Illusion to Observation:
Making Mind, Body and Brain Connections in the Middle School Science Classroom


Part 1: Optical Illusion Exploration: Can we trust our eyes?
This unit was born of a desire to organically and dramatically harness young scientists’ innate curiosity, intrigue and wonder and compel them to not only ask “how” and “why” and “what the . . .” questions about the world around them, but to aggressively and collaboratively dig in to that world and discover answers to their questions, and finally be able to write and draw detailed, rich and complete observations of what they see (or at least of what their minds tell them they see). I want this unit to excite and inspire. I also want this unit to rigorously challenge the level of detail and scrutiny with which students observe, hypothesize, gather information and finally draw conclusions. My hope is that I, as instructor will play an active, participatory role in both the in-class inquiry-based activities including videos, images, webquests, and field trups. Every activity and lesson is open to change, as is the order with which activities are implemented in the classroom.

A note on “play days”: These days can be used in their entirety, as fragmented components of longer lessons, repeated, rejected, blended, reused, improved, and so on. “Play days” are, however, mandatory in the execution of this unit.

Class Trips:
1. New York Hall of Science
Students will explore four different exhibit areas of the hall of science, paying particular attention to artifacts, demonstrations or interactive experiences that use their sensory systems, especially their eyes and brain pathways. As students explore the “optics and mathematica,” “Marvelous Molecules,” interactive science playground, “Sports Challenge,” and “Seeing the Light,” students will complete the investigation template to be added to their project portfolio (see [[science and community/OnsiteInvestigation.pdf|Investigation]] worksheet).
The Eyes Have It Workshop
Human Eye and Illusions: Unveil the world of 3-D perception with the aid of color filters. Students will make their own 3-D glasses and create optical illusions to bring back into the classroom. These 3-D glasses will be added to their final unit portfolio presentation.

2. Museum of the Moving Image
Students will tour the Museum's core exhibition, Behind the Screen, engaging themselves in the creative process of making moving images. The exhibit includes Victorian optical toys, digital media, artifacts, interactive experiences, one-of-a-kind artworks, and demonstrations of professional crafts and equipment. After exploring the different elements at a superficial level, students will be asked to choose one medium for film in the exhibit and document/explain how it uses the viewer’s eyes and mind, how, if at all, the medium “tricks” the eye, and how the student thinks this might be explored in more depth in the classroom (see [[science and community/Moving Image Expert.doc|Moving Image Expert]] worksheet).
Motion Workshop
In this half-hour workshop, students explore the science that underlies the perception of moving images and make a Thaumatrope—a nineteenth-century optical toy. This thamatrope will be brought back into the classroom and added the their final unit portfolio presentation.

Part 2: Outstanding Observations: How can we share exactly what we see?
This second portion of the unit will foster the developments of students’ ability to draw detailed, rich and complete observations that include words and images. Having discovered the need to clarify precisely what it is the mind sees, which may or may not reflect reality, in the first part of the unit, students will now go to the Botanical Garden where they will create mini-greenhouses of asexually reproducing plants. Images and observations of these greenhouses will create a daily “snapshot” book from which students will document change in the size, color, number of plants, soil quantity, texture and son. A visiting artist will guide students through a drawing technique lesson, and students will need to create as detailed a visual and written descriptive “snapshot” of their greenhouse for each observation day with an end-product resembling a flip-book through time in the life cycle of their greenhouse. Students will also take photographs and/or video clips of the greenhouse from precisely the same frame in order to create either a photographic flip-book or moving-picture video.

Class Trips:
1. Brooklyn Botanical Gardens
Students will take a walking tour through the gardens. As they walk through the gardens, they will carefully complete an “[[science and community/BBG i observe worksheet.doc|I observe, question and hypothesize]]” template. Also, see attached [[science and community/BBG teacher activity guide.pdf|activity guide]] for teachers.
Multiplying Plants Workshop
If we wanted to reproduce all of the plants at Brooklyn Botanic Garden so that all of the students in New York City could share them, how would we do it? In this workshop, a variety of methods of plant propagation will be explored. Students will learn about tubers, bulbs, leaf and stem cuttings, grafting, tissue culture, and other propagation techniques as they construct their own mini-greenhouse.


NYC Lab Inquiry Skill Standards
  1. Write a testable question: S 1.1 Formulate questions independently with the aid of references appropriate for guiding the search for explanations of everyday observations. S 1.1a Formulate questions about natural phenomena
  2. Write a Hypothesis: S1.2 Construct explanations independently for natural phenomena, especially by proposing preliminary visual models of phenomena. S 1.2a independently formulate a hypothesis. S1.2c differentiates among observations, inferences, predictions, and explanations.
  3. Identify variables and controls: S2.2 Develop, present, and defend formal research proposals for testing their own explanations of common phenomena, including ways of obtaining needed observations and ways of conducting simple controlled experiments. S 2.2c design a simple controlled experiment.
  4. Plan and record step-by-step procedures for a valid investigation, select equipment and materials: S2.1d Use appropriate tools and conventional techniques to solve problems about the natural world, including: measuring, observing, describing, classifying, sequencing.
  5. Conduct an investigation that includes multiple trials and records data appropriately: S2.3 Carry out their research proposals, recording observations and measurements (e.g., lab notes, audiotape, computer disk, videotape) to help assess the explanation. S 2.3b conducts a scientific investigation. S 2.3c collect quantitative and qualitative data.
  6. Organizes and displays data appropriately: S3.1 Design charts, tables, graphs, and other representations of observations in conventional and creative ways to help them address their research question or hypothesis. S 3.1a organize results, using appropriate graphs, diagrams and data tables.
  7. Draw conclusions based on supporting scientific evidence S3.2 Interpret the organized data to answer the research question or hypothesis and to gain insight into the problem. S 3.2a accurately describes the procedures used and the data gathered. S 3.2b identify source of error and the limitations of data collection

Here: is a link to my final PowerPoint presentation. If you would like any of the templates for observation works, field trip forms, etc., please download the PowerPoint and open the hyperlinked documents in the respective boxes on the curriculum web.