Michaela Da Silva, Staff reporter, with input from Peri Morenz and Quiren Mulder ten kate

Gleneagle Science wing wrapped up quarter classes with more dissections and explorations into the internal world of various specimens, such as giant grasshoppers and frogs.

On the final day, Peri Morenz’s Biology 11 class looked at the  inner workings and anatomical functions of  a large frog. I had the  pleasure of attending her class last  quarter where, although the environment was quite accelerated in accommodation of Covid-19, we took part in many lab procedures and dissections. I went back to the science wing to interview Morenz and Quirien Mulder ten Kate on the background and accommodation of the specimens, specifically frogs, for science class purposes, as well as the importance of using these animals in science classes. They provided some highly engaging information on her experience, highlighting the educational importance of using the animals as well as their lives leading up to being sliced open and looked at. Understanding that animal dissections in a science environment might not rub everyone the right way, I also talked to a few classmates who were quite squeamish and noticeably uncomfortable during the labs. Partaking in such  an activity is not for the faint of heart, and writing this gave me the opportunity to dive deeper into various peer opinions. 

The routine  methods of animal dissections for science purposes began in the early  13th century (Averett, 2020). Since then, schools and educational environments  have been using such hands-on activities as a way for students to explore the anatomy of various specimens. 

“The frog dissections at Gleneagle have been happening since Gleneagle opened in 1997. I have been here running them since 2004,” said Morenz . The school has consistently  used frogs, grasshoppers, squids, and starfish in the classrooms. 

Gleneagle secondary orders out preserved specimens from a reputable lab called Boreal Northwest. This lab, located in Ontario, offers a variety of biology tools such as preserved specimens (living and nonliving), microscope slides, biotechnology and scientific models. 

Under the biology tool, the lab provides individual forms covering scientific background, care, handling and safety for each specimen available for purchase. The lab withholds a protective USDA license which covers shipping and transport rights.

To purchase with Boreal, the applicant must fill  out and be approved  of a federal USDA form and agree to terms regarding the use of purchase and intentions with specific specimens and resources. Most specimens are not bred all year round, and only available for a select time to control population efforts, endangerment, and supply and demand. For example, grass frog eggs are only available April-May because this is the animal’s natural breeding cycle. 

Following the origin of the specimens, I discussed the treatment of these animals in Morenz’s  experience and  history  of being a biology teacher. 

“[Although] I have not bred animals for the classroom,  from my experience with lab rodents in particular, the animals were bred in a humane manner.  I even witnessed several CCAC (Canadian Council of Animal Care) meetings where scientists, professors and SPCA veterinarians had to all approve of the experiment.” 

The Canadian Council of Animal Care ensures the highest standards of animal ethics and care are valued and assured in all animal-based science conducted throughout Canada (CCAC, CCPA 2020). Their mandate is to encourage learning and education with animal dissections while maintaining the highest  standards of ethics and expert opinion on animal care. 

I sought out the minds of two science teachers at Gleneagle, Morenz and Mulder, to gather their reflections on the generalized importance of dissections in schools and humane treatment. 

 “I think that the most important reason for dissecting those frogs [is] to see and feel what the insides look like.  We will often have family members undergoing surgery and we have no idea how delicate the tissues are, or how much space they take up, or their relative size to other organs. This might be the only time in a student’s life where they get to be the “surgeon” and see  the placement/arrangement of all the organs,” said Morenz. 

“Dissections provide students with a three-dimensional experience that online dissections do not.  Also, online dissections tend to be enhanced so it is easier for students to find the body part they are looking for.  However, breeding animals such as sea stars, frogs and grasshoppers and then killing them strictly for dissection seems cruel and unnecessary to me.  I tend to have my biology 11 students dissect animals, such as fresh clams and frozen squid that they can cook and eat afterwards.  However, I think they are a necessary part of learning what some biologists do in their careers,” said Mulder. 

It is clear that this topic strikes controversy and opinions between not only current educators and animal activists, but the students partaking in such activities as well. 

“It’s just gross. I think we need to be mentally prepared more for actually being inside another organism’s body. It feels, quite frankly, like we are violating the animal. I know it’s dead, but it just feels so disrespectful. However, I agree that it is a good way to understand what goes on underneath the skin, but I would be much more comfortable watching videos or something.” Says Alyssa Mony, grade 11.

Similarly, Angelina Alexander, grade 11, says “I [think] we can learn all the same things through watching a video in class. But the social aspect and class bonding that dissections and labs in bio provide are much needed, especially in a class where we do a  lot of sitting, listening, and note  taking. So overall I’d  say I  am in support of doing [dissections].” 

“I have taken some sort of bio course for 3 years in a row in highschool and to be honest it took me a very long time to get comfortable with ripping open these animals. After I  got over that, I now find dissections very fun and I learn the anatomy way faster than I otherwise would in a textbook setting.” Says Jake Geisbrecht, a grade 12 at Riverside Secondary. 

After doing research and further understanding the ethics and care behind the specimens used in biology, the comfort level between students  in particular does not follow a constant acceptance. In fact, I asked seven peers in my biology class last quarter what their thoughts were on this, and five out  of seven of them said they were mildly uncomfortable with opening up an animal  and would otherwise choose not to complete the lab if it was not a school graded setting. 

The students and educators’ interviewed above have in some way concluded that they believe learning about anatomical functions is crucial to scientific education, and recognizes the importance of dissections in biology. Before diving into the highly interesting and up close world of an animal or specimens body and functions, I  believe it would  be beneficial and educational  for students (in particular, those doing this for the first time) to understand the ethical component of  where they came from and  how we are to treat them with  care and respect; albeit in an environment where we are exploring their insides. Understanding that not everybody will be on board and one hundred percent comfortable with dissections in any matter and considering the vastly different beliefs of the student body, the environment for dissections should be made as accepting and as accommodating as possible.  

Next time you take part in a dissection in biology, keep in mind these insights on the background of specimens, as well as a better understanding of the respected opinions of  your teachers and peers. 

Additional Resources:

Oakley, 2011. Science teachers and the dissection debate: Perspectives on animal dissection and alternatives https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ990519.pdf

Averett, 2020. High School Dissections Are a Science Class Tradition. But Are They Doing More Harm Than Good? https://www.discovermagazine.com/the-sciences/the-argument-against-high-school-animal-dissections

Boreal Science Labs https://www.boreal.com/store/