Using Pool Noodles and PVC Pipes, Burnett School of Medicine at TCU Students Learn Embryology

Anne Burnett School of Medicine at Texas Christian University faculty members create a unique, 3-D approach to teach a difficult medical topic.

By Lewis Jackson

Photo Credit: Burnett School of Medicine at TCU | Lewis Jackson

FORT WORTH – A roomful of medical students bending colorful pool noodles and molding Play-Doh is an unexpected approach to learning embryology.

“For me personally I’m a visual learner so to be able to actually fold things and maneuver them around is very beneficial,” said Tyra Banks, MS-1, at the Anne Burnett Marion School of Medicine at Texas Christian University. 

Faculty members David Goff, M.D., and his wife Karen Goff, M.D., have been honing this innovative approach to learning for the past five years. 

“Embryology is a difficult topic to understand,” Dr. David Goff said. “Most students have never been introduced to embryology before and some students have trouble visualizing when we just use slides and videos. Our idea was to use something they could see, they could touch and that they could interact with.” 

The duo teach first-year medical students about the complex topic of embryology, which is the branch of biology and medicine concerned with the study of embryos and their development. They use 3-D tools created out of pool noodles, PVC pipes, styrofoam, and Play-Doh.  

The Goffs buy the materials and build the structures in the playroom of their home. 

“We have to take our own talents in order to use any different technique that we can use to get the students to learn,” Dr. Karen Goff said. “By giving them this particular technique, it can be impactful for their learning.”  

The medical students can go over the course material and change the 3D parts around if needed.   

 “I was having a real hard time trying to figure out how everything came together and once he did that it made sense,” Banks said. 

The unique teaching style makes the complex material easier to digest, said Paywand Baghal, MS-1 at Burnett School of Medicine. 

“It makes it really easy to understand when you see it in 3D,” Baghal said. “It feels great to know that we have professors laying the foundation that will help us later in our careers.”