*Corresponding author:Edith Mary Beltran Mill, University of Sancti Spíritus “José Martí Pérez”, Cuba
How to cite this article:Edith Mary Beltran Mill*, Layra Barrios Martin and Durvys Rose Vazquez Perez. A New Approach to Teaching - Learning Human Anatomy and Physiology. Anatomy Physiol Biochem Int J: 2023; 6(5): 555700. DOI: 10.19080/APBIJ.2023.06.555700.
The present This article is related to the importance of the explanatory-integrative approach, which presupposes the relationship structure-property-function-operation (EPFF) as the central axis of knowledge, specifically in the teaching-learning process of Human Anatomy and Physiology, a discipline that It is taught in the bachelor’s degree in education Biology. In the development of the work, obstacles are needed that prevent the successful establishment of said relationship; a critical reflection is made about the concept of these categories and didactic procedures are proposed that guide how to establish it; this will promote a more organized study, the development of skills and therefore better results.
Keywords: Didactic procedures; Structure-property-function-operation relationship; Human Anatomy and Physiology
The Study Plan “E” of the Graduate in Education Career, specializing in Biology, has been designed in order to improve the training and development of the modes of action of future professionals, capable of determining, analyzing, and solving complex problems in their professional pedagogical activity and respond to the demands of the end of education and the objectives of the Cuban school.
The curricular design is structured in four years and consists of twenty-five disciplines, grouped into ten common disciplines with thirty-two subjects and fifteen disciplines with thirty subjects corresponding to biological and chemical contents (including the so-called Basic Sciences), which make up the plan of the teaching process. It has been conceived with a systemic character, in which each discipline plays an important role in the training of the professional.
In its base curriculum it has Human Anatomy and Physiology, it is included in the study plan for the training of Biology teachers with the aim of consolidating and deepening their basic knowledge, since its object of study is the structure and function of the organs of each one of the systems that make up the human organism, physiological mechanisms that allow vitality, personal and collective hygiene, contents that support the development of other disciplines of the study plan and that serve as a theoretical-practical foundation for the professional work that future graduates will perform.
The subjects taught in this discipline contribute to the development of the dialectical-materialist conception of the world in students and find wide application in different subjects of General Polytechnic and Labor Education, in daily life and in the knowledge and conservation of the environment. Therefore, it constitutes a basic discipline for the training of Biology teachers in basic secondary and pre-university education. From the third improvement of the National Education System, guidelines were established in the selection of biological contents, among them: the explanatory-integrative approach which presupposes the structure-property-function-functioning relationship as the central axis of knowledge, thus declared in the theoretical model where the general conception of the teaching of Biology is established  for secondary and pre-university and applicable to all disciplines of the Biology Career. This relationship implies the comprehensive study of biotic phenomena, analyzing the causes in a systemic and gradual manner, taking into account the different levels of organization that will allow emphasizing biological integrity.
Currently, the teaching and learning of Human Anatomy and
Physiology of the Bachelor of Education, Biology specialty has great
challenges that must be overcome: students are overwhelmed
by a large amount of information; generally learning is based on
memory; It is difficult to establish the structure-property-functionoperation
relationship due to the lack of methods that allow the
development of this explanatory-integrative approach and a basic
text aimed at the specialty. This constitutes a great challenge for
the professors of said career since it constitutes a complex subject
that requires the constant improvement of didactic tools that
provide elements for the student to acquire knowledge, develop
intellectual capacities, without which it will be possible to train
critical professionals, creative and autonomous.
The integration from Anatomy and Physiology is a problem
that must be solved by the special didactics of this discipline; must
be updated periodically, to match social development. Taking
into account the changes assumed in the third improvement,
the importance of the explanatory-integrative approach in
the teaching-learning process of the discipline as well as the
limitations detected, it is decided to carry out this investigation
that proposes to offer didactic procedures that allow establishing
the relationship not only of the structure and the function, but also
the property and operation categories are included, being defined
as the relationship structure-property-function-operation (EPFF).
