Bay Area Scientists Inspiring Students

Article by Josephine D’Angelo, 3rd-Year PhD Student

Teaching 1st grade kids about vision has been an exciting and gratifying experience. For over 10 years, the Berkeley Vision Science group has been involved with Bay Area Scientists Inspiring Students (BASIS) where we visit K-3 classrooms in Richmond, Oakland, Berkeley, Albany, and Emeryville. As the current BASIS leaders, Etchi, Lawrence, and I organize 2–3 classroom visits each semester.

In each 1-hour lesson, we first introduce ourselves and share a simplified explanation of what kind of research we do. For example:

“I study what happens when the eye doesn’t develop correctly.”
Etchi Ako, 2nd-year PhD student
“I try to fix vision loss by researching how to preserve parts of the eye.”
Lawrence Man, 2nd-year PhD student
“I shine light into the eyes to take images of the back of the eye.”
Josephine D’Angelo, 3rd-year PhD student

Next, we break the classroom up into 3 groups, each of which starts with a different “station”: Eye Anatomy, Eye Matching, or Eye Patching. Students rotate between stations every 10 minutes.

During my first in-person lesson, I was in charge of the Eye Anatomy station. As I brought out our massive human eye demonstration model, I noticed the students looking around with curiosity and whispering among themselves. Finally, one shouted, “It’s a brain!,” and they all screamed. I quickly clarified that it was not a brain—rather, it was a prop eye! As I walked the class through the layers of eye anatomy and described the functional importance of each part, it was immensely rewarding to see the “lightbulb” moments as each student started to understand.

In the Eye Matching station, students are given photos of different animals as well as photos of just the animals’ eyes. Their task is to match the pictures of the eyes to the correct animal. This gives them the opportunity to think about the structural differences between the eyes and how each might be advantageous for the animals' environment and lifestyle.

In the Eye Patching station, the students are given blindfolds. Their task is to reach into a bag, pull out a stuffed animal, and identify the animal without seeing it. This lesson teaches them the value of vision and how difficult simple tasks can become when you patch. In the words of Etchi Ako, “I love teaching the Eye Patching section because it gets students so excited! They get competitive and always come up with amazing answers.”

When I joined BASIS in 2022, lessons were presented via Zoom due to the COVID pandemic, and we kept students engaged with animated voices and many hand gestures. These techniques remained instrumental in the classroom when we returned to in-person teaching. Over the past 2 years, I’ve found that each classroom experience is unique, and I’ve learned to adapt new ways of teaching based on what is most helpful for the students at any given time.

These teaching experiences are mutually beneficial and enriching for both young students and graduate students like myself. My mentees ask many questions—especially about the visual systems of various animals and insects—that help them learn, and I find it fulfilling to help students understand new concepts through creative means. In the words of my teammate Lawrence Man, “I'm glad I get to have fun with young students and foster their sense of wonder and curiosity for vision. Witnessing the passion and excitement in students is an encouraging and refreshing sight to see.”

About the Photo

Top Row: Daniel Frozenfar (2nd year PhD), Sunwoo Kwon (former VS postdoc), Dylan Fox (former research scientist), Josephine D’Angelo (3rd year PhD), Etchi Ako (2nd year PhD). Bottom Row: Raul Rodriguez (former VS postdoc), Lawrence Man (2nd year PhD), Iona McLean (5th year PhD)