Normally, in 7th grade Life Science, we do dissections as a capstone activity at the end of the year. Most teachers have the students complete a frog dissection. This usually means a frog is cut open and organs are identified. I have always thought this activitiy was lacking. Seriously, at the end of the year, all we can do is have kids ID organs? Also, as teachers, we actually identify these organs ahead of time during lecture/demonstration. Students could do quite well on the dissection just by paying attention during that week. How can we improve this?
One way I tried to improve was to have other animals to dissect. We stuck with familiar animals, as well as inexpensive ones. Students chose between a frog, a mouse, or a bird. After the dissection, students taught each other the organs of their animal. It worked well, but still, it was only identification of organs mixed with a little bit of function. How can we improve more?
Finally, I am going to try something different this year. First, I went with larger animals. We typically bought the smallest, most inexpensive animals. This makes organ identification even more difficult. I remember saying in the past, "Well, imagine that there is a thin muscle here. We will call it the diaphragm."
Since, we are looking at larger animals, I couldn't order as many, as our budget didn't magically increase. I ordered enough for a class set. This means that students will not be able to cut them open, but that was a minor cost in my opinion.
Lastly, and this is the big one, I am doing the dissections in January instead of June. The goal here is to introduce our study of physiology instead of ending it. My goal is to have students look inside the animals and ask questions that we can investigate the rest of the year. I hope it works.