Grade 8 students dissect four specimens during their study of biology. These experiences provide physical exploration of the concepts covered by the curriculum and expose Sage Ridge students to the realities of studying biology.
Students start with the squid. The squid represents an advanced invertebrate and tops off their study of invertebrate phyla. The shark follows as their first vertebrate and a well adapted ocean creature. The shark and squid are compared and contrasted. Students also link observations to the theme of "structure fits function," a huge theme in grade 8.
They then move to the grass frog, a tetrapod, adapted to both land and water. This shows changes in anatomy and physiology as animals evolved and spread to dry land. Evolution and "structure fits function" continue as themes.
Their final dissection is the rat, which follows their study of human body systems. Students will spiral back to their lessons on mammals to predict features they will see compared to the shark and frog, but the main focus is the human body systems: digestive, reproductive, urinary, cardiovascular, and respiratory. Students observe the structures and how these fit inside a specimen that is very similar to their own bodies.
Their teacher, Ms. Gallivan-Wallace, has a background in zoology, specifically comparative anatomy of animals. She thinks dissections effectively connect the topic of evolution studied in 6th grade to anatomy and physiology topics covered in 8th grade. The first 3 specimens are readily available and relatively easy for students to dissect. The rat is one of three good options for human anatomy, but cats are too much for middle school students and are much better for a true anatomy class and fetal pigs (been done in the past) are almost too cute for middle school students to handle emotionally. Rats do the trick.
Dissections provide a visual representation of the themes discussed in class and an insight into the wonders of the human body and creature anatomy. Students also discuss ethics in terms of respecting specimens and that the goal of the dissection is to learn, not take out aggression. Most students do not easily forget the dissections and Ms. Gallivan often hears about dissection experiences from past students and families.