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A Major Dissection


Many middle and high school biology students are trading in scalpels and formaldehyde for computer screens. New Jersey is the ninth state to adopt legislation allowing students to complete a computer-generated lab or research paper in lieu of traditional animal dissection. The Humane Society of the United States celebrated the decision by distributing letters to New Jersey teachers that offered to loan out CDs, models, and videotapes. “For schools that are struggling financially—and which one isn’t—it makes more sense to go with the virtual program, which has been found in peer-reviewed studies to be as educational or better than actual dissection—and cheaper,” says the Humane Society’s Kathleen Conlee of. But don’t expect all science teachers to give up without a fight. “[Actual dissection] allows students to feel the delicateness of the tissue and to appreciate the complexity of a living thing,” says Patricia Lord, science advisor for New Jersey’s Teaneck district, which has reduced the number of animals dissected from four to one. Bunny Jaskot, president of the Biology Teachers Association of New Jersey, says that she no longer dissects with her Bio 1 class, but continues to with her AP class because many of her students plan on attending medical school. “I wouldn’t want a surgeon working on me who had only worked on a simulation,” she says.


I never cut up an animal in HS, and have managed to have a good life. I think that doctors will learn how to operate when they need to. For most of us, the simulation works just fine.

Well three cheers for Tim. That ought to settle the issue! As a former H.S. Biology Teacher (17 yrs.), I can tell you that dissection is something that many of my students anticipated and enjoyed. Sure, there was the initial and almost expected "yuk" response. But after that - most were engaged and it was a very educational experience. Furthermore, I would venture to say that there are some students that are inspired by these activities influencing their career choices. For the past 11 years I have been involved in K-12 computer education, and I strongly support and promote simulations in all content areas. But just as blogs must not be a total replacement of face-to-face interactions, the same is true for simulations and real engagement in science education.

Having had over 5000 students dissect frogs in the last 39 years, I can definitely say that it is an educationally beneficial experience for my students. Most would be disappointed if they did not get the chance. I do not anticipate that many of my students will become surgeons, but some have. I do expect that many will have surgeries and respect what their doctor is able to do, i.e. dissect AND put it back together. I have had TWO students opt for simulations (avaliable but not encouraged), one went on to dissect pigs and cats in AP Bio and Anatomy. Her test after the simulation was the lowest grade I think she received in 5 science classes. Until it is cost prohibitive or Rana pipiens is endangered we will be dissecting.

The author of the original article needs to know that there is virtually NO smell of formaldehyde anymore. It is bad for biology teachers.

I don't know what all of the statistics are, but as a Biology teacher, I can say that for some students, the experience of dissection changes their entire outlook on science. I've had students who were completely uninterested prior to dissections become my best students and some even decided to major in the sciences in college. Hands-on experience cannot be simulated. Simulations are good for review or alternatives, but can never replace the real thing.

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  • Elaine Plybon: I don't know what all of the statistics are, but read more
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