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  • Writer's pictureJolene Pappas

Dissection Resources

Dissections are often an important component of high school biology and anatomy courses. Students observe the appearance of structures as well as the texture, comparative size, and three-dimensional nature of how these structures are connected. Diagrams typically fail to fully convey all the information and experiences of a dissection. A series of dissections can give an in-depth approach to comparative anatomy, taxonomy, and evolution. Students can make observations and measurements in addition to practicing a delicate skill; good dissections are performed carefully and methodically.

There are drawbacks to the practice, though. Specimens can be expensive and there are associated environmental concerns. Even with improved preservation formulas, the smell takes a little getting used to. Also, many students, parents, and teachers are ethically opposed to the practice. For these reasons, virtual dissections have been developed over the years.

These virtual options are, at a middle and high school level, often sufficient to meet many goals of the dissection process. However, they lack practical hands-on skill development and first-hand experience. The "messiness" of real life is not duplicated, and virtual dissections present a "perfect" situation in terms of what students are seeing, without any of the variations present in real specimens. Depending on the specific goals of the course, these aspects can be viewed as either a benefit or drawback to the virtual options. Interactive simulations typically require purchase and some also require special equipment (such as VR).

Over the past year, Biology Simulations has been developing dissection resources that can be used as a study tool to accompany dissection or as an alternative to dissection. These are NOT virtual dissections in that they do not attempt to replicate the dissection process at all. These activities are labeling games that use real pictures. All the dissections used for the images were prepared by my colleague Beth Wolfer.

Cat anatomy practice game menu

Currently (5/31/22) we have nine cat images and a mammalian organ set (eye, kidney, brain, and heart). Frog images are on the way, and we'll likely keep adding to the anatomy games section over the next school year. In addition to the review games there are blog posts for the cat and mammalian organ set with labeled images available.

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