Animal organ dissections in high schools : is there more than just cutting?

04 Sep 2015

In Life Sciences education internationally, including South Africa, the study of animal and organ morphology has traditionally involved dissections since the early nineteenth century. The major purpose of this study was to investigate how the engagement of learners with animal organ dissections may influence the development of problem-solving skills and how teachers use animal dissections to develop these skills of Grade 11 learners in Life Sciences (Biology) education. A mixed-methods research design was used for this study. Data were collected from a pre-test and a post-test (which had predominantly problem-solving questions), a learner questionnaire, lesson observations and teacher interviews. Tests and questionnaires were administered to 224 Grade 11 Life Sciences learners. Six Grade 11 Life Sciences teachers at four high schools from different environments participated in the study. The pre-test and post-test scores were compared using a parametric matched t-test. The comparison for the five cognitive levels including rote learning and problem-solving as well as the total calculation were all highly significant with p-values <0.0001. The learners’ responses in the questionnaire and the teachers’ responses during the interviews indicate their acknowledgement that animal organ dissection may be used to develop problem-solving skills. The results show that there is more to animal organ dissection than just cutting and drawing; it may be used as a problem-solving teaching strategy. The level of learner engagement with animal organ dissections can determine the level of development of problem-solving skills. This study recommends that teachers should be encouraged to link animal organ dissections to specific anatomical and physiological problems where applicable, and to allow learners to solve these problems when performing the dissections; they should not merely let the learners cut, draw and label the organ.