Jamie’s Dream School – animal madness?

29 March 2011

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Category: Schools education

students–school–teacher–lecture.jpgIn his science lessons for Jamie’s Dream School on Channel 4, Lord Winston showed the dramatic (in more ways than one!) impact that using animals can have in science lessons. His lessons included mouse, rat and pig dissection and finally mock human surgery.

In his first lesson, Winston carefully explained that they were working towards an end goal: learning surgical techniques that are used on patients every day. There are plenty of online videos, models, even iPad apps to show the dissection of a rat but nothing with match up to the visceral, educational experience of dissecting one yourself. Lord Winston helped them identify the organs, which they continued to do as they moved up to the pig dissection – cementing the idea that we can learn about ourselves by using animals.

Students clamoured to hold the heart and were fascinated as Winston explained how it pumped blood around the body. Many of the comments online criticise the use of these animals for education but you could argue that the value the students will get will live on way beyond the sausages they eat for their dinner.

Try going beyond the programme broadcast on a Thursday showing the high drama, tension and tantrums. On the Dream School YouTube channel, C4 have posted all of the lessons in full. The initial recoil of a few of the students is overwhelmed by the majority who instantly set to the task. The rest of the lessons, including a dead mouse decapitation to collect brain cells for stem cell work wasn’t broadcast, I guess because students aren’t being confrontational.

However, these clips also present one instant that I would have liked to see done differently. Winston is asked by one of the pupils 'how did these rats die?' He replies: 'Of natural causes' with a Winstonian grin to camera. Winston was not facing any hostility from the class and it would have been the perfect opportunity for an open discussion or, at least, an honest answer about the fact the rats had been bred specifically for purpose.

That said, Lord Winston was brave enough, especially for a broadcast show, to use animals in so many different, engaging ways. The show also shows that science can be, just like art and music, a practical hands-on subject that can capture the unruliest, most disinterested students.