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Forensic Pig Dissection.

Forensic Pig Dissection (Carolina Biological. One student group, $55. Kit for class of 32, $200.)

Overview of Product

I have been teaching Anatomy and Physiology for the past 13 years, and one of the underlying themes in the semester is forensic science. This is an introductory course, so I have a lot of freedom to select activities to pique my students' interest. I was looking for an activity that could introduce students to dissection before the much more detailed cat dissection, which occurs at the end of the course. I was also looking for a new way to have my students explore the steps of autopsy. In the past, I had done the virtual autopsies available on the Internet, but I really wanted an activity in which the students could be more active in the process. The Carolina Forensic Dissection Kit, as I discovered, does a great job of meeting both of my needs. It engages students in the process of a forensic autopsy, while using a new approach to teach mammalian anatomy.

Learning Goals & Standards

The kit is designed for middle and high school students, with the overarching learning goal of students conducting a fetal pig dissection using the protocol for a human autopsy. If you are like me and have to check off every indicator and benchmark, Carolina Biological has designed the product in such a way that it is effortless to modify the investigation to match your goals and standards. The kit addresses the following National Science Education Standards:

Grades 5-8 Content Standard C: Life Science

* Structure and function in living systems

* Regulation and behavior

* Diversity and adaptations of organisms

Grades 9-12 Content Standard C: Life Science

* The cell

* Biological evolution

* Matter, energy, and organization in living systems

* Behavior of organisms

Materials & Preparation

I am fortunate in that I usually only have one A&P class a semester, so one kit suffices. Each kit comes with a guide that lays out the autopsy procedure. The kit also contains the following materials to be used during the course of the lab:

* 8 Carolina's Perfect Solution Pigs

* 1 Carolina's Perfect Solution Pig Heart

* 1 Carolina's Perfect Solution Pig Kidney

* 7 prepared microscope slides

* 40 large weigh boats

* 8 absorbent pads

* 8 suture needles

* 8 sponges

* 8 hand lenses

* Nylon line

One benefit I found from my use of this lab is that many of the materials that are initially purchased can be reused or purchased at a big box store. The only cost is to purchase fetal pigs each year.

Instruction provides a great overview of the activity that will help you decide on how much time is needed. Depending on your type of school schedule and facilities, I would plan on 2 to 3 days to complete the actual dissection. I teach 52-minute periods, 5 days a week, in a classroom, not a lab. I have had to be creative in terms of lab set-up and clean-up, but one can do it.

I recommend coming up with a pre-lab for the students to do. There are a lot of new terms and procedures that it may be easier for the students to do on their own. This can be time consuming but will be well worth it in the end. I organize the pre-lab so that there are questions from each of the major sections. I also have a Web quest that I have the students do beforehand so that they know what a "Y" incision is or what the "Block of Organs" refers to. I also found an autopsy report form online that is used specifically for the fetal pig. I show this to the students so that they can see what happens when an autopsy is performed.

Carolina has done a great job of designing the lab so that it reflects what actually occurs during an autopsy by dividing up the work among students. I usually put the students in groups of three or four. Because the class is an elective, I do not have issues with students not wanting to dissect. If you have students who prefer not to dissect, there are activities they can do and still be involved.

If you choose to have a group of four, each student can have a specific job title. The Prosector is the forensic pathologist conducting the autopsy. The Diener is the morgue assistant. The Materials Manager is responsible for instruments and supplies. Finally, the Recorder is in charge of recording all information for the autopsy report. If you choose to use this grouping, I recommend keeping them the same over the course of the lab.

The work up front does take time, this being a dissection lab. I have found it helpful to place the materials for the lab in large ziplock bags ahead of time. I have had stations in the past, but the zip-lock bag seemed to work better. Furthermore, the directions that are provided by Carolina are straightforward, and, once the materials are provided and safety issues discussed, students can work at their own pace.

It would take me three pages to describe all of the instruction, but here are a few highlights of the activity. First the students get to examine the external features of the fetal pig just as they would in a real autopsy. I have had students take pictures to include in their autopsy reports. Second, during the course of the internal examination, the students have the chance to look at the following:

* Endocrine system

* Circulatory system

* Digestive system

* Urogenital system

* Central nervous system

Along with examining the previously mentioned systems, the students get to do some comparisons between fetal and adult organs. For example, they compare the fetal heart and kidney with the adult heart and kidney. The kit includes slides that students can use to look at some of the histology of these organs. If you choose to complete these other activities, I encourage you to set up separate stations or set aside days to complete them. Finally, once the autopsy is complete, there are endless possibilities for assessment. I have the students create a virtual autopsy via PowerPoint. Again, you know your students, and the lab is open-ended enough to pick an assessment of your choice.


If you are looking for a novel and excellent introduction to forensic dissection, I highly recommend the Carolina Forensic Dissection Kit. Not only does it include detailed autopsy protocols, it will also help you teach mammalian anatomy. Furthermore, the kit is designed in a way that allows the teacher full freedom to conduct the lab in a way that meets the needs of their students.

If you would like copies of my pre-lab or other materials, feel free to e-mail me at

DOI: 10.1525/abt.2012.74.5.15


CHRIS MONSOUR is a teacher at Tiffin Columbian High School in Tiffin, Ohio. He earned a B.S. in Environmental Biology and an M.A. in Education, both from Heidelberg University, Tiffin, Ohio. His interests include nature photography, travel, and camping and hiking. His address is Tiffin Columbian High School, 300 S. Monroe St., Tiffin, OH 44883/ e-mail:
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Title Annotation:Carolina Forensic Dissection Kit
Author:Monsour, Chris
Publication:The American Biology Teacher
Article Type:Product/service evaluation
Date:May 1, 2012
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