Pupils skip slime, stink with virtual dissection

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. - It's not just concern for the squeamish biology students who wince at the feel and smell of cutting into a formaldehyde-soaked animal.

A diagrammatic view of a frog's circulatory system is shown in The Digital Frog, a virtual dissection program.  Associated Press
Associated Press
A diagrammatic view of a frog's circulatory system is shown in The Digital Frog, a virtual dissection program.

Think about the frog. The pig. Or even the rat.

That's what animal rights activists in West Virginia's Northern Panhandle had in mind when they donated interactive software that replicates a frog dissection to Wheeling Park High School.

Marilyn Grindley, a member of the Ohio County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said dissecting animals "desensitizes kids. It tells them that we do not have any respect for any animal."

Mandates in 14 states, including Virginia and Maryland, that allow biology students to opt out of dissection without jeopardizing their grades are fueling interest in virtual dissection as an alternative tool for teaching anatomy.

Ms. Grindley and fellow SPCA member Rebecca Goth say virtual dissection software such as the The Digital Frog, the software they donated, offers an alternative to students who find dissection repulsive and can save schools money.

But some educators don't buy it. Christopher Perillo, a science teacher in Kenosha, Wis., says nothing can duplicate the smell and feel of cutting into a frog.

"To actually cut through the tissue, see how the skin layers feel, the textures, the way the organs look inside the body, I think that can't be duplicated," he said. "It's like trying to become a gardener without touching the dirt."

West Virginia is not one of the opt-out states for dissections. But now that biology is a required class in the state, virtual dissection is becoming an attractive option to some educators there.

Patrick Durkin, the science department chairman at Wheeling Park High School, said the number of students enrolled in biology will increase to about 400 this fall.

With a pig costing upward of $25 and a frog around $6, the program has the potential to save the school some money, though not a lot. Wheeling Park spends about $1,000 a year on frogs alone, he said. By comparison, digital dissection software can be bought for less than $1,500.

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