CSTA Classroom Science

Why Animal-Free Anatomy Lessons are the Future of Education

By Samantha Crowe, MA Teach Kind Science and Dennis Yong, MA Canyon High School

Science is always evolving, so why are some of the methods we use to teach it—like dissecting dead animals—stuck in the past? We can better prepare students for the future by leaving behind old ways in favor of innovative and exciting new approaches that don’t harm anyone. Let’s “dissect” one way we can make science education engaging, effective, and ethical for all.

Cutting-Edge Learning, Without Cutting up Animals 

Is science class the highlight of your students’ day? It can be!

Virtual dissection software and sophisticated simulations ignite students’ interest in ways that smelly animal cadavers can’t. PETA-approved software such as eMind and Froggipedia offers an outstanding variety of interactive modules that bring anatomy to life—without taking a life.

For teachers who prefer a hands-on approach, SynFrog is a genius option. Made of salt, water, and synthetic tissue, it looks and feels real, but isn’t. This faux frog has bumpy green skin on its back and smooth ivory skin on its underside and features removable, anatomically correct organs and a realistic reproductive system complete with eggs. Students cut into it just like a real frog cadaver—but without any harm to animals or toxic chemicals.

These options keep curiosity and animals alive, leaving kids eager to learn.

Animal-Free Methods Get an A+ for Efficacy

Modern teaching tools like these are educationally superior, too. Not only do students prefer them, but studies have shown that students learn better using these methods than by cutting apart dead animals. It’s not surprising: Unlike preserved animal bodies, whose organs are dull and monochromatic, the organs represented in simulators and models are colorful and accurately mimic living tissues. Non-animal methods also enable students to review and practice the material as many times as they need until they feel confident. 

There are other benefits as well. Most non-animal tools and lessons are reusable and last for many years. They’re more environmentally friendly, too.

Empathy in Education

Life science education should include teaching respect for living beings—but dissecting animals can lead to a lack of empathy and cause young minds to become desensitized to cruelty. Animals who are killed for dissections had feelings and families, and undercover investigations have revealed outrageous abuse by suppliers while the animals were still alive. Dissection encourages students to view the animals on their desks as nothing more than tools to cut up and toss away afterward. It’s like a crash course in everything empathy isn’t.

On the other hand, many students care about animals, and for them, dissection can evoke feelings of sadness, fear, anxiety, conflict, and guilt. Animal dissection may even dissuade would-be professionals from pursuing careers in biology or medicine, sending the wrong message that detachment is a necessary skill for scientists. Animal-free methods in the classroom enable students to pursue their dreams without compromising their ethics.

Biology shouldn’t feel like a burden. Swap out the scalpel for high-tech simulations, and suddenly, it becomes a thrilling adventure that makes kids exclaim, “Wow, science is seriously cool!”

The Classroom Revolution

The choice between outdated animal dissections and innovative options boils down to this: What do we really want to teach in our classrooms?

Transforming our classrooms into dynamic, fear-free environments can make science so fun that kids forget they’re even learning. After all, kids learn best when they’re not stressed! Let’s leave behind harmful methods and empower students with tools that not only enhance their education, but also nurture a sense of compassion for all living beings.

About the Authors

Dennis Yong teaches AP environmental science and biology at Canyon High School. He also coaches varsity tennis. 

Samantha Crowe is the senior science education project manager at TeachKind Science. TeachKind is PETA’s humane education division that works with educators to build empathy in science education. Samantha has been a member of CASE since 2008.




Save | Print | Email Article

Print Friendly and PDF

Related Articles

From time to time CASE receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CASE. By publishing these articles CASE does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CASE’s Disclaimer Policy.