Each year, ANATOMY IN CLAY® Learning System/Zahourek Systems, Inc. awards a $1,000 scholarship to an exceptional National HOSA student. This year's recipient couldn't have been more deserving. Congratulations, Nolwenn Daniels. We are so proud of your many accomplishments and wish you the best of luck at Gloucher College, achieving your career goals of becoming either a Dentist or a Physical TherapistEach year, ANATOMY IN CLAY® Learning System/Zahourek Systems, Inc. awards a $1,000 scholarship to an exceptional National HOSA student. This year’s recipient couldn’t have been more deserving. Congratulations, Nolwenn Daniels. We are so proud of your many accomplishments and wish you the best of luck at Gloucher College, achieving your career goals of becoming either a Dentist or a Physical Therapist.

ANATOMY IN CLAY® Learning System: A Humane Alternative to the use of Animals in Anatomy Training

May 21, 2014

The Mind Cannot Forget What The Hands Have Learned™.

It is a simple motto; however, putting this concept into action is what Jon Zahourek and the Anatomy in Clay® team have spent the last thirty years doing. For the veterinary, medical, and agricultural student, rote memorization from an anatomy manual – or blunt dissection of an animal – can offer a limited benefit, as has been proven throughout the years. But the questions remain: At what cost? Is the dissection model truly necessary? Is there an alternative approach?

The Anatomy in Clay team offers such an alternative – in over nine thousand classrooms – by providing a learning system that offers students a “hands-on” approach to learning. With the Anatomy in Clay Learning System, the student uses clay as the medium to build muscles, nerves, arteries, veins, and other soft tissue structures required for a class. The student has the option to build all but the smallest muscle slips or up to ten different body systems on the respective human or animal models, listed in our catalog as the Maniken®, Caniken®, or Equiken® units. Students and educators also have the option of building a variety of body systems, such as the digestive system, the nervous system, the cardiovascular system, and others.

As a classroom activity, the clay is molded into a shape closely matching the target structure in an actual body and is then positioned on the human, canine, or equine models in the proper anatomical location and position. The clay if forgiving, allowing experimentation and reapplication; the models are also reusable, durable, and long-lasting. In this type of educational process, the student learns and identifies the proper attachment sites as well as appropriate positioning, affording insight into both form and function.

What the Anatomy in Clay team and their clients have found with such a hands-on application is that when the student builds it, they’ve authored it. And when they’ve authored it, they embody it and own it. The retention of the subject matter increases and the bottom line is that test scores improve. This concept also provides a significant economic and humane advantage: purchase once, use endlessly, as compared to the dissection concept, which requires the need for additional animals for every class, purchased endlessly.

A variety of academic research has been completed comparing the retention rates and effectiveness of the Anatomy in Clay models. Sponsoring institutions include Pennsylvania State University, The University of Illinois-Chicago, Columbia University, the University of Cincinnati-Clermont College, SUNY Downstate Medical Center/Brooklyn, and others. A thorough review of the results offered provides insight into the overall effectiveness of this mode of kinesthetic learning. With Jon Zahourek’s commitment to education and the drive for every student to learn about their greatest gift, their body, Jon has also developed a top level nonprofit educational center in Denver, the Formative Haptics Center. The mission of the Formative Haptics Center is “to empower self-discovery in each of us by forming anatomy with our own hands.”

Jon and the Anatomy in Clay team have made it their life’s mission to help others explore anatomy by a simple and yet straightforward method of using one’s hands to educate their mind about themselves and their anatomy. For additional information about the Anatomy in Clay Learning System, visit their website or contact the team directly at

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Building human models out of clay provides deeper anatomy learning experience

January 25, 2014

Jenny Brundin, Colorado Public Radio

A Colorado-based company is on the leading edge of a quickly spreading technology that teaches anatomy without the “gross factor” or formaldehyde stench of dissection. The Anatomy In Clay system involves building a body instead of tearing it apart.

The company works not only with school children, but with medical students, equine enthusiasts, and professional dancers.

On a weekend morning in the sunny, spacious studios of the Formative Haptic Center in Denver, anatomy teachers are building their own knowledge to bring back to their students.

