How Dissecting Worms In Ms. Farah's Class Is More Than a Lesson In Biology
It's an Opportunity for Students To Build Social-Emotional Skills Too
By Farah Mithani, M.Ed.
Recently, Ms. Farah, a Learning Specialist in her second year at The Joy School, chose to dissect worms with her fourth and fifth grade students. Not only is biology a passion of Ms. Farah’s being a biology major herself, but Ms. Farah also loves this unit because she loves seeing how capable students can be by challenging them and how this unit has many benefits for students beyond learning about biology. She finds it’s a great application of the Keys to Success and is a wonderful exercise in helping students develop social-emotional skills like positive mindset, following expectations, self-advocacy and helps prepare them for science in middle school, high school and even in college too.
Read through the Q&A below to learn more about this unit and the skills students worked on in it.
1. What were students working on before this unit?
In the unit before dissecting, students learned about ecosystems and how animals benefit from each other by recognizing food chains. Earthworms benefit our gardens by turning the soil which brings rich soil to the surface. Dissecting earthworms is a great step to being prepared for middle school pig dissections and learning more about our internal organs. Students have learned that you can only dissect a human cadaver in medical school, so we learn about other animals to get a better understanding of our bodies.
2. What academic and social-emotional skills did students use in this unit?
Before our dissecting unit, students have had to prove their readiness by showing serious attitudes in Science and by following expectations. Throughout the year, we incorporated mindfulness in our daily schedule to prepare students to remain calm and focused for something like this that takes a lot of patience and a positive mindset, all social-emotional skills students are working on. Earthworms are very small, so they can be frustrating and difficult to dissect. At the beginning of the unit, students got frustrated at first but learned not to react, instead self-advocate which we have been learning all year round.
Students also had to learn about lab safety for a week and had to demonstrate proper protocol before starting. This includes proper COVID-19 safety as well, proper shoes, rolling up sleeves, tying up hair, what to do in case of an emergency and how a lab shower and eye wash station works in case it is needed.
Students watched a 20-minute dissection video about five times and watched me dissect a few times before they got to dissect. During dissections, students have learned why and how to use the dissection tools that will also be used in middle school, high school and college level classes. The tools used are scalpels, forceps, pins, dissecting trays/pads, gloves, face-shields/goggles, scissors and probes).
Clean-up is just as important as set-up and helped students focus on their own workspaces.
3. What will students work on after completing the dissection unit?
After completing dissections, students will take a practice Lab Practical. I remember taking many lab practicals at University, so I try to set it up in a similar fashion for them. It is important for the students to not only know their own earthworm but all classmates as well to prepare for the practical.
Students will also get to see me dissect some aquatic creatures afterwards such as a fish, crayfish, a clam and a frog. Middle school students at The Joy School dissect a pig in their first unit, so dissecting at the end of the year is a great time to be prepared for what's coming up next year! Students will end the unit by giving a short presentation of what they learned and helpful tips for students next year.
While students learned a lot about science and biology in the dissecting unit, students also had the opportunity to practice important social-emotional skills that they have been working on throughout the year with Ms. Farah, skills that will benefit them during their time at The Joy School and beyond.
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About the Author
Farah Mithani received her M.A. in Special Education: Emotional and Behavioral Disabilities, LD and ID from George Washington University and her double major, B.A. in English and B.S. in Biology (and pre-med) from Houston Baptist University. Farah has taught in Maryland, Washington D.C., Atlanta, and now is thrilled to be teaching at The Joy School. As a teacher, she uses art to develop an “out-of-the-box” thinking mindset for STEM subjects.
Farah developed her passion for art in elementary school and further developed her skills in high school and university. She is an experimental artist that infuses her passion of science with her passion for art.