If there is space in the lab or classroom for them to do so, they can interact with the 3D model in AR mode.

gal-view-in-ar-proneImage from Human Anatomy Atlas

Students should explore this view, dissecting away layers of skin and muscle to see which internal structures are easiest to access with the model in the prone position. They can switch between a male and a female model via the settings button.

When they’re finished examining the model in the prone position, they should hit the refresh button at the top of the screen to bring back all the structures they dissected away. Then, they should use the “supine” button in the info box to flip the model over. 

From there, they can explore the male and female models in supine position.

Have students discuss with a partner why it might be important for certain medical and imaging procedures to position the patient in either a prone or supine orientation.

 

Use the 3D Draw tool to illustrate directional terms and planes of section

When you were in school, did you always secretly want to draw in your textbooks? Did you take notes in multiple colors, or get yelled at for doodling in your notebook? Well, the 3D draw feature in Human Anatomy Atlas 2020 is a dream come true for students who yearn to take a digital paintbrush to their class materials. 

In these two mini-activities, students will use the 3D draw tool to create notecards illustrating directional term pairs and planes of section. 

1. Directional Terms

Have students go through each of the following pairs of directional terms: 

  • Superior/inferior
  • Dorsal/ventral
  • Lateral/medial
  • Distal/proximal
  • Superficial/deep

For each pair, students will select a view to illustrate the contrast. I’ll use distal/proximal as an example. 

First, select a view: in this case, the Axilla view from the Regional views will do nicely. Then, zoom and position the model and select the Draw tool from the menu at the bottom of the screen. 

Here’s how I illustrated the distal/proximal distinction. After adjusting the depth of the drawing, I added a double-headed arrow stretching from the hand to the shoulder. You can move the model and add more drawings as you go—I added “distal” near the hand and “proximal” near the shoulder to complete my notecard.

distal-proximal-note-viewThe finished product of my distal/proximal notecard. Image made in Human Anatomy Atlas

Students can save their notecards using the Save Note button at the bottom of the screen. Then, they can compare the views and illustration method(s) they chose with those of a partner or members of a small group. 

Note: students can feel free to get creative with the views they choose. Regions, systems, GAL, cross-sections—anything goes as long as it clearly demonstrates a contrast appropriately! 


2. Planes of section

For this activity, have students open up the skull model in Atlas. Then, they can either work alone or as a group to illustrate the following anatomical planes using the skull: 

  • Frontal (coronal)
  • Sagittal
  • Transverse

You can walk them through your preferred method of illustration using the frontal/coronal plane. Personally, I’ve found that the easiest way to do this is by using squares in the Draw tool, so feel free to use these instructions.

Make sure the skull is facing front and isn’t tilted up, down, or to either side. Also make sure there’s a little bit of space around the outside of the skull. Select the Draw tool and adjust the depth of the drawing by moving the blue area over part of the model.

coronal-section-draw-tool-depthImage from Human Anatomy Atlas

Then, start your drawing. Choose the rectangle tool in the Draw box at the top right of the screen. Click/tap and drag to create a rectangle that surrounds the skull, like so: 

coronal-section-draw-rectangleImage from Human Anatomy Atlas

Rotate the model to check out your coronal section! 

coronal-section-3dImage from Human Anatomy Atlas

Have students rotate the model and add similar drawings to illustrate transverse and sagittal sections.

 

Use cross-section views to explore slices across different planes

To look at what different slices (coronal, sagittal, and axial) look like as 3D models, MRI or CT scan images, and photos of real cadavers, have students explore the Cross Sections series of views in Atlas. 

cross-section-views-atlasThe cross sections menu in Human Anatomy Atlas.

Encourage them to tap or click around to see which parts of which organs are visible in the different cross sections. The MRI, CT, and cadaver images also have labels students can click on to identify various structures.  

imaging-cross-section-side-by-sideA cross-section view of the torso from Human Anatomy Atlas

Once students have had time to familiarize themselves with the 3D models and medical images of the slices, you can test their knowledge using pickles. Yes, pickles! You can also use cucumbers, zucchinis, summer squash, or any other oblong fruit or vegetable.

The following activity is adapted from the open source A&P I lab manual from the University of Georgia. 

Each student will need: 

  • A pickle on a plate
  • A knife
  • 4 toothpicks

Students should poke the toothpicks into the pickle to represent the arms and legs (they will serve as markers to differentiate the sagittal and coronal slices). Then, have students count off to divide the class into at least 3 groups. If you want to incorporate parasagittal and oblique slices into your lesson, you can add two additional groups.

Each group will be assigned to slice their pickle along a different plane: 

  • Group 1 → Sagittal (Midsagittal/Median) 
  • Group 2 → Coronal (Frontal) 
  • Group 3 → Axial (Transverse/Horizontal) 
  • Group 4 (optional) → Parasagittal
  • Group 5 (optional) → Oblique

Once students have sliced their pickles, they should compare their slice with others in their group and contrast it with others outside their group. Students should take photos or draw representations of one of each type of slice. 

We hope you and your students enjoy these activities! For more fun with planes and positions, check out these other VB blog posts: 

If you want to learn more about using 3D anatomy technology in your classroom, visit our instructors page and our education resources page. 

But wait, there’s more! You can also download our free Planes & Positions eBook for a quick reference tool you can share with your students:

download planes and positions ebook


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