Limitations to establish the EPFF relationship in the
teaching-learning process of Human Anatomy and
The mystery about the mechanism by which intraocular
pressure decreases significantly when the aqueous humor crosses
the trabecular meshwork, Schlemm’s canal, exiting through the
collecting channels to reach the aqueous veins, has apparently
been elucidated, which means an important advance in the fight
against one of the three main causes of blindness in the world:
a) In the development of the work, obstacles were
investigated that prevent students who are studying the degree
from successfully establishing said relationship, which is specified
b) The bibliography that is available to the teacher and
the students is specialized in one of these branches of Biological
Sciences, that is, Anatomy independent of Physiology.
c) The Human Anatomy and Physiology discipline does not
have a textbook, so students must use different reference books
that show this limitation in the approach to knowledge.
d) A reference book used by students consistently is
Human Anatomy ; in its generalities, the manifestation of the
structure-function relationship is indicated with precision; in
the development of each topic, he explains the morphological
aspects and defines the function of each organ belonging to the
corresponding system, but in most cases he does not go deep into
the histological elements, a level at which essential links of this
relationship can be found.
e) Another work that should be used by students and
teachers is Treatise on Medical Physiology, . This text has a
essentially physiological approach, due to its specialization in
medical sciences, it does not reach the dialectical treatment of
the categories that are being analyzed. The same occurs with
the books on Cellular Physiology and Control Systems  and
Physiology of the Internal Environment .
f) In the Biology 3 book for ninth grade  published in the
third educational improvement, in most cases the morphological
elements are explained separately from the physiological ones and
although some processes that occur in the organism are explained,
they are not explained. the structure-property-function-operation
relationship is exemplified, the links are not established, the
dialectical character is lost; The same occurs with the biology 5
book for the eleventh grade  in which this relationship is only
exemplified when studying the cytoplasmic membrane and the
male genital organs, not being the case with the rest of the organ
g) Another text widely consulted by students of the career
for containing a little more information in correspondence with
the program of the discipline is Fundamentals of Anatomy and
Physiology for teachers  in which the function and processes are
addressed. basic physiological conditions of the human organism,
and since it is designed for Early Childhood Education teachers,
especially for those who work with children who have special
educational needs with or without disabilities, it emphasizes the
most frequent pathologies in the students of these centers, in the
measures hygienic as well as in the neurophysiological processes
of the psychic processes.
The limitations indicated in the bibliography constitute an
obstacle for the treatment of the central axis of the teaching of
Biology in ninth and eleventh grades, as well as the objectives and
skills of the Human Anatomy and Physiology discipline.
This has been corroborated by the author during her
professional performance in which she verified the following
regularities in the third-year students of the Biology major
after completing the study of the subject Human Anatomy and
a) The students do not determine the histological features
of the structures, which would favor determining the properties.
b) They define concepts of structures, physiological
processes, but do not establish the links between them.
c) When explaining the functioning of an organ or an organ
system, they only refer to its function.
d) They have limitations when explaining biological
integrity, applying the contents to new situations.
In discussions held with secondary and pre-university
teachers, it was found that they recognize the explanatoryintegrative
approach that should prevail in the Biology subject,
but many fail to explain the reason for this, most do not adequately
define the concepts of structure, property, function, operation, do
not interrelate them and have not created an algorithm for the
treatment of this approach. They all agree that the methodological
orientations do not offer them the necessary indications for the
work of these categories with a dialectical approach.
In a group interview with professors of Human Anatomy
and Physiology from the different Universities of the country, it
was possible to confirm limitations in the methodological work
related to the integration of said category with this important skill
of the discipline, to explain the relationship structure-propertyfunction-
operation. Among the main limitations detected are
the fact that only the structure and function are explained
independently, without establishing the links, so the potential of
this for the scientific-materialist training of students is wasted;
there is no methodology by which teachers work on this skill.
The review of the subject of this research has allowed us to
verify that it has not been studied previously, only with regard to
the structure-function relationship. It is known that it constitutes
a line of methodological work in the groups of the Human
Anatomy and Physiology discipline, so due to the relevance of the
topic and its importance, the authors have considered it necessary
to address it.
