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More than 70 students and community members participated in the recent "Awesome Anatomy Cow Eye Dissection" event at Cochise School and Willcox Theater and Arts.

Did you know that cows have four muscles around their eyes? Because of these four muscles, a cow can look up, down, or to either side even when she’s facing straight ahead.

One difference between cows’ eyes and our own, though, is that humans have six muscles. This is why we can move our eyes at angles to look up high or down low on the side, or roll our eyes in a circle. But when it comes to the structures within the eye and the way our eyes relay information to our brains, we actually have a lot in common with cows.

On April 23, Arizona Science Center instructors Erin Flores and Grace Auclair visited Cochise School and Willcox Theater and Arts. They delivered five sessions of the Arizona Science Center’s Science on Wheels workshop, “Awesome Anatomy Cow Eye Dissection.” The five sessions were delivered to 71 students and community members. Although the workshop is recommended for middle school students and up, a few daring, curious elementary school students joined in the activities, as well.

As each session began, Auclair and Flores set up expectations. Respect was foremost. Participants were asked to honor others’ comfort levels and their own. Like in most educational situations, the instructors wanted us each to try, but they were clear that if at any point someone felt overwhelmed, it was OK for them to step back.

This was a real, living animal once, so the specimens needed to be treated respectfully, too. Next was the briefing on safety. Participants learned how to use the scientific instruments. Instructors showed them what personal protective equipment they’d need to wear, and how each item would protect eyes, skin or clothing.

Instructors showed a diagram of a cow’s eye. Cows and humans have several of the same structures: a pupil, a lens, an optic nerve, a retina. And at the place where the optic nerve leaves the retina, we each have a blind spot. Participants tested their blind spots by covering one eye and looking at a white card with black symbols on it, and then repositioning the card until the symbols “disappeared.”

As the dissection specimens were delivered to each table, participants were invited to make external observations.

“What does it mean to make ‘external observations?’ ” the instructors asked.

“Looking at the outside,” a student responded.

“Yes! And if you’d like to touch the eyeball, now is your chance.”

Those who took part in the dissection quickly found their stride. Partway through one session, a seventh-grader said to her friend, “You were a little scared when we started, but now you look so comfortable.”

The natural sciences are one element of the STEAM education Willcox Theater and Arts takes pride in offering to Cochise County. (STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.) Willcox Theater and Arts was thrilled to connect with staff from the Arizona Science Center in late March when they reached out to us to introduce their Science on Wheels activities. While they offer many workshops, the one that seemed to be the best fit for the Willcox area this spring was “Awesome Anatomy Cow Eye Dissection.”

Willcox Theater and Arts looks forward to future visits from the Arizona Science Center.