Throughout the day, they learn interesting facts about relatively obscure body parts, like the left hepatic flexture of the colon, the Ampulla of Vater, and the von Ebners glands. They learn that the little hole going from your soft palette to your nose helps relieve pressure so you don’t blow your head off when you sneeze. They also find out that the liver has 1,500 functions.

“It has an enormous number of functions, that’s why you can’t live without it. You’d have to have a liver transplant,” says instructor Teri Fleming, a former high school anatomy teacher.

The students in this class are building a human from scratch.  The “human” is a 29-inch plastic skeletal model. The students construct blue veins, terracotta muscles, red arteries and more out of color-coded clay. They gently insert them into precise regions on the model. It’s a highly technical process.

Fleming circulates the room, making sure the students put the large veins in the right places on their model hearts.

The underlying philosophy of doing anatomy with clay is that the students build the systems of the body from the inside out. It’s a constructive process. Lesley Peterson, a former teacher who now works for Anatomy in Clay, says it is a meaningful experience for students to see a human cadaver, where the body parts are labeled, but she says there are things students can’t see, like where a muscle attaches to bone.

“I memorize it because I don’t see that on the cadaver,” she says.  She says students also have to memorize what the muscle does – its “function,” in anatomy terms.

When building with clay, the students look at a picture of where the muscle attaches on the bones and build the muscle in a few seconds.

“I put it on the model and then I see what its function does,” she says.

She says that takes critical thinking and exercises different parts of the brain.

Aarika Capra, an anatomy teacher at Brighton High who has used the models for several years, says the real power of learning anatomy through clay is that the students apply what they see to their own bodies and predict what the action of their muscles will be.

“My kids being able to predict what a muscle does based on where it is on the body, I think that’s a really big takeaway that they use all the time in whatever sporting event or hobbies or clubs that they’re in,” she says. “They’re using those muscles.”

Research shows, by touching and building the anatomical models, the information is easier to retain and prompts more questions.

Instructor Teri Fleming encourages the students as they build one of the most difficult muscles in the digestive system – the small intestine The average man is 5’10’’. His small intestine is 21 feet long. The students have to calculate it to the scale of their model, and their height.  For Aarika Capra, that’s a terra cotta string stretching from her head to the floor.

“Having 6 feet of small intestine made me glad I was short,” she jokes.

Fleming tells them jaw-dropping facts like, if you took the human intestine – from mouth to anus – and stretched it across the massive studio, “our mouth would be stuck to that wall and our anus would be stuck to that wall,” she says, pointing to a wall far away.  The students snicker.

Through building body parts, students can see how pancreatic cancer spreads so quickly, or how, permanent heart damage starts if young people haven’t shed their pre-pubescent fat by age 14.

What’s striking is how normal it becomes to talk about how the body functions. When a student whispers that she lost her urethra, Fleming simply says, you can always build another one! Fleming tells them the class is a way to pass on health information students need, which may be hard to talk about elsewhere.

“Anatomy is an awesome class,” says Aarika Capra. “Every student needs to understand how their body works, how to take care of it, common things that might go wrong, and treatments or procedures to fix those, and a lot of them, with the models, you can model it, act it out.

Fleming sprinkles the class with lots of ideas to help students understand anatomy, like writing persuasive essays about a neglected body part, or snapping fingers to reflect how the heart works. She also builds a number of defective hearts out of clay, and asks students to diagnose the problem, much like a real doctor would do.

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Temple Grandin Supports Hands-On Approach of the Anatomy in Clay Learning System, Urges More Teaching of “Practical

Problem Solving”

Temple Grandin, the Colorado State University professor of animal science and one of the most accomplished adults with autism in the world today, has endorsed the ANATOMY IN CLAY® Learning System and its hands-on approach to learning anatomy.

“I think this would be a great thing-high school science classes, this would be a really great teaching aid,” said Dr. Grandin in a recent interview. “We gotta do things to get kids interested–interested in science–and there are certain kinds of kids where doing hands-on activities help to get them interested… You gotta touch to really see.”

Anatomy in Clay® approached Grandin to gain her insight and perspective because of her success in developing methods of learning for individuals with autism. Grandin first encountered ANATOMY IN CLAY® Learning System at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo.  Her full comments can be found by clicking here.

