Vision Science PhD Students Teach At Local Schools

BASIS-Lesson

Berkeley Vision Science PhD students are bringing their enthusiasm for science to Bay Area elementary schools. For the last seven years vision science students have been visiting schools in Berkeley, Oakland, Albany and Emeryville to inspire young students to envision themselves as scientists. Their one hour lesson -- called "Eye See It!" -- was created from scratch by VS students, and is designed to make the science behind vision "fun and not boring," says Avi Aizenman, a PhD student working with Berkeley's Levi Lab on perception and visual cognition when she is not corralling first graders.

The lessons are taught through BASIS (Bay Area Scientists in Schools), a program that provides free, in-class science lessons taught by scientists and engineers who volunteer their time to engage students in hands-on, inquiry based learning experiences, and to help teachers discover ways to make science interactive and fun.

The focus of the "Eye See It!" lesson is on the senses and why vision is important. "We hope the kids have one big takeaway from our lesson: that healthy eyes and vision help us function well in the real world," says Kelly Byrne, a PhD candidate from the Silver Lab working in the area of visual neuroscience. To get there, the lesson is grouped into three sections:

1) Eye Matching, where the kids match animals to their eyes and come to understand that animals' eyes look very different from each other based on their function. For example, they learn that some eyes have evolved to support predators, while others support prey.

2) Basics of Anatomy, where the focus is on lenses and how they're used to focus light. The 1st graders get a chance look through a variety of lenses.

3) Eye Patching. In this section the kids are asked "What are our eyes useful for? What would be hard to do if you couldn't see?" To illustrate the point, the kids reach into a bag full of stuffed animals and are asked to pick out a lion, which according to Aizenman "is really hard to do. So hard that some of them try to cheat!" In the end they learn that sometimes touch isn't enough.

Both the 1st graders and the vision science students seem to get a lot out of the experience. "They are so excited," says Aizenman, "and they really understand the lesson and give the best answers to our questions. Once we asked them to name an important sense, and one kid said, 'Cheese tastes good when I eat it,' which was a perfect answer because taste is an important sense!"

For the PhD students it's a chance to share their enthusiasm for science with a younger generation of would-be scientists. "I had an amazing science teacher in middle school," says Aizenman, "with her guidance I went to the California State Science Fair and it was such a cool experience. I was so incredibly lucky to have solid science teachers, so providing that experience to these kids is me paying it forward"

It's also an opportunity to see how impactful just a few hours working with children can be. Byrne found that "working day-to-day in the lab, it's not always easy to see the immediate impact of your work. Some data may never see the light of day, but teaching these lessons is a concrete and immediate 'wow, we're making a difference.'"

Learn More

Interested in taking part in BASIS? Visit their website at:

Bay Area Scientists in Schools

Or contact Avi or Kelly directly to learn more at:

Avi Aizenman
Kelly Byrne

The following vision science students are also taking part in BASIS.

Billie Beckwith-Cohen
Stephanie Wan
Albert Chin
Dylan Paiton
Vasha Dutell
Teresa Canas Bajo
Natalie Stepien
Liz Lawler