No knives, no cadavers. Schools buy $60,000 virtual dissection tables.

tThe newest tool in the science curriculum at the South Huntington School District gives students a deep and detailed understanding of how the human body works.

It’s called an “anatomy table” – an advanced virtual dissection technology that can provide an interactive 3D view of a human cadaver. Students can manipulate an image of a real body, enlarge or rotate parts, bisect and remove parts and reassemble. On a recent school day, Walt Whitman High School students explored the inner workings of a skeletal arm.

“It’s really practical,” said Joseph Gervasio, 17, a senior who wants to study exercise science in college. “You can examine any part of the body and it’s cool to look at something really close and then zoom out and see how that…plays into the rest of the body and how everything comes together.”

The district has purchased four tables, each for $60.00 – three for Walt Whitman High School and one for Stimson Middle School. The district is considered one of the first public schools, and likely home to the only high school on Long Island to have the devices, officials there said. St. Anthony’s High School has had one since 2017.

“I first saw this several years ago with some of my colleagues at a National School Board conference… on learning,” said Nicholas Ciappetta, chairman of the Board of Education.

Suffolk County Community College has had one table up and running since 2015, said Peter Smith, a biology professor at the Ammerman campus in Selden. Officials said the community college was the first in the state to teach with one. Hofstra University in Hempstead has the same machine in its School of Health Professions and Human Services.

At SCCC, the table serves students studying as medical professionals — usually prospective physical therapists or physical therapists, Smith said.

The technology allows students to visualize skeletal tissue, muscles, organs and soft tissue, and they can customize the interaction by virtually cutting, layering and segmenting the anatomy. The selections can be flipped or reversed, and organs can be virtually removed, Smith said.

SCCC used to use human cadavers, but working with a real cadaver required a lot of chemicals and a facility to house them, Smith said. There is a lot of regulation from the Ministry of Health when working with cadavers and recurring costs, he said. In addition, the cadavers can only be used once. The table, about the size of a hospital bed with a touchscreen surface, uses images from digitally scanned specimens.

“In many ways it has made my curriculum better and I have certainly benefited from it,” Smith said. “You can see interesting things, like bullet holes going into the skull, and what you’re going to see is an X-ray of a skull and see the fragments. You can see what a total hip replacement looks like. You can see what the circulation looks like on exposure high blood pressure.”

The table is used by students in anatomical labs studying kinesiology and the physiology of human movement.

“There are pros and cons,” Smith said of using the table. “I’m from the old-fashioned cadaver lab and I still love that, but adding the virtual dissection has a lot of benefits.” For example, cuts can be easily rolled back, unlike using a physical one.

With a cadaver: “If a student makes a mistake, the bell cannot be unlocked,” he said.

With the Anatomage Table, the user presses a button and everything falls back into place.

Technology vs Chalk

At Walt Whitman, the tables are used in the elective courses Anatomy, Marine Biology, Human Environment and Forensics and especially for lab work. Since they were high school students, their introduction to the inner workings of the human body usually came from pages in a book or a computer screen, school officials said. The tables give so much more of a detailed picture, like the 3D image of a beating heart.

The tables are located in the newly renovated high school student forum, which will be unveiled on a ribbon cutting ceremony Wednesday. The tables also provide the ability to dissect both marine and terrestrial animals. Students may still have the option of physically dissecting animal specimens if they wish, school principals said.

“For many students, they may not feel comfortable working on an animal, and this gives such a level of detail that it isn’t necessary,” Ciappetta said.

Funding for the tables came from the district’s general operating budget and money received from the state’s Smart Schools Bond Act, passed by New York voters in 2014. The legislation authorizes funding to fund improved educational technology.

Tina Abbondandelo teaches environmental biology and anatomy and physiology and uses the tables for labs.

“We love them, but it’s a learning curve for us,” she said. “The students are very good and familiar with the technique. I have been teaching for 29 years and started with a piece of chalk.”

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