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A hands-on lesson in how life works 

Dissection enables students to explore human-pig similarities

Byron Center — Fifth-graders at Nickels Intermediate School learned during a pig dissection that animal digestive and respiratory systems aren’t that different from their own.

Sitting around a table, sporting safety goggles and gloves over their freshly washed hands, Michelle Kuiper’s students watched as their teacher used a scalpel to dissect the lungs and heart of a pig. 

Fifth-grade teacher Michelle Kuiper explains the difference between the pig’s respiratory and digestive systems

Some students reacted in predictable fashion to the yuck factor. 

“It smells!” one student said. Another inquired, “Is the heart going to be squishy and bloody?”

Looking at the lungs, heart and esophagus in the aluminum tray in front of him, Ryland Armano-Watson asked, “Are pig organs the same as human ones?” 

Kuiper explained how in both humans and animals, the respiratory, digestive and circulatory systems interact with each other to give life. 

“In our Living Systems unit, we learned about basic yeast, a one-cell organism, then moved up to plants, animals and people,” she said.

As they do every spring, each fifth-grade teacher at Nickels performed their own class’ dissection on the same day. 

The students took turns touching the organs and feeling where the trachea — or windpipe — connects to the bronchi, the large airway tubes, into the smaller tubes inside the lungs. 

“The esophagus, the tube that the food goes through, is really flexible, but the trachea is more rigid,” student Carter Gaynor said.

After slicing a small incision in the pig’s lung, Michelle Kuiper shows her fifth-graders the bronchioles, smaller tubes inside of the lungs

After exploring the pig’s respiratory system, Kuiper moved on to the heart.

“Holy moly,” one student responded when he saw how much muscle his teacher cut through to expose the four chambers. 

Students were allowed to gently put their fingers inside of the heart. Fifth-grader Josiah Springfield observed the heart felt “hard like a water balloon.”

Kuiper reminded her young scientists: “We have to treat our specimen with respect.” 

From left, fifth-graders Josiah Springfield, Drew Postma, Ryland Armano-Watson and Carter Gaynor feel the pig’s lungs

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New buildings, new friends to be made   

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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