“Some people learn better with words and some people learn with visual things and with hands-on things,” said Grandin, who urged schools to do more to reach students who come with a variety of learning styles. “The thing about doing all kinds of hands-on activities is that they teach practical problem solving. You know, you just do the verbal way and it gets too abstract. People like me need to do hands-on things.”

Temple Grandin’s life has been featured on national and international television news shows and she has written many books about autism.  Her latest, The Autistic Brain:

 Thinking Across the Spectrum, will be released in May. Grandin is a philosophical leader of both the animal welfare and autism advocacy movements.

The Anatomy in Clay® system uses scaled-down models of humans and animals on which participants build body structures with clay. The company also produces scaled-down models for learning horse anatomy (the EQUIKEN®) and dog anatomy (the CANIKEN®). Students form muscles, nerves, blood vessels, organs and other internal anatomy, isolated or integrated into a whole system. The system allows students to construct anatomical structures using specially formulated and color-coded clay.

“We appreciate Temple Grandin’s thoughtful comments and thank her for taking the time to become interested in our systems,” said Anatomy in Clay® founder Jon Zahourek.

“Our systems remove abstraction from the process of learning anatomy–and that’s precisely what she recognized,” said Zahourek.

Art-inspired tool helps Regis anatomy students

July 8, 2012 

DENVER (AP) — The class began playfully enough, with instructor Jennifer Hellier kneading a ball of light brown clay and rolling it between the palms of her hands.

But then, as she and four college students manipulated the medium with their fingers and a set of tools, the process morphed into a highly technical lesson on the muscles of the human body.

Call it art meeting anatomy.

At the start of a monthlong program at Regis University for select college students, Hellier stimulates their interest in the health professions in a variety of ways. But one of her most effective tools, she says, is a system developed by a Colorado company that transforms the complex systems of the body into a hands-on exercise.

“Who doesn’t enjoy being 20 years old and playing with clay?” said Hellier, also a teacher and researcher at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus. “Every single student says this is their favorite part of the entire course.”

The system, called Anatomy in Clay, has its roots in the art world, where in the late 1970s Jon Zahourek taught aspiring students how to draw the human form. Frustrated with trying to teach those skills in two dimensions, he developed models on which students could replicate surface anatomy in clay.

But those models quickly revealed their value as a means to learn anatomy. Zahourek and his wife, Renee Whitman, launched a business that advanced a variety of practical uses for the approach through workshops.

Today, the models can be found in thousands of classrooms across the country, from elementary to medical school — though their primary market is high schools and community colleges.

“As he taught himself anatomy, light bulbs went off in his head,” said Val Zahourek, the founder’s niece and chief executive of the Loveland-based company. “Something just clicked, and he had to share this with the world.”

The models come in various stages of complexity and encompass human and animal anatomy. Although the materials were born from an artist’s perspective, they require no particular artistic talent to manipulate effectively.

Students introduced to the process approach it with different aptitudes and attitudes about the appearance of their finished product. But no matter how refined their creation, they’re still exposed to the underlying anatomical concepts.

“One of our mottos is, ‘Ugly muscles still work,'” said David Gurule, a 24-year-old Adams State College graduate who starts pharmacy school in the fall.

The process of molding color-coded clay into muscles and, eventually, other body systems reinforces — or lays the foundation for — the often-daunting study of anatomy. And in many cases, it presents the material in a way that better suits a student’s learning style.

“A lot of students are visual and kinesthetic, and they don’t realize how to use it as a learning tool,” said Hellier, the program coordinator of CREATE Health Scholars, which helps undergraduates from rural and underserved areas of Colorado investigate health careers. “By actually using your own hands, you get to build all the different parts of the body.”

The models average about $450 each but can be divided bilaterally so that each one creates two lab stations. Instructional materials range from $100 to $350, with clay and other accessories running $12 or less.

The company also helps schools identify sources of potential grant money.

Hellier has seen an added benefit when her students begin to understand not only the muscles of the human body but how to exercise them.

“So some of our weightlifting guys are like, ‘So when I’m doing a bench press, I’m really working not just my pectoralis major and minor …,'” she said. “They start getting those connections.”

Information from: The Denver Post,


July 6,  2012

VIDEO: Art-inspired tool helps students mold anatomy lessons in clay

Read More

June 29, 2012

Anatomy in Clay™ Learning Systems to Sponsor 2013 NAMSP Administrator Awards!

