Students at St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal School learned that to dissect means “to expose the several parts for examination”. This is exactly what they did when our 4th and 5th graders engaged in a two-day anatomy and physiology lab lesson dissecting frogs. Mr. O’Neal, our Head of School, brushed off his lab coat from his days as a science teacher, and led the students on a thorough exploration of comparative anatomy, capping units about human body systems that students had been learning about in class.
It’s not just about cutting things open, and in fact students spent much of their first day examining the exterior structures of the frog. Students learned fascinating frog facts such as how the frog’s tongue is hinged at the front rather than the back like a human’s, looking at the webbing between their toes, and examining the teeth which are used for pinning down rather than chewing it’s prey.
Day two however was all about diving into the internal structures of the frog. Students independently removed the internal organs and sorted them using an anatomical diagram. They also had the chance to explore their own curiosities and questions like what do the leg muscles look like, what do the bones in the feet and hands look like, and Mr. O’Neal with his background in neuroscience research, couldn’t resist the chance to show students the frog’s brain.
He stated: “A lot of people think dissections are something that happens in middle or high school, but honestly, kids are less squeamish and more receptive to these kinds of experiences earlier on. By giving them an opportunity to dissect in elementary school, we prime them for learning more in the middle and high school years because they’ve already been through the process. My plan is to make the frog dissection an annual learning experience in 5th grade and to continue to add benchmark dissections when we expand to 6th, 7th and 8th grades, so that when our students matriculate into high school programs, they are set up for success in classes like AP Biology. But the exposure has to happen much earlier than that. I am so proud of the maturity and respect for their specimens that our students demonstrated.”
One part of the process where a frog dissection looks a little different at St. Thomas than in other schools is that the lab opened up with a prayer, thanking God for the gift of creation, and for the opportunity to literally peer inside the biological mechanics of the living world. Students and teachers also gave thanks to the noble frogs for giving the gift of life so that they may learn and grow their knowledge.
“It was so cool! I was amazed at how complex everything is inside a little frog like that” – a St. Thomas 4th grader
“I learned so much. I knew about organs and stuff before, but now I really get how connected everything is inside.” – a St. Thomas 5th grader