Reflection on the EPFF relationship
Next, we reflect on the four essential categories that are
addressed in this work: structure, property, function, operation,
since their meaning will allow us to understand their relationship.
A study of the definition of the concept and basic ideas of the
structure category offered by various texts has been carried out.
In the provisional textbook of Biology 3 of the ninth grade for
the new improvement, structure is defined as, “Element, part or
component present in every living organism” . The dictionary
of biological terms defines it as “... distribution and order of the
parts of an organism.” .
In these definitions only the elements that make up the
organism are taken into account, they do not refer to the possible
changes that occur internally, in addition, they limit the concept
to the level of the organism, no mention is made of the sublevels:
cells, tissues, organs and organ systems. The same is appreciated
in the definition given in the dictionary Meanings.com (2013-
2020) where it is stated that: “The structure is the distribution of
the parts of a body...” where mention is made of the arrangement
and order of the parts within a whole.
In the eleventh grade Biology 5 provisional textbook, structure
is defined as: “interrelations between the components of a system,
their combinations and arrangements in space, the shape they
take, among other details of their spatial configuration” .
Already in this definition reference is made to the components of
a system and the relationship that exists between them depending
on the conditions in which it is found.
 (sf) defines structure as, “A set of organized and
independent elements; its analysis, therefore, cannot be limited to
that of the elements that make it up but also to the relationships
that link them and based on which they acquire meaning. The
term has displaced the system. “Ways in which the elements,
parts or characteristics of a whole are organized, distributed and
worked...” “Grijalbo, Great Illustrated Encyclopedic Dictionary”. In
this definition you can see the approach to the structure of life.
The general definition that in the dictionary of Philosophy is made
of structure, “Inner form of organization of the system, which
constitutes a unit of stable connections between its elements, as
well as the laws that govern these connections” , expresses
the dynamic nature of the category and is presented in a broad
dimension, so that it can be applied to all levels of organization in
which life exists. Consider the relationship between cells, tissues,
organs, and organ systems, as well as the elements that make that
The authors of this research consider that the structure of the
human organism must be studied taking into account all the levels
that allow its formation from the atomic to the organ system;
this will allow us to understand even more the functioning of
the organ or system under study; For example: Living beings
are made up of 98% by elements such as C, H, O, N, P and S; (The
remaining 2% is represented by elements such as Fe, Ca, Na, K, Cu,
Mg, I, Cl. etc.) The combination of these six elements can lead to
the formation of millions of different molecules; the compounds
in whose composition carbon intervenes are called organic
compounds; Within this group we can mention monosaccharides,
polysaccharides, amino acids, proteins, lipids, nucleotides and
nucleic acids, among others. These are organized in a particular
and precise way and interact with each other to establish the
cellular structure; cells are the bricks with which tissues are built,
tissues to organs and these to organ systems or apparatus.
Now, if we want to determine the structure of a particular
organ, we must study it not only from the macroscopic point of
view but also from the microscopic point of view, determining
which are the types of cells and types of tissues that are part
of its constitution; For example: the stomach is an organ of the
digestive system, made up of principal or zymogen cells (they
produce pepsinogen (I and II); oxytic or parietal cells (they secrete
hydrochloric acid and gastric intrinsic factor or Castle’s intrinsic
factor); neck mucous cells (secrete alkaline mucus), endocrine
cells (secrete gastrin, somatostatin, serotonin, etc). Main tissues of
the stomach: epithelial tissue, support, muscle tissue. Knowledge
of the types of tissues that make up the organ or organ system will
allow us to know the properties of the organ, which constitutes
The Latin term proprietas is where the etymological origin of
the property concept is found, which we are going to analyze in
depth below. A word that is formed from the union of three clearly
delimited parts: the prefix pro - which is equivalent to “forward
movement”, the adjective privus which means “of only one” and
the suffix - tas which indicates “quality” . According to the
Microsoft Encarta  dictionary  a property is an “ essential
attribute or quality of someone or something”, that is, something
that is distinctive. According to the different bibliographies
consulted, property is a concept with various uses. It can be used
to name a quality, a characteristic, a state, a condition or a faculty.
