edible dissection

Aprons and goggles are a requirement for any science lab, even edible ones.

“Ewwww, disgusting!”

That’s what seventh-grade science teacher Billie Thon-Lanigan heard last year when students dissected raw, bleached chicken wings to reinforce their study of skeletal and muscular systems.

“It was interesting for students to see how muscles attach to bone and how the joints work,” Thon-Lanigan said. “But it’s kind of gross and messy and then the wings get tossed into the trash.”

Desiring more student enthusiasm and less waste, this middle school science teacher decided to try something new: edible chicken wing dissection. She sent an email to parents, requesting volunteers to prepare the 220 required specimens. Not only did she expect the kids would be more willing to dissect cooked chicken wings, but she also was fairly certain most students would appreciate the idea of eating the project once the dissection was complete.

She was right, of course.

On the day of the lab, students scurried excitedly into the room. After listening to their teacher provide an overview, they quickly donned aprons and goggles and lined up to collect their specimens and choice of sauce. Some sniffed their plates as they made their way back to their lab tables. Others licked their lips.

Even vegetarians were taken into consideration. They were not required to handle the chicken, but asked instead to observe as a partner located the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. Their lab snacks were celery sticks and carrots.

Students waited, knives and forks poised over their chicken, as Thon-Lanigan instructed them to gently cut away the skin to observe the muscle and fatty tissues. They recorded observations on worksheets.

Edible Dissection

Don’t mind the hot sauce!

During the experiment, Thon-Lanigan moved from table to table in between short explanations. “Eat a little chicken to get it out of the way because now you are looking for tendons and bones,” she said.

It was the moment the kids had been waiting for. Around the room specimens were stuffed into hungry mouths. In several cases, clean bones came out.

“Can we have more than one?” a student asked, waving his neatly cleaned wing. “I never found the ligaments.”

“That’s because you ate them all,” his table-mate chided and laughter filled the room.

“I can’t find the tendon,” another student commented, her face peering closely at her partially-eaten piece.

Thon-Lanigan responded with a teaching moment, “Tendons attach muscles to bones,” she reminded them.

When I asked students what they thought about the experiment, their responses were positive.

“The human arm and the chicken wing are similar,” said Lyle. “And this is interesting because you get to eat the experiment.”

“I’ve eaten a lot of chicken, but never thought about it in terms of tendons, ligaments, and joints,” observed Ezekial.

In the end, the edible dissection was a success. “It’s a little more challenging to identify the ligaments and tendons when the chicken is cooked,” Thon-Lanigan explained. “But I like the idea of the wings going to better use.”

Surnay explains ligaments

Click the image to hear Hser Nay explain what his dissection revealed.

The students were in complete agreement.

“I find it fascinating,”Hser Nay observed, admitting that he wanted to become a doctor one day. “I’m going to keep this in my head.”



Want to see how the raw dissection is performed? Check out this three-minute video from Texas A&M.

Author Sheila Callaham loves science! In her young adult series, The Wells Worthy Adventure Series, Sheila uses fiction as a platform to delve into quantum mechanics and the mystery of space and time. It goes without saying that 16-year-old Wells Worthy experiences the adventure of a lifetime, while readers explore science, history, culture, geography, and ethics. Watch this five minute video to learn more about how Sheila uses fiction as a teaching tool in this young adult trilogy.

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