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Alternatives to Dissection in Biology Education

  • LEVEL: GRADES 9 -12


Encourage a greater respect for the intrinsic value and worth of animals.


The activities in this unit will provide students with a basic understanding of the alternatives to the use of animals for dissection in biology and other science classes, the arguments for and against dissection and the environmental and social costs of using animals for dissection. Students will also be able to examine the relative merits of dissection as a teaching method and to form their own conclusions.

Through a detailed examination of the alternatives to dissection, including plastic models, videos, computer programs and innovative new approaches, students will be able to determine many areas where the knowledge gained far exceeds that available through dissection. They will also learn that dissection can be detrimental to the environment and to human health through the replacement of frog and other amphibian populations with pesticides to eliminate disease-carrying and crop-destroying insects. Finally, by means of literature review and personal survey, students will determine their attitudes toward dissection, as well as its efficacy as a teaching method.

PERFORMANCE OBJECTIVE # I: Students will be able to examine alternatives to dissection and to compare them to classical dissection as teaching aids.

MOTIVATION: Have students locate and gather whatever dissection alternatives are available from libraries, science classrooms and resource centers.

AIM: How do the alternatives teach the same information normally obtained through dissection and why do they do it more effectively? What do the alternatives teach over and above animal dissection?


  • Begin by listing what is learned through dissection. For example, dissection of frogs, earthworms, fish and cats is used to teach animal anatomy and physiology and as a surrogate for human anatomy and physiology.
  • Discuss the different types of alternatives, which can be divided into four different (somewhat overlapping) categories: those that teach animal anatomy, those that teach human anatomy, those that compare animal with human anatomy and those that represent innovative concepts.
  • Students should become familiar with several of the animal alternatives, including videos of frogs and other species in their natural environment, computer programs which simulate frog dissection and models which illustrate animal anatomy. List the important features of both the living beings in their natural habitat and their anatomy and physiology.
  • Students should become familiar with several of the alternatives which illustrate human anatomy and physiology, starting with the National Geographic video, The Incredible Human Machine, one of the human torsos with removable parts, diseased and health organs and computer programs such as Bodyworks.
  • Students should construct a list comparing human anatomy with that of several animal species. Excellent use can be made of side-by-side comparisons such as the vinyl overlay structures Biological Models. How do the vital organs compare: how do the circulatory, digestive and respiratory systems compare? Can we understand why these differences exist from the environment, diet and lifestyle differences between species? What things can be learned using the alternatives which are not learned from dissections?

SUMMARY: Computer programs, videos and models are available to teach all aspects of human animal anatomy and physiology.

PERFORMANCE OBJECTIVE # II: Students will be able to understand the arguments for and against the practice of animal dissection in biology classes and tabulate student attitudes towards dissection.

MOTIVATION: Students will use various sources and peer surveys to determine arguments and attitudes towards dissection.

AIM: To determine whether reasons for phasing out dissections outweigh the reasons for continuing them and to determine whether students support continuing or eliminating dissection.


  • Discuss arguments in favor of dissection as a teaching method. Include what is learned through dissection, whether students take the dissections "seriously," and whether students are attracted to a medical or biological career by performing them.
  • Discuss arguments in favor of using alternatives to dissection. Include what is learned (i.e. animals and human anatomy; diseased versus healthy organs; etc.), the effectiveness of the alternatives as teaching tools, whether information learned will likely be retained longer, and whether using alternatives fosters or discourages students from pursuing medical careers.
  • Discuss other issues connected with the use of alternatives versus dissections. Should environmental concerns (i.e. depletion of frog or other species from a region), human health concerns (increased use of pesticides on food, increase of disease-carrying insect populations) or concerns over the cruelties associated with the supply of dissection specimens be taken under consideration?
  • Compare the material learned through dissections with the material learned through alternatives. Are they of equal value? Will one be of more value than the other in later life? Which will be retained longer?
  • Carry out a survey of students who have already performed dissections. Ask them how seriously they took the procedure, what they learned from it and what they have retained. Ask them how they felt emotionally before, during and after the dissection.
  • Taking all of the preceding information into consideration, formulate conclusions regarding the relative merits of dissections versus alternatives and whether dissections should continue or be phased out.

