Perspective Through a New Lens: Fifth Graders Dissect Cow Eyes
Savannah Hair and Lisa Duque, Fifth Grade East Teachers
Fifth graders visited the Exploratorium to dissect cow eyes, learning about the anatomy and mechanics that enable vision, while exploring their broader throughline: How does exploring multiple perspectives help me understand and shape my world?
How does vision work?
How does vision and perception connect us to the rest of the world and can we trust our own eyes?
How can we value the benefits of dissection and other scientific exploration while acknowledging the historical inequities in scientific research?
In the fifth grade light and eyes unit, fifth grade scientists studied the parts and functions of the human eye. Fifth graders learned how the eye works by taking a close look inside it. The class had the special privilege of visiting the Exploratorium to carry out their own cow eye dissections. Some students were queasy at the thought of dissecting a cow's eye, while others were filled with excitement and ready to dissect!
In preparation for the cow eye dissection, students learned about peripheral vision, color, and perception. Explorations into peripheral vision led students to question whether seeing truly is believing. Fifth graders created individualized pinhole cameras to better understand the mechanics of image captures. All of this work underscores our overall fifth grade throughline: How does exploring multiple perspectives help me understand and shape my world? The real life application of the mechanics of sight and perspective is a concrete way of talking about this notion of multiple perspectives.
Toward the end of the unit, on a cold and sunny winter day in San Francisco, both fifth grade classes ventured to the Embarcadero for our field trip to the Exploratorium. While one class was participating in the dissection, the other class was exploring the Seeing & Reflections Gallery to experiment with light, mirrors, and color. Students were guided by seasoned Exploratorium staff, and our very own Mario Martinez-Muñoz, throughout their dissection. Shears in hand, they began by cutting the cow eye in half and identifying different parts of the eye. They compared the vitreous humor, a mixture of protein and water at the back of the eye, to jelly. While holding the lens in their hands, they compared it to a clear marble that is both squishy and firm. The excitement was palpable as students shared their observations. By the end of the activity, even the most hesitant of scientists were all in! Following the dissection and to culminate the unit of study, the fifth graders learned about the immortal Henrietta Lacks and discussed the ways they could cultivate a community of ethical scientists. They also wrote letters of gratitude to the cows.
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