Dr. Rebecca J. Gilmour

biological anthropologist & archaeologist

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    Playdoh ossification centers and growth

    One of the goals early in my human osteology and bioarchaeology course is to get students thinking about bone growth and development. How better to do this than by using Play-doh!

    I distributed little pots of Play-doh to the class. They then worked in groups of 2 to build either a subadult humerus or femur. They used one colour for the primary ossification center, and a second colour for the secondary ossification centers. The goal of this exercise was to get them thinking about how our bones are constructed of different, smaller components, and that juveniles have many more of these individual components than skeletally-mature adults. 

    (Please forgive my crudely constructued humerus!)

    https://upload.orthobullets.com/topic/4007/images/elbow%20ossification%20and%20fusion_moved.jpg

    Image from: https://www.orthobullets.com/pediatrics/4007/supracondylar-fracture--pediatric

    One unexpected, and even BETTER outcome of this exercise was when students started to ask about growth. In this lecture we also talked about appositional vs interstitial (epiphyseal) growth. To model this using our models, I had the students pull and stretch their primary ossification centers - this act represented interstitial growth. The diaphyses stretched thinner and thinner! The Play-doh bones gradually became too thin to reasonably support increasing body masses. This visual helped students realise the importance of appositional bone growth to help maintain sufficient skeletal robusticity to support someone growing in stature via epiphyseal growth. 

    Overall, I'd say this active learning exercise was worth it! We not only met our objectives of becoming more aware of ossification centers, but we reinforced our understanding of how bones grow! 

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