The fourth-grade science curriculum at The Episcopal School of Dallas is filled with hands-on experiments, testing hypothesis, and even dissecting a cow’s eye. Throughout the year, students study the human body including the eyes to gain a better sense of how these vital organs work. To culminate the unit, an ophthalmologist comes to speak with the students about their career, how they can care for their own eyes, and show classes a video of a cataract surgery. After the lecture, students headed back to the classroom to dissect their own cow eye.
“Leading up to the dissection students study the inside and outside parts of the eye, including different diseases and medical conditions, how vision works, and what the different parts of the eye are called,” fourth-grade teacher Brenda Wilder explained. “The students learn so much throughout the unit and enjoy applying their knowledge to a real eyeball. It’s quite impressive to see how much they absorb and can identify during the dissection.”
Before students can make the first incision, they must identify the outer parts of the eye to their teacher or group of parent volunteers. After cutting into the eye, they are responsible for knowing how to remove the cornea, iris, pupil, lens, and retina. From there, parent volunteers can help them locate the aqueous and vitreous humors, the optic nerve, and sometimes the cow’s blind spot.
“It was cool seeing all the parts of the eye because we had spent so much time studying it on paper. I liked seeing the vitreous humor the best because it looked like Jell-O!” Caroline Ragan, a fourth-grade student in Brenda Wilder’s class, said. “At first I was nervous that I would mess up, but now I'm happy that I did it. It is a very fun dissection, and everyone should try it. Even if you're scared, you will like it."
Several of Caroline’s classmates agreed that finding the vitreous humor was the most exciting part. For others, like Luke Feuer, finding the optic nerve was the step he enjoyed the most.
“I thought the optic nerve was neat because you could feel the bump inside in the retina, which causes the blind spot,” he explained. “I also like the cornea because it was like a protective sheet covering the eye.”
Another exciting part of the curriculum includes a visit from a guest from the Southeastern Guide Dogs, a non-profit organization that trains dogs to assist the visually impaired. During the presentation, students are taught about the different levels of visual impairment and how the dogs can help blind people find a new sense of independence.
“I was very impressed with the students’ patience, respect, and preciseness during the dissection and while studying the entire unit,” fourth-grade teacher Allison Darnell said. “The lesson was a wonderful way to conclude our study of the eye.”
Click here to see more photos from the dissection.