Science Teachers Cut Up Over Virtual Dissections

By Mike Bock — June 20, 2012 1 min read
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Starting next fall, the 11,600-student Highlands County, Fla., school system could end frog and pig embryo dissection in classrooms, instead opting for virtual dissections over the computer. But some biology teachers are hoping the school board will vote against the curriculum change.

Rebecca Fleck, assistant superintendent of curriculum for the school district, told Highlands Today that her recommendation to switch to digital anatomy lessons is primarily a cost-cutting measure, as the district will receive free digital dissection programs and training from an educational grant. In addition, the National Science Teachers Association approved the use of virtual dissections in science courses in 2008.

“It is an appropriate change to incorporate 21st-Century learning methods into the science program,” Fleck wrote in a letter to the Highlands County school board.

As far as virtual dissections go, there are plenty of different options available on the Internet. Some companies, like McGraw-Hill, use videos and diagrams of frog dissections, while others, like Froguts Inc., offer high-end features like three-dimensional models, digital dissection tools, and even mobile apps (for dissection on the go.) It is unclear which platform Highlands County schools would use if the curriculum change is implemented.

David Irwin, a biology teacher from Lake Placid High School, told Highlands Today that hands-on dissections can provide valuable anatomy experience that computers simply can’t replicate:

If you are thinking about going into the medical field, if you don’t figure out early that you don’t know how to do this or you can’t handle it, you have wasted a bunch of time and money in school,” he said. “There is nobody in the medical community that agrees with (the ban) because it is one of the prime things that you have to know how to do.”

[CORRECTION: an earlier version of the story suggested that the Highlands County school board had already made the decision to switch to virtual dissections. The board has yet to vote on the proposal.]

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.