“Does everyone have their eyeball?” rings out above gasps and squeamish sounds.

The students in Mrs. Smith’s fifth-grade class at Lincoln prepare to dissect a sheep’s eye as part of their ongoing studies of science with Dr. Jim Kerns, a 20-year volunteer expert with the Oak Park Education Foundation’s Science Alliance.

Using an iPad to project a live example of the dissection procedure, Ms. Smith and Dr. Kerns support students as they explore the eye’s parts and functions. Students ask, “Are you more excited or more grossed out?” to each other as they become immersed in the task.

Soon, students’ work becomes the model for the iPad projection as they show each other pupils, “blind spots,” and optic nerves they have uncovered with careful cuts.

This one dissection project shows how OPEF programs open students’ vision – quite literally – to different areas of study and ways of learning. When Eileen Molony, Lincoln parent and professional photographer who volunteers for OPEF, explained how her camera operates like the eyes the students are exploring, students make further vivid connections. As one student is praised for his diligent dissection, he’s told by Dr. Kerns that he really could continue to develop his skill and become a surgeon. He replies with a beaming smile and wide eyes: “Maybe!”

This dissection project is one of an ongoing series of Science Alliance visits from Dr. Kerns. Mrs. Smith’s students have also conducted an “In Your Face” workshop where they studied emotions and the concept of personal space. Not only were the students conducting experiments, testing hypotheses, measuring results and analyzing data, they also learned more about themselves and their classmates. Most recently, the students went on a field trip to Rush Hospital to learn some of the warning signs of stroke and see human brains, identifying the various parts.

See a slideshow of the students hard at work on the dissection, and experimenting with personal space. Thanks to volunteer photographer Eileen Molony for these great shots!