Dissection Days

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The first thing that I had students dissect as a first year teacher was an owl pellet. Reflecting on my high school experience, I can’t recall dissecting anything – maybe an eye? I’m not sure. I remember as we dissected the owl pellet and found and sorted bones, it was just a small look into the owl’s life and diet. I would not have thought that just a few years later, I would have the opportunity to dissect research specimens myself.

One of my first experiences in the lab was on Dissection Day, where I watched as the team gathered information accurately and efficiently from the specimens, measuring their mass, length, and identifying them as male or female with practiced eyes and expertise. In the dissections run this year, I tried my best to emulate that same environment; calm, precise, clear communication. My students completed pre-lab assessments and videos prior to their dissection so that they were aware of what they would experience. During the dissection, I would ask them to clearly communicate with each other for usage of tools and identification of structures.

By the time we dissected a full mammal specimen as is standard with most anatomy classes, my students seemed excited and prepared to see how everything was connected. Something that made an impact on me was my students were eager to see things that had affected them. For example, one of my students wanted to see the spinal cord as his had been damaged. He could not believe how large in diameter it was. Being able to create an learning environment where students felt curious and professional was important to me, and being a fly on the wall in that dissection lab helped me foster the same setting for my students to feel and to be successful.