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5 Ways to Make Muscle Tissues a Comprehensible Topic for Students

Sana Shujat
Teaching with Labster
October 18, 2022

Our body's internal and external movements are dependent on muscle tissues. Interestingly, the group of cells in muscle tissues has a unique ability to shorten and contract, facilitating this movement. The muscle tissues are divided into three types depending on the arrangement and type of cells and their function. Different types of muscle tissue are as follows: skeletal tissue, smooth tissue, and cardiac tissue. 

The tissues are rich in cells supplied with blood vessels. The long and slender cells usually arranged in bundles are called muscle fibers. They are surrounded by connective tissue. The contractile proteins (playing a crucial role in muscle contraction/relaxation) found in muscle tissues are actin and myosin.

Did you know that without facial muscles, we won't be able to express emotions through expressions? Also, the skeletal muscles help us to maintain posture and sit gracefully at a dinner invitation. However, the action of smooth muscles is hidden, including but not limited to breathing, digestion, urination, blood circulation, etc. At the same time, cardiac muscles (also known as heart muscles) are primarily focused on working for the heart. 

Each muscle type is unique in its structure and performance. It makes the matter at hand a long and overwhelming experience for students and teachers. If you are a teacher going through a hard time planning lessons for muscle tissues, Labster has got you covered. Keep reading through the article to discover five practical strategies to make this topic more approachable for students.

Why could muscle tissues be a tricky topic?

About 600 muscles (smooth, skeletal, and cardiac) are found in the human body with unique structures and functions. Educators naturally struggle with putting up heaps of information coherently. Similarly, students feel burdened with the new terminologies and challenging details. Some of the reasons that make learning and teaching muscle tissues a nuisance are as follows:

1. It’s abstract

Striations or patterns on the muscles are not visible; however, large muscle fibers could easily be observed in pieces of meat as you shred through layers. However, the intricate details could only be observed at the molecular level and need specialized histology techniques. Regulation of smooth muscles controlled by brains adds to the additional aspects which make this topic tricky. 

2. Its content-heavy

Skeletal muscle is one of the human body's three types of muscle tissue. It is attached to bones and is responsible for the voluntary control of the skeleton. Skeletal muscle tissue comprises skeletal muscle cells, also known as muscle fibers. Skeletal muscle cells are multinucleated, elongated, and striated in appearance.

Smooth muscle is controlled involuntarily by the autonomic nervous system, comprises uninucleated, spindle-shaped cells, and lacks striations. Smooth muscle tissue can be subdivided into two categories depending on whether the cells contract collectively and simultaneously (single-unit smooth muscle) or work independently (multi-unit smooth muscle).

Cardiac muscle tissue is only found in the heart and is responsible for the involuntary, highly coordinated contractions that pump blood into the vessels of the circulatory system. Cardiac muscle tissue comprises cardiac muscle cells (also known as cardiomyocytes). These cells use aerobic metabolism almost exclusively, which makes the heart highly resistant to fatigue.

The architecture and functioning of each muscle type are unique and different from each other. Skeletal muscle is controlled by the somatic nervous system (NS), which is responsible for the voluntary control of organs. Smooth muscle fibers can be stimulated by the two parts of the autonomic NS: the sympathetic NS and the parasympathetic NS, which are often antagonistic. This glut of information is bound to make students dumbfounded and confused.

muscle tissues

3. Confusing terms

The scientific terminology could confuse students, like the difference between myofibril and myofilament or sarcomere and desmosomes. A tendon moves the bone or structure. A ligament is a fibrous connective tissue that connects bones and serves to hold things together and keep them stable. Most students find it difficult to memorize these terms, making learning a challenge. 

5 ways to make muscle tissues a more approachable topic for students

We’ve discussed how this could be a particularly challenging and overwhelming topic to tackle in the classroom. Now, let us delve into simple and practical ideas teachers could implement in their classrooms. These ideas would make learning the intricacies of muscle tissues a rather enjoyable process for students. 

1. Activity-based learning

Activity-based learning in science provides students with extensive and varied experiences, which help them improve their knowledge, promote creativity, and increase cognitive abilities. Learners' self-confidence also increases as they study both known and new concepts creatively. 

Printables

One interesting strategy to promote learning is to teach through competitive games. High school instructors might use the following budget-friendly and simple-to-implement suggestions. 

  • Divide students into groups of 4 (may vary depending on the total number of students in the class).

  • Print the diagrams (unlabelled) of the detailed structure of muscle tissues. Include diagrammatic representation of cells revealing intricacies of muscle tissues like desmosome, gap junction, myofibrils, T tubules, etc. 

  • Distribute a set of diagrams to each group. Introduce the game rules and time to complete the game. 

