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A reflection on dissection - Press Item

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Posted by Wes von Papinešu on May 14, 2000 at 17:34:40:

DESERET NEWS (Utah) 08 May 00 A reflection on dissection: Most of Utah's schools give students a choice about cutting frogs open (Maria Titze)
Taylorsville: Jenni Rigby and Andrea Sanchez are lab partners. A well-matched pair, especially today.
The sophomores in Jim Oblad's zoology class at Taylorsville High School are about to dissect a frog.
Rigby looks sideways at the rubber-lined dripper pan, nervously twisting a pencil in her hand.
Sanchez, wide-eyed and fearless, reaches for a small scalpel.
"OK, people," says Mr. Oblad from the front of the classroom. "Don't push on the belly. It's like a water balloon, and if you try to pop it, it will push fluid in all kinds of directions. Pinch the skin and then cut gently, without putting pressure on the abdomen, from the groin up and through the sternum."
Frog dissection, once an academic rite of passage, is becoming less common in Utah classrooms.
"When I was in school, we dissected everything on the planet," said Linda Beisel, a science teacher at Wasatch Junior High School. "But I think there's a different mind-set now, a more mindful one."
Only 63 percent of high school biology teachers questioned in a recent survey by the State Office of Education indicated that dissection was a regular part of their classroom activities.
And 96 percent of teachers said they have another activity for students to do if they object to animal dissection.
"Things like paper-and-pencil drawings, computer simulation or research papers," said Brett Moulding, science education specialist for the State Office of Education. "Most all teachers have a variety of alternatives for their students."
Beisel says she and other teachers at Wasatch Junior High are trying to work with living animals as much as possible.
"For example, we use earthworms, and conduct experiments on how they might respond to vibration, light or magnets," she said.
Biology is taught most often in the 10th grade, according to Moulding, although a few junior high schools offer biology classes, and some dissection activities, in the ninth grade.
Dissection is not part of the state core curriculum for science in any grade.
"We're in the process of developing a document outlining when it is appropriate to use (animal dissection) in the classroom," said Moulding. "The guidelines will likely be that it is not appropriate until at least the ninth grade."
For many high school science teachers, dissection is still a valuable learning experience.
Even though this is the first dissection assignment of the course, most of the 25 students in Oblad's zoology class appear comfortable with dissection.
Except for Rigby, who says she's torn.
"I really like to learn about animals, but I believe in animal rights, too," she said. "I can't help but think it's cruel."
"How is it cruel?" asked Sanchez, who is doing most of the cutting and pinning of the pair's small, well-preserved male leopard frog. "They're already dead."
A lab team at a nearby table has found a partially digested grasshopper in the stomach of their frog, and Sanchez is hoping she and Rigby will be as lucky.
Oblad strolls between the lab tables, helping students find the small intestine, spleen and reproductive organs in their specimens.
"It looks like most of these frogs were captured in the fall," he announces to the class. "The long, yellow structures you're seeing everywhere are called fatty bodies. That's their store of energy for the winter."
If the frogs had been captured during the spring, Oblad explains, there would be few, if any fatty bodies. Instead, the reproductive organs in the females would be full of eggs and fill almost the entire abdominal cavity.
Oblad's students listen intently to his lecture, but don't take their eyes off of their specimen trays. With a growing confidence, they poke and peer under the organs in the frogs in front of them.
"When they came in, I told them that if they had a problem with dissection, they'd better drop the class," he said. Zoology is an elective course. For his required biology classes, Oblad allows students who object to dissection to study frog anatomy from a textbook in the library.
"Probably eight or nine kids out of every class ask not to dissect," he said.
Oblad says they can learn most of what they need to know about basic animal anatomy from a book. And anyway, it saves some expense.
"When I started teaching 28 years ago, frogs cost about 30 cents each," Oblad said. "Now, they're almost $3."
There is a $10 lab fee to take this zoology class at Taylorsville High.
Oblad orders the frogs from Carolina Biological Supply in Burlington, N.C. The company's Web site claims that its frogs come from an overpopulation of the animals on nearby man-made habitat.
Amphibian populations are declining worldwide, scientists believe as a result of pollution - another reason some science teachers are wary about dissection.
The grass frogs in North Carolina are also sold for food, but bullfrogs are grown specifically for use as specimens.
The company also sells CD-ROMs, printable diagrams, photographs and videos clips of animal anatomy for students who object to dissection.
But Oblad says he'll continue to use animal dissection, at least in his more advanced classes, because it seems to awaken a healthy curiosity.
"Kids don't play outside as much, I don't think," he said. "There are so many computer games and indoor activities."
He believes that understanding how an animal works - from the inside out - nurtures a greater interest in all living things.

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