It has a wide variety of meanings depending on the context.
In the provisional textbook of Biology 5 for the new
improvement, property is defined as: “its own, essential and
characteristic quality of something, which allows it to be
characterized and to establish similarities and differences...”
. In other words, if we analyze this definition from the point
of view of Human Anatomy, we can say that an element that
distinguishes the stomach from the liver is its ability to relax
before the arrival of large volumes of food; therefore, we conclude
that one of its properties is that of stretching. Properties of matter
are called its specific characteristics. Some of these characteristics
are common to all forms of matter and for this reason they are
recognized as general properties. Others differ by group and are
known as particular properties. Some, too, are different even
within the same group for each of the substances that are part
of it, considering specific properties. However, there is another
fundamental classification regarding the properties of matter,
linked to the type of characteristic that each of them comes to
differentiate. It is the one that divides the properties between
physical and chemical.
A physical property is one that is based primarily on the
structure of the object, substance, or matter. We can determine
them by observation and measurement. (“Physical properties”,
2018). For example, the physical properties of the stomach would
be the aforementioned distension, hollow viscera, “j” shape, etc.
The difference between physical and chemical properties is
that physical properties are visible, measurable and do not alter
the original substance, on the other hand, chemical properties
involve the reaction of a substance with respect to other
substances, both in its chemical behavior and in the alteration of
its composition creating, consequently, a new substance. Such is
the case of hydrochloric acid secreted by stomach cells and the
action it exerts on food to form chyme.
Therefore, the chemical properties guide the analysis of
composition, structure and transformation. To determine the
essential quality of an organ or organ system we must correlate
the predominant tissue property with the function of the organ
or system. According to the Significados.com dictionary (2013-
2020), a function is the purpose or task that is attributed to
something. It comes from the Latin functĭo, funciōnis, and means
“ executing or exercising a faculty “. In its conception associated
with life, it is defined in the ninth-grade book Biology 3 as:
“Specific activity that characterizes all structures in an organism.
Process that is carried out in organisms through their structures”
. In this definition, the link of the function with the dynamics
of living matter is evident, but a narrow character is manifested.
The same occurs with the definition of this category in the
Dictionary of Biological Terms, where function is defined as “...
activity or action of any part of the organism aimed at maintaining
life, the organism’s reproductive capacity or its development.” .
, in his work, “The superior cortical functions of man”, states
that “... one of the essential achievements of modern physiological
science is the radical revision of the concept of “function”, ...” (p.24).
As a result of this review, the function is no longer considered as
that property that is related to the work of certain specialized
cells of a given organ.
In the aforementioned work, the author refers to how the
prominent physiologist PK Anokhin (1935-1940) stated that in
his time the concept of function was used in two different senses:
as the exercise or activity of a given organ or tissue ( example: the
function of the pancreas is the secretion of insulin, the function of
the liver cells is the secretion of bile) and as the adaptive activity
of the organism directed to the fulfillment of both a physiological
and psychological task (example: the function of locomotion,
In this regard, Luria states, “This understanding of functions...
has been widely extended in modern science and is currently
accepted by all contemporary physiology.” And he defines: “... the
“function” ... is actually a functional system (concept introduced by
PK Anojin), intended to fulfill a given biological task and ensured
by a complex of interlinked acts that, in the end, lead to the
achievement of the corresponding biological effect.” (p.25).
In the books edited for the new improvement of secondary
and pre-university education, function definitions appear that we
consider a little more explicit and in which the interrelationship
between the categories studied can be appreciated. In the
provisional textbook glossary for Biology 3, Grade 9 is defined as:
“specific activity of an organ, tissue, cell, or cellular organelle. A
process carried out in organisms by structures “ . And in Biology
5, eleventh grade, it is stated that the function is the “external
manifestation of the properties of any object in a given system
of relations” . In this last definition, the relationship between
property and function is exposed, for example, the stomach has
the property of distension thanks to the presence of muscle tissue,
and this is related to one of its functions, which is to temporarily
All these aspects constitute elements that provide the bases
for the work in relation to the integration that is manifested in
the organisms, both horizontal integration, that is, that which
exists between the organs of the same system, and vertical
integration, that exists between the different systems of the
organism. At the same time, all this allows to acquire the notion of
the organism as a whole related to the environment, which is the
maximum generalization that must be achieved in the discipline.