Through an associate partnership with the National Association for Middle School Principals (NAMSP) ANATOMY IN CLAY® Learning System is collaborating on a number of activities with the organization. Sponsorship of National Instructional Leadership Awards, in-kind anatomy equipment loans, and stipend monies for winning administrators attending the annual meeting are some of the contributions that ANATOMY IN CLAY® Learning System is making to NAMSP.

“The values of NAMSP are in line with our core values – to provide innovative and hands-on methods to help students succeed in school – that it was a natural fit for a collaborative relationship,” says Val Zahourek, CEO Zahourek Systems, Inc.

March 4, 2011

LaGuardia Community College Replaces Cat Cadavers With Clay Models in its Biology Classes

For many college students who take anatomy and physiology there is the much anticipated cat dissection. But this spring, LaGuardia Community College students taking that course will walk into a very different science lab. Gone will be the cat cadaver, the putrid smell of formaldehyde and the scalpel. Instead, students will be building clay models.

LaGuardia is the first CUNY campus, and one of the first community colleges in the nation, where its students will be learning the muscles of the human body not by dissecting cat specimens but by applying clay muscles to a skeletal mannequin.

“Studying human muscles is one of the hardest and most difficult areas,” said Professor Carol Haspel, “so we are always trying to find ways, mechanisms and pedagogical techniques that assist our students in learning the basics that they need to know. The clay models are a key factor in helping them.”

Professor Haspel is confident the clay mannequin is an effective learning tool after a successful pilot program the department conducted over two semesters beginning in 2007. Involved in the experiment were 10 classes where the students were divided into five conventional and five mannequin groups.

The professor pointed to test results that indicated that the clay-modeling group was significantly better at identifying human muscles on human models than the cat-dissection group. They were also as good at identifying muscles on their self-made clay mannequins as the cat-dissection group was at identifying cat muscles on its specimens. “A greater number of students in the clay-modeling group received grades of A or B and fewer grades of C, D and F,” she added.

This spring, the over 600 students in 23 sections of anatomy and physiology will work on mannequins during five lab sessions. Divided into groups of three and four, the students will stretch clay into thin muscle-like bands between origins and insertions on the 28-inch human skeletal mannequins.

“By using the models, the students are learning to build up the human musculature,” said Professor Howard Motoike. “By building from the inside to the outside, they see the layering of the musculature as it builds up in the body. In subsequent labs they will build blood vessels and learn how they are positioned with regard to the muscle and gain a more three-dimensional perspective.”

The idea of replacing the cat cadavers with the clay mannequins was planted several years ago when a student, who was a practicing Buddhist, objected to dissecting a cat. She researched the web and found Zahourek Systems, a company in Colorado that manufactured mannequins, and purchased the kit and materials.

While the class worked on the cat dissections the student worked on the mannequin, did all the assignments and, when it came to the practical exam, was tested on the model as well as the human models that the class worked on. “She did extremely well,” said Dr. Haspel, “but when I saw the product I was in shock at how fabulous it was and how much she had learned.”

With that, Dr. Haspel approached the company, which agreed to lend all the materials to run the pilot.

To purchase the 159 skeletal mannequins and kits, the department received an $110,000 New York State Perkins grant.

“The initial investment was costly but at the end of the semester the clay is removed, the mannequins are scrubbed and ready for the next crop of students,” said Dr. Haspel. “We have a sustainable, reusable resource, an effective pedagogical technique and no animals are killed.”

October 7, 2010

ATA teacher awarded Anatomy in Clay grant

Dr. Teresa Nirenstein, a second year teacher at the Academy for Technology and Academics, was awarded a grant for the Anatomy in Clay system, valued at $4,000, from the South Carolina Department of Education.

Read More

April 2010

Anatomy in Clay ® Testing

Dr. Grisseel Cruz-Espaillat,M.D.,M.P.H., Christopher Stabile, Ed.D., Carlos Reyes and Keiser University

The study of anatomy at the college level is typically carried out through vivisection or dissection. The Anatomy in Clay ® learning system seeks to provide an alternative to this costly practice by allowing students to engage the muscular and skeletal systems of the human body through the use of clay modeling. The present study seeks to examine the Anatomy in Clay ® technique is a valuable addition to instruction in the field of anatomy and a potential alternative to the practices of dissection.

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