Biology: a natural science concerned with the study of life and living organisms, including their structure, function, growth, evolution, distribution, and taxonomy. Ah, Grade 12 Biology.
There’s nothing like starting your day with a bang. For students in Bruce Relland’s Grade 11/12 Science class at Seabird Island Community School, that meant getting out the scalpel, and dissecting a fetal pig at 8:50 on a Tuesday morning.
The class worked on this biology project all week. Up to this point in their studies, students had been learning the chemistry of Biology, which, says Relland, is less than visual.
“Now that we’re starting a brand new term, and it’s week one of the term, we’re going to be doing body systems. I thought, what an excellent opportunity. We reviewed our body systems from Grade 8, because that was the last time they took a look at body systems, and then we opened up the fetal pig to see where all the pieces actually are, and what they look like. This dissection takes about a week. We talk about what we’re going to do at the start, what organs we’re going to look for, what my expectations are. Then we’ll open up that portion of the body, and we’ll only study that portion of the body in small, one-hour segments,” explained Relland after students had cleaned up and moved on to their next class.
“It really engages the students, and it brings a high level of motivation to come to class and participate. And so we had everyone actively engaged and excited and happy to be here. When we start to talk about things, they will remember, ‘Oh yeah, I remember that.’ They can see it. And they can visually think about what they opened up and took out, and how it was all connected, and that it all came from the same body.”
While the topic itself, and the visuals from the dissection, may not be the most appealing, there were some underlying tones to what took place at Seabird Island Community School the week of Jan. 25-29. First, as Relland explains, the human body, and that of a pig, at least internally, are remarkably alike.
“They are so similar that they even use pig parts for people in need. They can use the heart from a pig to put in a human,” explained Relland. “They are actually doing some really cool stuff with stem cell research, where they take a pig heart, and they break down all the cells and they keep the scaffolding in place. And now, what they’re doing is, they are dripping in the human cells in place of the scaffolding, so they can build that organ to match identically to the person they want to build it for – so there is no chance of rejection.”
And what did students think about dissecting a fetal pig at 9 in the morning?
“We had talked about it the day before – but it was a new experience, something I’ve never really done before. But it was fun,” offered Dredan Naistus, 17. I wasn’t really surprised (with what I saw) because the organs of a pig are similar to a human.”
By the end of the week, students were fully engrossed with dissecting the pig’s head. There was laughter, there was focus, there was panic, and on some faces, the look of nausea.
“You are going to need scissors for the brain casing,” chimed in Mr. Relland.
That didn’t help the ‘look’ on some faces. Taking into account the similarities between the internal organs of a human and that of a pig, Relland is adamant the project will give the students some perspective on how the organs work in conjunction to keep us alive – while also injecting some valuable life skills into the process.
“We were primarily looking for body systems, and how all body systems interact,” said Relland, who ordered the fetal pigs from Boreal Scientific, a chemical warehouse he has been dealing with for nearly 25 years. “Really, it’s an interaction concept. It all comes from the same body, all the parts have a role to play, but they have to play it together. Just like any job, where you have to work as a team and do things together. Well, so does the body itself. All the parts have to do things together, and mesh together.”
Maybe the most-vital aspect of this process is that, while it may not have been inspirational to some members of the class, it may have actually helped a few decide on a career path derived from knowledge they gathered at SICS.
“We have probably four or five students interested in the medical field,” summarized Relland with a smile. “So, being able to see body parts, being able to do dissections, and being able to handle a scalpel is all important for them.”
Just another day in biology class at Seabird Island Community School.