SUMMARY: Information learned through alternatives is broad and of long-term value. Some students may object to dissections or not take the dissections seriously, while other students believe they are of value.

PERFORMANCE OBJECTIVE # III: Students will learn about several innovative projects. These will supplement, not replace, basic anatomy and physiology learned through the other alternatives.

MOTIVATION: Requires that availability of advances biological teaching aids such as a physiological self-study (vital sign monitors), immune system aids such as Immunity System Kit or Cell Serv cell culture kit.

AIM: To learn advanced biological concepts using innovative alternatives to dissection and to illustrate the types of information that can be learned when alternatives are used in place of dissection.

ACTIVITIES: Choose at least one advanced concept as a biology project and carry it out. Be sure to instruct the class and/or write a project description.

  • PHYSIOLOGICAL SELF-STUDY. The heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure are three key vital signs which reveal the state of health of the body. Using a simple monitor, measure these vital signs on yourself and/or other students for several conditions: at rest, after exercise, after eating, after a period of stress. How do the vital signs correlate with the activity? Using literature sources, determine what factors are most important in affecting these indicators. What are the consequences of low, medium or high values?
  • IMMUNITY. Our immune system works non-stop to protect us from viruses, bacteria and toxins. Using the Immunity System Kit, or its equivalent, create even sequence diagrams for several major physiological challenges, such as bacterial, infection, cancer, AIDS, measles. Show how the leukocytes, T-cells,

B-cells and antibodies work to fight infections and to provide long-term immunity. What are the effects of bacterial or viral mutations? What factors strengthen or weaken the immune system?

  • MICROBIOLOGY. Microbiology is in part the study of living cells and the effects of various stimuli. Using Cell-Serv or equivalent, carry out experiments showing the effects of chemicals, common drugs of medicines, light and heat on cell and tissue culture health. How do toxins and other challenges act to damage living cells and tissue? What can be done to prevent or minimize such damage?

SUMMARY: Students can learn many highly beneficial concepts in health, physiology and biology, using readily available teaching aids. Added to the knowledge of human physiology obtained through videos, computer programs and models, this innovative concept information will be valuable throughout the student's lifetime.



  1. Compare the anatomy and physiology of meat-eating and plant-eating animals. Choose three or more species, including at least one herbivore, one carnivore and one omnivore, and including human beings. Document how their teeth, metabolisms and digestive systems differ. Prepare a list of twenty carnivores and twenty herbivores and illustrate what features are most common to each class. Also list common human features (metabolism, lifespan, digestive systems, teeth, etc.). Considering all factors, are human beings closer to herbivores or carnivores?
  2. Create a display of several alternatives to dissection, including at least one example of each type: computer program, video and plastic model. Contrast alternatives to dissections for learning a) animal physiology, b) human physiology and c) comparisons of the two. Create a display which compares the information learned through alternatives and compares it with the information learned throughout adult life. Pictures from biology texts or other sources can be used to illustrate points about dissections.
  3. Create a display using one or more innovative biological teaching aids such as vital sign monitors, immune system kits or cell-culture micro-biology sets. Explain how each concept works and how it leads to valuable biological and physiological information. Perform a demonstration or experiment as part of the science fair display.


  • Beyond Dissection : Innovative Teaching Tools for Biology Education, 1995. Available from: New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS), 333 Washington Street, Suite 850, Boston, Mass. 02108, phone # 617-523-6020.
  • Endangered Species Handbook contains a section on humane science projects. Available from: Animal Welfare Institute, PO Box 3650, Washington, DC 2007, phone # 202-337-2332
  • The Responsible Use of Animals in Biology Classrooms Including Alternatives to Dissection. Available from: National Association of Biology Teachers, 11250 Roger Bacon Drive, #19, Reston, VA 22090


  • Cross Educational Software, 504 East Kentucky Avenue. Ruston, LA 71270 phone # 318-255-8921
  • National Teaching Aids, 1845 Highland Avenue, New Hyde Park, NY 11040 phone # 516-326-255