The structure-property-function are dialectically interrelated,
constituting a unit. The cells, tissues, and organs that make up
an organism are various forms of matter in motion; its specific
characteristics or qualities are the properties, and the function is
then the external manifestation of said property.
To explain the function of a certain structure, it is necessary to
know the causes of its development; Therefore, a histological study
is necessary. The histologist, Eliséiev  stated: “The structure
is the material substrate of any function of the organism.” (p.12).
This confirms that there is no structure in the organism that does
not perform a certain function, in the same way that there is no
function that is not developed in a certain structure. That is why
structure and function constitute a dialectical unit that concretizes
matter and movement. (Reinous, 2001).
The approach of Prives  is considered very correct when
expressing that “The structure of the living is, in this way, the unity
of its morphological substratum, that is, the material, with the
dynamics of its changes, that is, the motion. The structure of the
living thing includes not only the morphological particularities
of the organism, but also the functional ones. (p.18). This idea
contributed by Prives further confirms the relationship that
must be established between the four categories: structureproperty-
function-operation for a better understanding of Human
Anatomy and Physiology. In order to understand the meaning of
the term functioning, it is essential that we proceed, first of all, to
determine its etymological origin. In this sense, we come across
the fact that it emanates from the Latin “functio”, which can be
defined as “execution”, and that it is the result of the sum of two
words: the verb “functus”, which can be translated as “to comply”.
, and the suffix “–ito”, which is equivalent to “action”. (Meanings.
The concept is very broad since, in a certain sense, everything
has a function (it exists for something). Organ systems and
apparatus as a whole tend to have a complex function, while other
structures of the body fulfill simpler functions. The operation
can be defined as the implementation of a function or activity
for the realization of certain purposes. When something starts
working, it goes from static to dynamic, it moves, it puts a power
into action . The machines fulfill functions in view of what
they have been created, in general when they are turned on, or
when they are manually activated, where appropriate, and may
have periods of inactivity. Their operation may be at the service
of one or more individuals or the community in general, as in the
case of a transport line, which may operate on certain days, routes
and frequencies. Living beings generally need to be in constant
operation, especially the systems that control vital functions,
such as blood circulation or respiration. The complexity of the
operation is variable.
Functioning is the action and effect of functioning. This verb
refers to executing the functions that are proper to something or
someone or to that which works or turns out well. For example:
“The organs of the digestive system are not working well: the
patient continues with liquid stools.” “The gallbladder is having
a somewhat strange function: bile is not being released into the
duodenum to promote digestion”, “ The Intestinal villi are vital
for the proper functioning of the small intestine. The functioning
of a structure is linked to its ability to fulfill its usual functions.
When you cannot do this, we speak of a malfunction for different
In addition to all of the above, we would have to highlight the
existence of what is known as the operating principle. It is a term
that is used to refer to the fact that any system or device must
carry out an action in a certain way in order to allow it to work and
this depends on the changes that may occur in the environment.
This is addressed in the definition of functioning that appears
in the provisional textbook of Biology 5, eleventh grade, and which
is assumed in this work; states that it is the “dynamic integration
of the different components, structures, properties and functions
in a biological system, in a single whole, which responds in an
integral way to a certain stimulus or change that occurs in the
As can be seen in this definition, in order to make something
work, it is necessary that each of the elements of the corresponding
object be put together and shown as a perfect gear and that there
is an interrelationship between all of them. The structure must
have the capacity to carry out a certain work based on internal
changes, in correspondence with the needs of the organism, this is
the basis that the maintenance and continuity of the structure are
ensured through the continuity of its operation.
