Biology dissections have been staple in high school classrooms. Dating back to when I was a student in biology, dissections were often the most exciting part of biology class. Students were placed in small groups with a dissection tray, dissection kit, and a series of cookbook instructions of what to look for in the specimen. We would go through the instructions step by step making cuts and incisions and drawing the parts as we go. Once all the steps are completed with all the diagrams labeled, the clean up process begins, and that was the dissection. There may be a post dissection series of questions for students to complete or how the dissections could be found on the next test, but in a nut shell, that was a typical dissection.
This year, I tried to have my students lead the dissections instead. The dissections were incorporated into the gr.12 biodiversity unit when most of the dissections take place. The unit took 4 weeks in its duration including basics of evolutionary history, classification, and research on the conservation efforts. I broke down the Unit into a project-based learning where the question is
“Are the efforts being conducted by conservation adequate in sustaining the population of a/an endangered animal (select your own___________________)?”
The project contains 4 parts
1) Learning portfolio on the classification of organisms
2) Leading a dissection
3) Presentation of the findings of the conservation efforts
4) Creating a cladogram and dichotomous key assignment.
In the learning portfolio, the students are to create their own notes, take down information discussed in class, and create a portfolio describing how biodiversity is organized. The students have to clearly identify, explain, and annotate with diagrams the various domains, kingdoms and phyla and their individual characteristics.
In the leading a dissection, I had the students prepare a presentation to guide through their peers step by step in the dissection, a diagram (blank and completed), and questions that follow the dissection. Many students chose Kahoot, and prepared various questions for their peers to complete. The remarkable part of this process was seeing the students answer questions and facilitate the dissections. Moving forward, I would create a more structured expectations of the diagrams, and a more concrete list of items needed from the students. Some of the diagrams, or instructions were not as clear, or that the diagrams were simply printed off an internet site without any use to them during the dissection.
The presentation of the conservation efforts of an endangered animal involved the students to individually prepare a formal presentation of an animal of their choice and to research on the current conservation efforts, techniques, and what more can be done to the efforts.
Lastly, the cladogram and dichotomous key is a simple assignment where the students create their own instead completing one. Some of the cladograms, and dichotomous were very creative in the topics that the students had chosen.
All in all, I think the student led dissection was a great success and will definitely try it again for my next biology class.