Dissection of Fish!

In all these years since Bodhana’s inception, we have been trying to do our best to impart all the experiences we owe to every child across age groups. The day I came to know that Dr. Maria Montessori has advocated dissection of animals is an integral part of curriculum to elementary children before they further study the internal parts of animals, I had a big question in my mind on how I am going to handle this. Yes! Having come from a very conservative background, I am one of the many students who chose not to continue Biology in secondary school just to avoid dissection. It was not a very comfortable act for me to see the dissection, forget about doing it.
To my surprise my team was all interested and ready to take dissection further while I kept them on hold for a while. On the Super blood blue moon day, when my elementary children were in the school to observe the moon, I had a child conversing with me as she was waiting to be picked up back. Looking at the aquarium, “Aunty, Next time when a fish dies, please don’t throw it away. I want to see what is inside the fish. Please show me the dead fish”. That’s the moment I really understood the natural urge in the child to see the internal parts. I was a little puzzled and was blaming myself of depriving them the knowledge they seek.
I had the courage now to tell my team to plan for a dissection (but still do it while I am away). Very meticulously they planned for a demonstration of fish dissection among themselves before they took it to the children. By accident, I entered the place where they have done the dissection and saw all the parts they have named. I was able to see the details without any aversion and realised that I had the courage and tolerance to see the internal parts. I now conceded that all my children will be more courageous and am 100% convinced about showing dissection of fish to children.
Krithika Aunty had planned the fish dissection supported by Brindha Aunty and here goes her experience showing the dissection of fish for her children (mostly between the age group 6 ½ and 9 years).
“At first, we were little confused on how the children would take it up. So, we gave enough time for children to chew on their thoughts and get ready to see the actual process. We prepared the children and spoke about it a couple of times and then gave a day for it. Many children were excited to see and kept asking us from the very next day it was spoken. But few were little puzzled and kept asking, “why should we have to do so?”. Surprisingly one child said, “let’s not kill a fish for this event, in case any fish from our aquarium dies then we can see its internal parts”. On a bright Wednesday morning, one of our helpers bought two fishes from the fish market. One to show external parts and the other to see internal parts. Most of them were excited to see how it looks and how the adult handles it. Children started having many conversations among them that “hey it is smelling bad”, “look there is blood”, “see how aunty is holding it”, “I am going to tie kerchief around my nose”, “Aunty! Are we going to cook and eat this fish” etc. All this giggling and chats were for some time, but slowly as the adult took the fish and began explaining its external parts that place became silent and young children began to observe the beauty of that creature. Many didn’t move from their place and began to get closer to see its details. We got to hear many lovely phrases from children like “Wow! How beautiful is it”, “See! The scales are shining like rainbow colours”; “Wow! How can the fins be so thin and transparent?”, “How can the fish see what is in the front if its eyes are on both the sides?”. They were surprised to see how its mouth jaw can open and sharpness of those tiny teeth’s. Most of the children had that WOW factor while admiring the beauty of each fin being opened like an umbrella or fan. Then the first set of younger children were dispersed, and older children formed a group to see internal parts. Once the external parts were explained they were waiting to see internal organs. One child asked, “Is this male or female fish”. Another child asked, “Will this fish have brain?”. One more child questioned “Will it pain for the fish now?”. After answering these series of questions, the adult began to dissect the fish. Few children were not able to see this part and quietly walked out requesting the adult to call them once the parts are placed out for display. By large a group was sitting patiently throughout the dissection, seeing every detail. Initially children felt that they are fooled as they didn’t see any organ immediately after it was cut. It took a while for them to understand that there are layers under the skin and we must cut open and go through inside to see internal organs. Children were astonished to see such small organs like intestine, backbone, gills, eye balls etc. “The heart of the fish is so reddish pink and tiny like a large size bead”, said one child. After dissection we were able to open its mouth widely and see how big it can stretch. Few children said, “It is so big like a snake opening its mouth to swallow food”. All the parts were washed and displayed with their parts named below. Then many children came to see its details. On the other hand, few children were uncomfortable in such atmosphere. One child declared couple of statements like “This would be the only one dissection that I would see. Next time you decide to do anything else like frog, I would be absent to school on that day. I am, not able to take the smell aunty. If one fish is so smelly, how bad it would be if it’s many of them”. As some children felt uncomfortable with that smell, few incense sticks were lit. Also, another child felt as if his head is spinning. Overall it was a great experience for everyone individually to their level of reasoning and imagination as an observer.”
I now completely realise that the learning that occurs in a dissection is qualitatively different from the learning that occurs in a lecture or paper/pencil set up. No model, no video, no diagram and no movie can duplicate the fascination, the sense of discovery, wonder and even the awe of the children when they find the real structures. The whole process instils more care and responsibility on the child for the animals as they now know that every creature is very precious!

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