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Shark dissection shows adaptation up-close


Byron Center — Sounds of wonder and disgust erupted from fourth-graders at Countryside Elementary when paraeducator Kelly Schmuker cut into a preserved dogfish shark specimen.

Students and adult volunteers watched as the shark’s innards became visible once projected on a large screen. Schmuker explained which organs would be their focus and shared shark facts. 

“What is the difference between sharks and bluegill?” she asked, to which a student replied, “Sharks go ‘chomp chomp.’”

Following the demonstration, each small group’s adult helper began dissecting their shark down the middle of its belly, and students reacted to seeing the organs up close. 

Fourth-grader Olivia Ly holds her favorite shark organ: its liver

“Ewww, it feels weird, like sandpaper,” one student said, as his hand petted Jimmy the shark, so named by his group members. 

Fourth-grader Ethan Stauffer thought of a creative image to cope with the sight of the cut-open shark: “Just pretend it’s a piñata,” he said.

After his group’s parent volunteer cut out the two lobes of the liver for students to examine, Ethan said, “I keep telling myself it’s the candy.” 

The liver proved to be a huge hit for fourth-grader Olivia Ly.

“The shark’s biggest organ is the liver,” she said. “It’s my favorite because it’s fun to hold.” 

Dissection of sharks at the end of the school year has been an annual event for Countryside fourth-graders for several years, teacher Dan Volkers said. 

“Fourth-graders learned about adaptations in class and today, they’re identifying what physical characteristics a shark has adapted to survive,” he said. 

Students also learned about the shark’s anatomy and digestive system by cutting out and getting a closer look at the heart, lungs, spleen and stomach. Some groups discovered partially digested and whole fish when they cut open their sharks’ stomachs.

Volkers said the dissection allows students to observe different organs and how they work together. 

“A shark heart only has two chambers,” fourth-grader Kai Than explained as he held his shark’s heart. “Human hearts have four.”  

Read more from Byron Center: 
A hands-on lesson in how life works
Outdoor learning opportunities grow with new structure

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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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