NSTA supports the decision of science teachers and their school or school district to integrate live animals and dissection in the K–12 classroom. Student interaction with organisms is one of the most effective methods of achieving many of the goals outlined in the National Science Education Standards (NSES). To this end, NSTA encourages educators and school officials to make informed decisions about the integration of animals in the science curriculum. NSTA opposes regulations or legislation that would eliminate an educator's decision-making role regarding dissection or would deny students the opportunity to learn through actual animal dissection.
NSTA encourages districts to ensure that animals are properly cared for and treated humanely, responsibly, and ethically. Ultimately, decisions to incorporate organisms in the classroom should balance the ethical and responsible care of animals with their educational value.
While this position statement is primarily focused on vertebrate animals, NSTA recognizes the importance of following similar ethical practices for all living organisms.
NSTA supports including live animals as part of instruction in the K-12 science classroom because observing and working with animals firsthand can spark students' interest in science as well as a general respect for life while reinforcing key concepts as outlined in the NSES.
NSTA recommends that teachers
NSTA supports each teacher's decision to use animal dissection activities that help students
It is essential that teachers establish specific and clear learning goals that enable them to appropriately plan and supervise the activities.
NSTA recognizes science educators as professionals. As such, they are in the best position to determine when to use—or not use—dissection activities. NSTA encourages teachers to be sensitive to students’ views regarding dissection, and to be aware of students’ beliefs and their right to make an informed decision about their participation. Teachers, especially those at the primary level, should be especially cognizant of students’ ages and maturity levels when deciding whether to use animal dissection. Should a teacher feel that an alternative to dissection would be a better option for a student or group of students, it is important that the teacher select a meaningful alternative. NSTA is aware of the continuing development and improvement of these alternatives.
Finally, NSTA calls for more research to determine the effectiveness of animal dissection activities and alternatives and the extent to which these activities should be integrated into the science curriculum.
Regarding the use of dissection activities in school classrooms, NSTA recommends that science teachers
—Adopted by the NSTA Board of Directors, June 2005
Revised: March 2008
National Research Council. (1996). National science education standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Cross, Tina R. 2004. Scalpel or mouse: A statistical comparison of real and virtual frog dissections. The American Biology Teacher, 66(6): 408-411.
Institute of Laboratory Animal Resources, Commission on Life Sciences, National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering. 1989. Principles and Guidelines for the Use of Animals in Precollege Education. dels.nas.edu/ilar/prin_guide.asp.
Kinzie, M. B., R. Strauss, and J. Foss. 1993. The effects of an interactive dissection simulation on the performance and achievement of high school students. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 30(8): 989-1000.
Kwan, T., and J. Texley. National Science Teachers Association. 2002. Exploring safely; A guide for elementary teachers. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.
Kwan, T., and J. Texley. National Science Teachers Association. 2003. Inquiring safely; A guide for middle school teachers. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.
Madrazo, G. 2002. The debate over dissection: Dissecting a classroom dilemma. The Science Educator (NSELA). EJ64162.
National Science Teachers Association. 2000. Safety and School Science Instruction, an NSTA Position Statement. www.nsta.org/nstas-official-positions/safety-and-school-science-instruction.
Texley, J., T. Kwan, and J. Summers. National Science Teachers Association. 2004. Investigating safely; A guide for high school teachers. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.