The analysis of the integrity of the living organism leads to
the discovery of the elements that can contribute the relations of
integration that are established by the structural association of
all its parts; by their relationship with body fluids; by the control
exerted by the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems; for the
unity between the vegetative processes. The previous arguments
about the EPFF relationship, in the discipline of Human Anatomy
and Physiology must be treated from the analysis in a determined
organ system, even more, in specific organs. This relationship is
evident in all organs and has a didactic basis; To get to the essence
of these phenomena, a histological analysis of the given organ is
necessary, based on the background elements provided by the
subject Molecular and Cellular Biology (BMC).
Then the links between the four categories can be established.
To determine the structure, property, function, functioning of an
organ and establish the relationship between these categories, the
following didactic procedures are proposed:
a) Determine the organ system under study.
b) Select organ to study.
c) Study in depth the structural and functional
characteristics of the selected organ from the consultation of
various texts of the specialty.
d) To determine microscopic and macroscopic structure of
i) Identify cells and tissues that form it and summarize
their specific characteristics. They can rely on the background
content provided by the BMC and Introduction to the study of
ii) Regarding the organ as such, refer to its shape, size, color,
parts that form it, relationship between its parts. It is suggested to
schematize the organ in the notebook for a better fixation of the
e) To determine the property or properties, refer to the
tissues that make up the organ, for example, if it is made up of
nervous tissue, one of its properties is conductivity; if muscle
tissue predominates, one of the properties is contractility. At this
time, links are established between the structure and ownership
of the organ.
f) To determine the function of the organ as a whole, that
is, its specific task or activity, the external manifestation of the
property is taken into account, for example, taking into account
the examples given above, one of the functions of the medulla
oblongata is transmission of impulses from the spinal cord to the
brain and from the muscles to movement.
g) In order to treat the last category, which is operation,
the following question must be answered: How is this function
executed? We continue with the example of the medulla oblongata
as an organ of the nervous system. To refer to its functioning, it
is necessary to explain how the transmission of nerve impulses
from the spinal cord to the brain occurs. If it is appropriate to
expose the functioning of the muscles, the contractile cycle of the
sarcomere must be explained.
h) It is recommended to show students a video where they
can visualize the relationship between the four categories, this
will promote a greater fixation and understanding of what has
i) The preparation of conceptual maps, tables, schemes,
which help to specify the information, can be oriented.
The previous idea allows us to consider that the relationship
between the four EPFF categories offers training potential; one
presupposes the existence of the other. With the study of Human
Anatomy and Physiology, students learn about vital processes,
their material basis, and how they are related to the activity of
cells, tissues, and organs.
Hence the importance of the formation of the concept of
these categories as basic pillars in the scientific conception of
the world, since they are part of the system of concepts that must
have about the material existence of human beings, and constitute
an important element of knowledge that serves of base to the
formation of convictions about that the way of existence of the
matter is the movement, the physiological processes that assure
the life of the organisms and the continuity of the species.
The preliminary analyzes carried out demonstrate the
difficulties that are presented to establish the EPFF relationship
in the discipline of Human Anatomy and Physiology by students of
the Bachelor’s degree in Education, specializing in Biology; They
lie not only in the lack of skills and the lack of a specialized book,
but also in the scarce information that exists about the subject
under study of the investigation and the deficiencies that teachers
have to deal with this situation.
This confirms the need to propose to teachers didactic
procedures to introduce the teaching-learning process not only
of Anatomy but also of other disciplines that are part of the
curricular design of the career. The procedures were designed
from the analysis of different definitions of structure, property,
function and operation in different bibliographic sources, which
allowed establishing the relationship between the four categories.
These biological categories used as a central axis in the teachinglearning
process of the Human Anatomy and Physiology discipline,
make it possible to direct the mental activity of students on
the basis of logical thinking. They allow establishing essential
features through analysis, synthesis and comparison, which will
simply an active participation of the student during learning. It
favors a correct understanding of the contents, the assimilation of
the conception of the organism as a whole and the discovery of its
relations with the environment that allow the maintenance of its