  • The team with the correct labeling would take the lead in the next activity (if time allows). Announce a prize for the winning team.

Quiz

Announce a quiz competition at the class level, as this would help students learn and memorize the problematic aspects of muscle tissues. Set three levels of difficulty from easy to hard. Some questions that you could include in this competition are as follows:

  • Which muscle tissue is non-striated, uninucleated, and involuntary?

  • What is a sarcomere?

  • What is the difference between myofibrils and myofilament?

  • What do you mean by single-unit and multi-unit smooth muscles?

  • How do muscles contract?

  • What is the sarcoplasmic reticulum? 

  • Identify the functional roles of the muscles, such as prime movers, antagonists, synergists, and fixators.

  • What muscles are involved in your 20-meter race? 

2. Share fun-facts

The scientific procedures and details could be tedious for some students. Add a pinch of fun facts from time to time to keep students interested in the lesson. A few thought-provoking and fun facts about muscle tissues are as follows:

  • A common observation is that astronauts in space live in a microgravity environment. But did you know that astronauts' muscles in space get weak very quickly? This condition is known as muscle atrophy. It is essential to learn the working of muscles and the impact of gravity on muscles to design specialized exercise machines.

  • Skeletal muscles regulate the blood sugar level as they store excess glucose in the form of glycogen. Skeletal muscles could hold up to 500g of glycogen which would be converted into energy when needed. 

  • Smooth muscles in the eye help focus the lens on seeing objects. 

  • The gluteus maximus is the most significant muscle in the body, and its primary function is to support the trunk and maintain appropriate posture. It is the primary muscle utilized to assist you in walking upwards.

  • The most powerful muscles are found in jaws which put 200 pounds on molars to close teeth. 

  • About 17 muscles work together to bring a smile to your face, while frowning takes about 43 muscles. So be positive; keep smiling, which will help you save muscle energy. 

  • Muscles help us keep warm on colder nights through internal muscle movements and shivering thermogenesis. 

  • Muscles don’t always need extensive exercise. Interestingly, when we sleep, our muscles get some time to relax and repair. 

3. Seeing is believing 

Long muscles like those observed in a piece of fresh meat are visible to the naked eye; however, the cellular components are not. Students become more interested in the learning process when they see abstract concepts.

You could use 3D models or microscopic slides to enable students to visualize the intricate details of cells in the muscle tissues. Motivate students to participate in a project-based activity to construct the models showing details of cells in muscle tissues.

4. Make it stick with wordplay

It is difficult for students to memorize scientific terms and keep track of jumble words. Make things easier for your students by introducing some fun mnemonics. It would be a great asset to learn and remember stuff for exams. Some of the wordplay related to different types of muscle tissue and their structure/function are as follows:

Structure of Sarcomere

M-Line= Middle of Sarcomere.

Z-Disk= BoundarieZ of the sarcomere.

H-Band: H is a THICK letter-- THICK filaments (myosin) only.

I-Band: I is a thin letter-- thin filaments (actin) only.

A-band: Actin AND myosin (the overlap + what's in between the overlap).

OR Remember the sequence: Zahir Is A Hungry Man (Z line (Zwischen = between [German], I band, A band, H zone, M line).

Tendons and Ligaments

Ligament begins with the letter L, which stands for "like." It links two similar items (bone to bone). While remembering the tendon with the phrase “muscles tend to be on bone,” indicates bones attached to the muscles.”

Smooth Muscle Location

Smooth muscles are found throughout the body. Introduce this phrase to help students learn about the locations of smooth tissue. 

Remember the word “STOVE”:

Skin (arrector pili muscles that cause goosebumps)

Tracts found in the reproductive, respiratory, and urinary systems

Organs that are hollow (such as the intestines, bladder, uterus, and stomach)

Vessels (smooth muscle helps blood vessels constrict)

Eyes (iris constriction/dilation, as well as the lens movement)

5. Use virtual lab simulations

A virtual laboratory simulation is a great way to teach muscle tissue: structure and function. At Labster, we're dedicated to delivering fully interactive advanced laboratory simulations that utilize gamification elements like storytelling and scoring systems inside an immersive and engaging 3D universe.

Check out Labster's simulations for Muscle tissues: An overview Virtual Lab. In this simulation, you’ll explore the distribution and function of the three different muscle tissues found in the human body. Examine them at the cellular level and dive further into their molecular structures to reveal the fascinating mechanisms behind muscle contractions.

The following snippet is an interactive activity in which you'll get a chance to attach parts of skeletal muscles in the correct places to make the elbow flex!

 Muscle tissues: An overview Virtual Lab GIF

Please take a look at the following snippets taken from the Labster simulations or get in touch to find out how you can start using virtual labs with your students.

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