Once upon a time we dissected frogs and worms to learn about anatomy and the systems that make us work but these days, the students at Jenison High School are digging a little deeper. Cow eyes, lamb brains, sheep kidneys and pig hearts are all on the menu…in a manner of speaking.
Students in grades 10 – 12 who have completed Biology are eligible to take this college-prep class. 9th grade students who have done especially well in Biology are encouraged to take Anatomy + Physiology in their sophomore year as a pre cursor for AP Biology junior or senior year.
Teacher Melanie Zuber says that most students enrolled in the class are interested in medical practices such as nursing, sports medicine, veterinarians, EMTs, athletic trainers, doctors, etc. But a number of students also register for the class because they are unsure of a future career and are exploring their options. Says Melanie, “I encourage this for many reasons. First, it is a great college prep class for all college-bound students. Second, it teaches students about the human body and no matter what, there couldn’t be a more relevant topic to each of us. Think about the number of times you’ve been to the doctors and you just wish you knew a little more about what they were saying. You go home and look up a condition that a friend just said they have and you don’t understand the description fully. Even for students interested in engineering, think of all the great medical technologies that have been engineered (artificial hearts, robotic surgical arms, cochlear implants, artificial joints, forehead thermometers, etc].”
One highlight of the class is, of course, the hands-on experience that comes with dissections. “Since this class is an elective, students who have chosen to take the course know it is a requirement and already have an interest in doing the dissections. Students are often amazed at how different the dissections are from virtual examples and practice images/diagrams that they look at before dissecting. I enjoy the level of student questions and engagement that comes from doing the dissections. We dissect a pig heart, cow’s eye, sheep brain, sheep kidney, we also dissect the cat doing an extensive study of the muscles form and function. At the end of the year we continue to use the cat to dissect the internal chest and abdominal cavity to observe the complexity of the organs and systems working together.
Again, being a college preparatory class, most students going into the health related careers will need to perform tasks much more difficult than animal dissections. I have some students already observing human cadavers their freshman year in college, so I know the techniques and skills along with the realist value is extremely important to their educational preparation. We do use a lot of virtual diagrams and applications where appropriate, but without a doubt, the laboratory dissections and laboratory exams provide a necessary component to their education in this field.” [Ms. Zuber also stresses that “the specimens we obtain come from reputable biological supply companies. No animals are farmed for the purpose of our dissections, but instead the food industry byproducts or euthanized cats are being repurposed for educational gains.” She uses this component of the class as an opportunity to discuss organ donation with her students.]
Science and education are obvious passions for Ms Zuber who has been an educator for 15 years and in Jenison for the past seven years. Beginning in High School when she volunteered at Hudsonville Nursing Home and what would eventually become Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, she knew that “working with kids, science and health was a must!” She majored in biology at University of Michigan and, with an emphasis on premed, planned to go to medical school until an educational psychology class derailed her original plan. However, she wasn’t always encouraged to pursue this route. “It became apparent to me that education was where I was headed, but I was constantly being persuaded by others to be something other than “just a teacher.” Well, being the individual that I am, I knew in my heart that educating was not “just a job”, but instead is among one of the most important professions, and a profession where I could have a little bit of everything that I wanted.” Ms. Zuber’s husband, Philip, also teaches in the JHS science department and after some time working in the GVSU labs she jumped at the chance to join him here.
While dissection may not be for everyone, it’s easy to see why students love this class and are being exceptionally prepared for their futures — wherever they may find themselves!