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  • Sixth-grade science teacher Val Conley
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It May Look Icky, but It’s Educational

Students Learn Heart Anatomy from Dissection

by Morgan Jarema  

Troy Reinhart held the pig's heart in his right hand and agreed it felt pretty much like he thought it would: "Slimy."

But despite the initial tactile discomfort, the Grandview Elementary sixth-grader handily identified for a classmate the superior vena cava, one of two veins that bring deoxygenated blood from the body to the heart.

And when science teacher Val Conley quizzed the nearly 80 sixth-graders who gathered recently in teams of two or three to dissect pigs' hearts, a sea of gloved hands went up every time.

Adult volunteers helped guide every group of two to three students"Who can name the top chamber?" Conley asked.

"Atrium," answered Jonathan.

Bottom chamber?

"Ventricles," said Ryder.

Drew identified the pulmonary artery, and Rachel answered that blood goes to the lungs "to get oxygen."

The annual pig dissection -- with hearts fresh from DeVries Meats in Coopersville -- ties to the sixth-graders' study of the heart and circulatory system.

Students made four main cuts to trace the path that blood flows through the heart. They also made note of the difference in the thickness of the heart wall on the left side compared to the right; the left side is more muscular because it has to pump the blood to the whole body. Conley also pointed out valves as they made incisions.

Conley said there's no technological substitute for the real thing, which has changed very little in the more than 20 years she has been leading the annual science lab.

"It is very important to do a hands-on dissection, because you can feel it and really see the parts on a real heart and how they are all connected," Conley said. "They will remember it more after dissecting a real heart.

Submitted on: April 18th 2017

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