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  • Writer's pictureDerek Stoppels

This is NOT for marks

I did a fetal pig dissection with my grade 11 biology class today and it was awesome! And the best part was it was not for marks. The students dissected a pig just for the sake of learning.

I gave my students all the equipment they needed and the dissection guide, handed out the pigs and let them get to work. And do you wanna know what?! They were curious! As they were getting into it, reading along, and cutting their pigs, they were asking each other "What is this? And then they'd look at the diagram in the dissection guide, and if the diagram wasn't clear, they'd look it up on Google. Because they were curious. They didn't have to do anything. They wanted to. Even if they had just stood around the fetal pig for the whole day, it wouldn't really have made any difference, but every kid in the class was working...learning.

I could have given them a worksheet and some diagrams to label, but then their questions would have changed. They could have been asking "Is this [insert organ name here]? Let's look at the difference again:

What is this? vs. Is this [insert organ name here]?

They weren't cutting this pig open because they had to check off some organs and describe their function. They were cutting this pig for the reasons for which it was intended, learning. They weren't just trying to get it over with. One group finished the dissection guide an hour early, but found something on the internet and just kept going. They ended up dissecting the throat and were on their way to dissecting the skull, but the school day ended. It was amazing!

Maybe not every student loved the experience, but they're never going to forget it! Even the student who told me she was going to be vegan after today was involved! She didn't touch the pig, but she took pictures, and was focused on the pig the whole day, helping her group learn. I'm going to venture to say, she couldn't help but be curious.


One student in my class, who (whom?) I taught last year sent me a Joe Rogan podcast with Neil Degrasse Tyson and the first five minutes Degrasse Tyson and Rogan were talking about how kids are born scientists, asking questions, and then they grow up and so many of them think that once they're done school, they never have to learn again...what a bummer!

First of all, I was pumped that Neil Degrasse Tyson was talking about things I've been saying for a while. Second, I was more pumped that a student saw the podcast and wanted to send it to me because he knew I would appreciate it! The timing was perfect!

I want to brag for a minute because I'm proud of myself for putting my students in a situation where they got to be curious. There was no fear of failure because there was no opportunity for failure. There was only an opportunity for learning and growth.

Some teachers evaluate their students based on the "quality of their cuts." Come on! They've never dissected a pig before, but now they're supposed to be really good at cutting it open?? Today my students made all kinds of mistakes and do you wanna know what happened? Nothing. I got to point out to them that they cut something they shouldn't have and then they just kept going. They didn't lose confidence, they weren't afraid to try, they weren't afraid to be out of their comfort zone.

I got to experience curiosity in my classroom today. My students didn't sit in front of me waiting for me to tell them the answers to the test (I don't give tests anyway). They were asking questions, finding answers and sharing them with each other. And as the groups were finishing up, they'd clean up their workspace and their equipment and then they didn't go back to their desks to wait for the end of the day. They went to see other groups and what they were doing, making sure the other groups saw the awesome things that they saw.

Yes. We practiced social distancing and were wearing masks the whole time.

It was tough sometimes because everyone wanted in on the action, and they needed some gentle reminders to maintain social distance, but I feel good that we were safe today.

I really loved what happened today! The students were awesome and they should all be really proud of themselves. I witnessed learning in action today and was so impressed with them.

The goal, now, is how do I provide more opportunities for fail-free curiosity?

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