Students Learn to Virtually Dissect Humans at South Florida High School

We all had to dissect small animals, like frogs or fish, in high school. Human beings were definitely not on the table. So what’s going on at Saint Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale?

“Make a cut, choose a side you want to get rid of, and you can rotate it,” the teacher is telling a group of gasping sophomores gathered around a table.

The kids are peering inside an actual human body, with no blood, no nauseating formaldehyde smell, just clear 3D images on a life-size computer screen.

“If you look at just a picture in a textbook it doesn’t mean that much to you but you come up here and you can actually see it, the relatedness of the different organ structures, it’s huge,” said science teacher Beth McTighe.

The teachers and students are using a remarkable piece of equipment called the Anatomage table.

With a swipe or a touch of the computer screen, the system will magnify, isolate and label every muscle, every organ, every part of every organ. There are images of four actual human bodies loaded into the machine, people who donated their bodies to science.

It’s almost like studying anatomy in medical school but with virtual cadavers. It’s a little freaky, to be honest, for anyone – let alone high school kids.

“Yeah, well, we try to be mature about it but obviously it’s like, wow, this guy died and now he’s on the table, you know it’s like, wow,” said sophomore Camerin Rogers.

“I personally don’t think it’s gross, I think it’s like, the human body so I think it’s really interesting,” said Amy Hernandez, who said it’s the ultimate hands-on learning tool.

So let’s say the teacher wants to compare human physiology to another mammal or another animal in general. With a touch of a button, the image switches from a human to a dog, or a cat, or a turtle, or many other choices.

“I think the best part is how the kids get when they’re able to do this and how much more they learn,” McTigh said.

By seeing actual human bodies on the screens, another profound lesson hits with visceral clarity: the differences between us are only skin deep.

“It’s the great equalizer, and that we are all the same, maybe a little taller, a little shorter, whatnot, but we’re all the same,” McTigh explained, saying theology and sociology classes also use the machine.

So it’s more than a biology tool, it makes kids think.

It’s also expensive, as you would imagine. One Anatomage unit costs roughly $100,000. An anonymous donor gave one to St. Thomas Aquinas High, which is only the second high school in Florida to have one, the other is in Jacksonville.

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