Science class gets unique opportunity
On Wednesday, Feb. 15, the Manchester High School Forensic Science class, taught by Brad Gerbe, had the opportunity to partake in a virtual autopsy with live commentary and questions, via video conference, from certified pathologist, Dr. Steven Smith of Ohio State University.
“I teach five science classes at the high school,” Gerbe explained. “This is our first year teaching Forensic Science and I believe that the class has been a positive elective choice for the students. Whenever possible, I believe it is important to make science real for the students.
“So, this summer when I started thinking about Forensic Science, I found myself asking, ‘how can I make this real?'”
He started searching to see if it was possible to visit a crime lab or a medical examiner’s office to view an autopsy, and by fate he came across COSI (Center for Science and Industry) in Columbus, Ohio, where there was a program titled “In Depth: Autopsy,” where students could view a real autopsy in a virtual experience.
“I figured this might be a winner, for a number of reasons,” Gerbe continued. “We didn’t have to travel anywhere, and it would be safer for the students. So, in the fall I floated the idea by my students and their response was overwhelming.”
The needed funding was generously provided by the grandfather of a student, Dennis Stone of Stone Enterprises, Inc., who offered to fund it for Gerbe’s Anatomy and Physiology students as well. (Gerbe also teaches Biology, Honors Chemistry, and Concepts of Chemistry).
“In Anatomy & Physiology we study all of the body systems plus the organs contained within,” Gerbe explains. “Therefore, it fit the curriculum for this course as well. I was thrilled.”
And so, on Feb. 15, 60 students, their teacher, and superintendent Cherie Vannatter participated in this virtual program from the MHS auditorium.
“I believe this was truly a unique opportunity for our students,” Gerbe said. “As far as I know, we are the only school in the area that has tried this.
“I was understandably nervous to try it,” he admitted. “Would we have tech issues; would students get sick or pass out? Would the activity be worth the investment? However, as the day progressed, that nervousness gave way to excitement. I was incredibly impressed with how the students handled the opportunity, and with the focus and attentiveness they demonstrated.”
The actual autopsy was carried out on screen in front of the students, as they first reviewed the specifics of the case. Three other schools were also participating in the virtual realm. The patient was a 63-year-old male with diabetic complications, which caused him to develop a sepsis infection. The external examination and internal examination of the organ and internal structures was then conducted.
“Students were presented with the opportunity to see these organs for themselves and recorded the condition and the measurements of each, in student guides provided by COSI,” Gerbe said. “Next, the organs were individually dissected and analyzed by the pathologist and determined to be normal or abnormal.”
Gerbe added that as the autopsy progressed, students made hypotheses about what the cause of death was and the program even presented information to students on career pathways (medical pathologist, neuropathology, toxicology, forensics, etc). As students witnessed the process of an autopsy, they were also able to ask questions of the pathologist. These questions were answered both live and using Twitter. This allowed students to explore their curiosities about the cause of death. Further, it allowed students to interact with a health science professional. The program ran about two hours start to finish.
Students raved about the unique opportunity. Amelia Herron said, “I loved the autopsy! I thought it was super interesting and honestly just a really cool experience. I’m glad I got the opportunity to do it. I thought it was one of the best and most interesting things I’ve ever done at school.”
Natalie Johnson said, “The only thing I could think of after watching the autopsy video is how incredibly lucky we were as a class to be able to see that at our age. Many have to wait until college to be able to view these things and we were able to do it our junior/senior year of High School. (The video) was overall great video quality and information. I hope that this is an activity that other students of upcoming classes have the opportunity to take part in.”
Nehemiah Ingram’s commented, “The autopsy was interesting. I enjoyed it a lot. My favorite part was when they removed the brain.”
Loretta Westcott also said, “I truly enjoyed the autopsy. I especially enjoyed that we got to see a real human brain. My least favorite part was the cutting of the skull with the power tool. I’m grateful for this experience because I doubt I’ll see one again.”
And Nick Tindall thought “… the autopsy was a really cool experience. One thing that I thought was really cool was how all of the organs came out all together. Another thing I liked was seeing inside a human body.”
Abbey Burch stated, “I really enjoyed this experience. I thought that it was not only informative, but also very fascinating to see. It really was an amazing thing to have been able to participate in.”
Gerbe greatly appreciates all those who helped make this event happen. “I’d like to thank our superintendent, Cherie Vannatter, and principal Kevin Mowrer, for allowing me to take this risk with students,” he said. “And, obviously, the donor, Stone Enterprises. There also was quite a bit of technology coordination involved and Nathan Betz here at the high school was vital.”