How do we see? Learn about the science of seeing with these hands-on lessons and projects! Teach your early elementary child (K-4) about eyes and vision.
Eyes and Vision Science Projects
Are Two Eyes Better Than One?
Have you ever wondered why we have two eyes? In this project you will try using just one eye, and then see if two eyes are better than one. Ask a friend or family member to be your partner so they can learn about sight with you.
What You Need:
- A small cup or glass
- 5 pennies
- A friend to help you
- Paper and a pen or pencil
What You Do:
- Hold one penny in each hand, using your index finger and thumb. Stick your arms straight out in front of you, with your thumbs pointing towards each other.
- Close one eye. Slowly bring your hands together, and try to make the pennies touch edges with each other. Let your friend try it too, and see if the same thing happens.
- Try it again with the eye that was closed open and the other eye closed. You and your partner can both try several times, if you like.
- Try to make the coins’ edges touch with both of your eyes open. Does the same thing happen when your friend does it? You can also try using two pencils instead of pennies, and try to make the erasers touch while having one eye closed.
- For the next part of the experiment you and your partner need to be sitting at a table across from each other. Put the cup about two feet away from your partner.
- Hold a penny with your index finger and thumb, and move it back and forth above the cup. Your hand should be about 18 inches (more than one foot) above the top of the cup.
- Tell your partner that you will keep moving your hand slowly back and forth, until they say stop, then you will drop the penny. Your partner’s goal is for your hand to stop directly above the cup so the penny drops right in. Try it five times with your partner closing one eye. Try it again with your partner having both eyes open.
- Switch places with your partner, so you can have a turn trying to get the pennies in the cup. Be sure to keep one eye closed for the first five tries, then use both of your eyes for five more tries.
It was much harder to tell where the pennies were with one eye closed, wasn’t it? We see differently with one eye than we do with two. Having both of our eyes open helps us see where things really are. Having both eyes open made it easier for your friend to judge when the penny was above the cup. We are used to having both eyes open, and so when we close one eye our brain is getting a different kind of picture of what things look like and gets confused. How many times was your partner able to get the penny into the cup with one eye closed? How many times did you do it? How many times did you and your partner get the penny in the cup with both eyes opened? Being able to tell where things really are is called depth perception. Depth means how deep something is, or where it is located. Perception means what you see. Sometimes what you see with your eyes, or your perception, can be different from what is really there!
Let’s Look Closer
You know that your eyes are what you see with. But how do they work, and what are the different parts of your eye? Take a closer look at your eyes with this science project.
What You Need:
- Mirror (preferably handheld, but any mirror will work)
- Magnifying glass
- Colored pencils or crayons
- Pen or pencil to write with
- Eye Color Worksheet
What You Do:
- Look in the mirror at your eyes. What color are they? What different parts of the eye can you see? Your eyeball is white with a colored iris and dark pupil in the center. Use the colored pencils and the worksheet to fill in your eye color.
- Blink your eyes a few times in the mirror and notice your eyelid, eyelashes, and eyebrows. Put the mirror down.
- Notice the way your eyes can move. Can you look around the room without moving your head?
- Pick up the magnifying glass. Choose something to examine up close, such as a book, a shell, rock, plant, or even your own hand. Move the magnifying glass back and forth until you can see close-up details. Tilt the magnifying glass slowly side to side and see what happens.
- If you like, finish filling out the worksheet by getting eye information from other people.
Your eye has many parts. Some of them are on the outside, and so you can see them, and some of them are inside your eye where you cannot see them. Eye color (blue, brown, green) happens because of our iris. The magnifying glass you used helped you see close up. Our eyes sometimes need help – glasses or a magnifying glass can help us see better.
Eyes and Vision Science Lesson
How We See
Our eyes are able to tell the difference between light and dark. After picking out where the light is, our eyes send a picture to our brain, which is how we see. Have you ever looked closely at something and noticed that what you are looking at gets clearer, or more in focus? The part of our eye that focuses on something is called a lens. Eyeglasses have lenses, and a magnifying glass is a large lens. The lens of our eye is right behind the pupil (dark center) and iris (colored part of your eye). The iris controls the size of your pupil, and the pupil is the part of the eye that lets light in. The lens focuses the light, where it reaches the back of the eye, called the retina. The retina is the “camera” of the eye – it takes all the information being taken in by your eyes, and makes it into a picture. The retina is connected to your optic nerve, which connects your eyes to your brain. From the retina, information travels very quickly to your brain, which processes it, so that you see.
We don’t have to think about seeing – we just see. As soon as our eyes pick up light, they send that information along the optic nerve, where it is received by the brain, and creates a picture for you to see. Imagine you and your friend are trying to draw a picture. You are blindfolded, so only your friend can see. But your friend can’t move his or her hands. What would you do? If your friend told you where to move the pencil, you would be able to draw! The way we see is similar. The eyes are getting all of the information – like your friend who can see the pencil and paper while you can’t. But our eyes can’t do anything with this information, so they send it on to the brain. The way our eyes and brain communicate in order to see is sort of like how your friend told you where to move the pencil, only it happens very quickly – so quickly we don’t even notice it!
How are human eyes different from animal eyes? Well, some animals have eyes that work very similarly to ours. Dogs take in light with their pupil and iris the same way we do, but their retina is different than ours. Dogs can see fewer colors than we can. Insects have very special eyes called compound eyes. Insect eyes are made up of lots of tiny lenses rather than one large lens. This lets them see in many directions at once! Another animal that has unique vision is the owl. Owls cannot move their eyes up and down and side to side like we can. Instead, their necks are very flexible, and they can rotate their heads almost in a full circle! Animals have eyes of many different sizes. The ostrich has very large eyes – in fact, their eyes are bigger than their brains!
Our eyes are very important! To protect our vision there are a few things we should always do. When you are out in the sun, you protect your skin by wearing sunscreen. The way to protect your eyes from the sun is by wearing sunglasses. Even with sunglasses, you should never look directly at the sun! The sun is so bright that it can hurt our eyes when we look right at it. Sharp objects can also hurt or damage our eyes. When you carry sharp objects such as scissors, keep them closed by holding the point in the palm of your hand, and walk – do not run. The other important thing that you can do to protect your eyes is to wear the right equipment when you play sports. If you are skiing, wear ski goggles and a helmet. Wearing a bike helmet also protects your head, and keeps your eyes safe. If you play baseball, it’s a good idea to wear protective glasses. Because our eyes are so important, we need to work hard at keeping them safe.