The newest tool in the science curriculum in the South Huntington School District gives students a deep and detailed look into the workings of the human body.
It’s called an "Anatomage Table" — an advanced virtual dissection technology that can provide an interactive 3D display of a human cadaver. Students can manipulate an image of a real body, enlarge or rotate sections, bisect and remove parts and put them back together again. On a recent school day, Walt Whitman High School students examined the inner workings of a skeletal arm.
"It’s really hands-on," said Joseph Gervasio, 17, a senior who wants to study exercise science in college. "You can examine every part of the body and it’s cool to look really close at something 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, at a cost of $60,000 each — three for Walt Whitman High School and one that’s at Stimson Middle School. The district is believed to be among the first public schools, and likely home to the only middle school on Long Island, to have the devices, officials there said. St. Anthony’s High School has had one since 2017.
"I initially saw this several years ago with some of my colleagues at a National School Board conference ... and we were just blown away by the ability of the tables and we thought that the tables just provide an incredible opportunity for our students to be engaged in learning," said Nicholas Ciappetta, Board of Education president.
Suffolk County Community College has had one table in use 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 to be medical professionals — mostly future physical therapists or physical therapy assistants, Smith said.
The technology allows students to visualize skeletal tissues, muscles, organs and soft tissue, and they can customize the interaction by virtually slicing, layering and segmenting the anatomy. The selections can be rotated or flipped, and organs can be virtually removed, Smith said.
SCCC used to use human cadavers, but working with an actual cadaver required many chemicals and a facility to house them, Smith said. There is a great deal of regulation from the state Department of Health in working with cadavers as well as 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 a lot of 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 will 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 circulatory system looks like if exposed to high blood pressure."
The table is used by students in anatomy labs who are studying kinesiology and the physiology of human movement.
"There are pros and cons," Smith said of using the table. "I come from the old-school cadaver lab and I still love that, but adding the virtual dissection has a lot of advantages." For example, cuts can easily be reversed, unlike when using a phsyical specimen.
With a cadaver, "if a student makes a mistake there is no unringing that bell," he said.
With the Anatomage Table, the user hits a button and everything falls back into place.
Technology versus chalk
At Walt Whitman, the tables are used by the elective Science Classes Anatomy, Marine Biology, Living Environment and Forensics classes and mostly for lab work. Being high school students, their introduction to the inner workings of the human body mostly came from pages in a book or a computer screen, school officials said. The tables give so much more of a detailed view, such as the 3D image of a beating heart.
The tables are in the high school’s newly renovated student forum, which will be unveiled in a ribbon-cutting Wednesday. The tables also provide the opportunity to dissect both marine and land animals. Students may still have the opportunity to physically dissect animal specimens if they choose, school leaders said.
"For a lot of students, they may not be comfortable working on an animal, and this gives such a level of detail it is not 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, approved by New York voters in 2014. The legislation authorizes funding to finance improved educational technology.
Tina Abbondandelo teaches living environment biology and anatomy and physiology and uses the tables for labs.
"We love them, but it is a learning curve for us," she said. "The students are very good and comfortable with the technology. I have been teaching for 29 years and I started with a piece of chalk."