Eye contact took on new meaning last week when Hayden Valley Elementary School second-graders faced a tricky -- and sometimes nauseating -- science lesson.
Students in Barb Paulekas' and Melany Neton's classes dissected sheep eyeballs Friday, part of an effort to introduce students to science at an early age while supplementing their health curriculum.
Since the beginning of the school year, the second-graders have studied the five senses, with a particular emphasis on sight and sound.
Hayden High School science teacher Mari Mahanna led the dissection, which was attended by several parents. The dissection began when high school students assisting Mahanna placed sheep eyes in metal trays shared by small groups of students.
Studies show children, especially girls, need to be turned on to science early in life, Mahanna said.
"It's important. When they get into high school, I want them to like dissecting," Mahanna said. "And it's fun. It's the highlight of their health year."
The second-graders, equipped with safety glasses and Latex gloves, greeted the sheep eyeballs with mixed emotions.
"That's cool," said one student when an eyeball was placed before her.
"Gross," countered a nearby classmate.
"It looks better when it's in the sheep's head," Ashley Otto said.
For some, such as student Cortne Honts, the dissection couldn't start soon enough.
"We need an eyeball," Honts told Mahanna.
Holding a sheep eye in one hand and a scalpel in the other, Mahanna led the students and adult volunteers through the dissection, beginning with cornea removal.
As each dissection step was completed, Mahanna quizzed the students on the names of the parts of the eye. By the end of the lesson, students had studied the retina, iris, optic nerve, lens, sclera and vitreous body.
The learning experience wasn't lost on the young second-grade minds.
"I think it's fun because you get to learn what's in your own eye," Otto said.
"It's kind of fun because it's kind of like playing, only you have to be real careful, and you're learning," Honts said. "But it's nasty, too."
Following the dissection, the students helped clean the room before reviewing the activity with their respective teachers.
The hands-on experience offered by the dissection goes a long way in supplementing what the students studied in class, Neton said.
"It was really hard for them to imagine a three-dimensional eye," she said. "When they're able to actually see the eye, it really helps. It's a great opportunity."
"They love the hands-on," Paulekas said. "There's nothing like having the real thing, in anything you do. To really be able to touch and see that it's real is important."
Most second-graders are able to handle the lesson -- and their stomachs -- with surprising aplomb, Paulekas said.
"It's getting beyond the 'ooh, yuk' stuff," she said. "The children are very intrigued by a real eyeball. I think they look at it with a lot of excitement and a little apprehension."
Friday's dissection won't be the last hands-on science lesson for these students. Frog dissection and heart and lung dissection are part of fourth- and fifth-grade science curriculum.