Saturday, 29 November 2014

That Fetal Pig - What a Slice

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about Lena's experience with ABC Ottawa Take-off.  This morning was Lena's last dissection class and parents were invited to sit in for the the dissection of a fetal pig, which had actually been started the week before with the removal of their brains.  As we walked into the class, the young women who were leading the session were pulling the de-brained ungulates from the pail of formadehyde.  A good thing I hadn't eaten breakfast, because the sight of their tiny empty craniums made my stomach lurch.  I wasn't sure I would be able to sit through this but I didn't want Lena to see my discomfort.

This initial visual tableau of brainless pigs descended into the bizarre as the instructors began to tie the little pickled piglets spread-eagled onto the little steel dissecting tray in a scene of "Fifty Shades of Bacon".  The instructors explained that this would make it easier to make the incisions and poke around inside in the abdominal cavity.  They reminded the students how to make the incisions, which, perhaps unsurprisingly, differed based on whether they had a male or female pig.

Then the kids got to work.  I stayed near the back of the class watching the kids dig into their specimens and gradually moved closer as the class went on, fascination quelling my initial queasiness.  The teachers circulated among the three groups explaining what they were seeing and how the various organs worked, as well as offering tips on how to excise the various pig parts (I couldn't believe how big the livers were compared to the other organs).

Once the dissection itself was done, the little fetal pigs were disposed of and the serious business of a trivia competition began.  Two teams of three vied for prizes and, more importantly, bragging rights.  The only two girls in the class were paired together along with one other boy.  The questions covered the whole five-week class.  In the end, all the kids got very thoughtful prizes, the instructors having listened to each and determined their interests and getting a relevant gift.

This class way exceeded my already high expectations.  The instructors were by far the best Lena has had in ABC, both young women doing degrees in Biochemistry - one at the undergrad level and the other in graduate school.  They kept the atmosphere light while packing in a lot of knowledge and managing to keep control of the class.  Indeed, watching the trivia contest I was surprised at how much information the kids retained from the very first class to the final one.  I was also glad to see two women teaching the class, not only to be good role models for the two girls in the class, but also as a good role models for the boys since I believe having boys understand that girls and women have as legitimate a role to play in science as boys and men.

This was an excellent class and I applaud ABC Ottawa Take-off again for offering it and the myriad other fascinating classes.  High value-for-money in all the courses Lena has taken so far.


  1. Don't blame you one bit for being squeamish...that would have been a tough one for me, too! Kudos to the young women leading the class - good role models, indeed!

    1. Yes - suddenly in my 40s I'm squeamish. afraid of heights and claustrophobic when they were never problems before. The course leaders were absolutely great. I learned they are also involved in the Canadian Association for Girls in Science (CAGIS) which is also a great resource for parents of girls.

  2. I would have had a hard time sitting through that too. But it sounds like a great experience for the kids AND the parents!

    1. Amazing what is available to kids these days. I couldn't imagine doing anything like this when I was 11. As you say, fun to be along for the ride. And, on an unrelated matter, as we bunker down for winter here, Karen, I am having Southern California dreams...