Friday, April 10, 2009

Dissection Class--Pictures Included

I enrolled Hanover and Flurpee in a nature class this year. I do not usually enroll in outside classes. The time commitment between driving and class-time is usually too much out of my school day. So the class had better fit in with our educational goals and not take up too much of our school time. Not to mention cost! Many classes are $150 or more for two or three months and some as high as $250 for a semester--well outside of our already stretched budget. This nature class was a generally good fit and because the class runs once a month, budget friendly.

This particular class had a bird dissection scheduled. This was quite controversial among the parents since the age range of the class was 2nd grade to 5th grade. We were concerned with our kids being as squeamish as we were! Personally, I was hoping my kids would be OK with doing the dissection because I would much rather they do it with a knowledgeable teacher than have me fumble through it with them in three years.

Many of the parents were talking about letting their kids opt out. I decided I would tell my kids that the class was about looking inside of a bird and not mention that they could skip it. Not because I would have forced them to go through it if they were very uncomfortable, but I wanted them to have the basic understanding that this was what was going to happen. If they had turned green or cried, I certainly would have allowed them to sit it out.

Neither happened. In fact, not a single kid, not even the young ones, was too squeamish to participate. Some were very eager! The object of the dissection was an immature red-tailed hawk. That was exciting for the adults as well as the kids. The bird had been starving when it found its way to the nature center and once it died back in October, they put it in the freezer. So the kids were not dissecting a preserved specimen, but a fresh, once it was defrosted (I find that really amusing), body.

The teacher first talked about red-tailed hawks in general. This nature center has a lot of taxidermy, and they passed around various parts (like wings and feet) from previously unfortunate birds. He spoke about its claws, eyesight, sound, size, and speed. He compared the wing to the wing from a plane. They showed how powerful the bird's wings were by using an actual wing and letting the kids feel how much wind it caused when it was flapped.

It was finally time to bring out the bird to be dissected. The bird was placed in a fairly large, deep tray with paper lining the bottom. There was no odor. The kids donned gloves and safety glasses. Because there was only one specimen, the children each took turns in different parts of the dissection. They lined up. The first part of the dissection involved removing the wings. So the first and second kids helped cut the wings off of the body. The teacher then spent some time ripping out feathers (which was very difficult--now I know why chicken carcasses are dipped in boiling water before stripping off the feathers--here is a pic of a skinned red-tailed hawk that I happened to find in a Google search.). The next students got to cut open the skin of the chest. More feather ripping.

I hope you will forgive the quality of the images below (whether they are too low res and out-of-focus for your tastes, or if they show too much!). I used my cell phone camera.

Hanover, picture below, first separated the skin from the flight muscles (breast) underneath.

Isn't the teacher brave? He's letting these kids use the scalpel and scissors with his whole body within arm's reach.

Then Hanover used scissors to cut through the ribs.

It's hard work to finish cutting and pulling out the breast plate!

Once the breast plate is removed, we can see the heart.

Here is Flurpee getting ready to cut out the heart. Dead give-away that she's going to be a heart-breaker. (Too many bad jokes?)

And again with the scalpel in the hands of someone who has only been cutting her own meat for a year.

The instructor finishes the removal of the heart (Flurpee was having a hard time using the scissors with those large gloves). Once the heart was out of the body, the instructor cut it in half so we could see that it was open inside.

Then Flurpee helped cut out the liver.

The instructor showed us the gallbladder attached to the brown liver (a small green bump). He also showed us how the pink trachea, which had ribbing along its length, split to go into each lung. The lungs were a dark pink. He took out the trachea and showed us where the hawk makes noise. After the trachea was removed, we could see the esophagus, which was a flat, flexible tube, and traced it's path into the gizzard and stomach. He removed the stomach and we could see the intestines unravel and stretch to quite a length.

It was a great experience. I found myself more fascinated than many of the kids. All I could remember from frog dissection in 6th grade was not being able to differentiate any of the organs. This time it was quite easy. I am so glad that my kids were able to participate.


Greg said...

Hi Kim, thanks for finding me on twitter. I just stopped by to check ya out and saw this post, which happens the most monumentally cool kid science activity ever.

You're an awesome mom.

Monica said...

This is REALLY cool.

How were the birds preserved? Did they smell? I've never seen a hawk dissected, that's pretty neat.

I always disliked dissection in high school, mostly because of the horrible smell and the tough nature of the flesh. These birds look pretty fresh, am I correct?

I'm glad your kids got this experience. I've heard others say that younger kids (under age 12 or so) don't have the preconceptions that we do, and that most of them are curious about biology, life, etc. and do not get "grossed out" like older children or adults do. I think there's a good deal of truth to that. It's only human to be curious about such things.

Amy said...

Cool! I can't wait until my Samantha is old enough to do things like this. Homeschooling rocks. (I also think you did the right think by just treating it like any other class and not making a big deal about opting out.)

Kim said...


The bird was not preserved in any way except for being frozen. It was frozen quickly after its death (it died while in the care of the nature center) and was defrosted for a few hours prior to the dissection. It was so 'fresh' that there wasn't any rigormortis either.

My 9 year old claimed to be uncomfortable after she was done (I insisted she come back after washing her hands to view the organs set aside in a dish). She seemed completely comfortable during the dissection itself, however.

I remember being slightly squirmy about opening the frog, but not really being put off after that and I was in 6th grade when we did frog dissection.

The 7 year-old expressed no discomfort whatsoever. I wouldn't be surprised if a part of it had to do with the teacher. All of the kids like him a whole lot (as do the parents) and I think they were thrilled to help out.

Kim said...

Hi Greg,

Glad you stopped by when I posted the most interesting thing we've done all year!

pnies said...

"Flurpee" AND homeschooling? Ouch. These kids are doomed.