The cutting edge. (software for simulating dissection and vivisection) (Column) (Buyers Guide)
by Steven Anzovin
If you took high-school biology, you probably remember pithing a frog and seeing for yourself the number of chambers in the heart of a fetal pig. Hundreds of thousands of frogs and pigs are still dissected by students in public schools every year. The animals cost millions of dollars. According to Beyond Dissection, a handbook published by the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (333 Washington Street, Suite 850, Boston, Massachusetts 02108; 617-523-6020), three years of preserved bullfrogs for three biology classes can cost as much as $1,069.
PCs can provide a cheaper, cleaner, and more pleasant alternative to dissection. Clever computer software is being used in more and more biology classrooms to simulate the experience of vivisecting or dissecting laboratory animals. Using a color-capable computer and a mouse (the computer kind, that is), students can uncover layer by layer the anatomies of earthworms, bullfrogs, and even human beings without having to kill and cut a real animal--an experience that turns many students away from further study in biology. Dissection programs also provide detailed information on each anatomical feature, and many include animations, quizzes, games, or other learning aids.
To take one example, a program called Operation Frog (Scholastic Software, P.O. Box 7502, 2931 East McCarty Street, Jefferson City, Missouri 65102; 800-541-5513) simulates an American bullfrog for junior-high biology classes. It offers step-by-step dissection of a simplified frog--just one set of muscles and no bones--but plenty of interesting related activities, including animations and digitized photos. The program costs $79.95 for the Apple II version and $89.95 for the DOS version and can be used over and over again. Operation Frog allows students to go at their own pace, rather than having to keep pace with the class. And after students have taken the frog apart, they can put it back together, something that the best biology teacher in the world can't do with a real frog.
There are some other advantages, too. Using simulations instead of real animals reduces exposure to nasty chemicals like formaldehyde. Maybe best of all, students can't cut each other with software scalpels (the way a couple of kids did with real knives in my high school during an argument over who would get to cut the pig first).
No one claims that computer simulations duplicate the details of living organisms or that they can give students a feel for the inside of a body. Serious students of biology and medicine still must work with real specimens. But do the millions of schoolchildren who perform vivisections and dissections every year need the real thing? Students retain as much or more knowledge from slide shows and even boring biology lectures as they do from dissection. So dissection simulation may be one of the few cases where a computer experience is better than life.
As yet, there's no software that simulates the anatomy of the rats, rabbits, cats, or fetal pigs used for dissection, but you can definitely get into frogs, worms, and people.
Frog Dissection (Cross Educational Software, 504 East Kentucky Avenue, Ruston, Louisiana 71270; 318-255-8921; $29.95) is another inexpensive bullfrog anatomy tutorial with color graphics, step-by-step dissection, definitions of structures, and many review questions. Meanwhile, the anatomy, digestion, reproduction, and sensory apparatus of the lowly earthworm can be investigated with The Worm, a simulation from Ventura Educational Systems (910 Ramona Avenue, Suite E, Grover City, California 93433; 800-336-1022; $59.95). Bodyworks: An Adventure in Anatomy, from Software Marketing (9830 South 51st Street, Building A131, Phoenix, Arizona 85044; 800-545-6626; $79.95) shows the human body in colorful detail, with accurate graphics and online text articles about each body part.
For more information, contact the National Association of Biology Teachers, 11250 Roger Bacon Drive, Suite 19, Reston, Virginia 22090; (703) 471-1134.