Every year, 3,000 Baltimore City public school students learn the fundamentals of biology and become more enthusiastic about science through BioEYES; a program started in 2002 at Johns Hopkins University (JHU). Co-sponsored by JHU, this program gives new meaning to the phrase “schools of fish.”
BioEYES teaches elementary students about human and fish anatomy, habitats, cells, and DNA while middle school students identify observable traits of zebrafish offspring. In high school, students learn how scientists determine the genetic makeup of parents by studying their offspring.
“Project BioEYES is designed to excite K-12 children about science and about careers in science and give them a feel for what it’s like to be a scientist,” says Steven A. Farber, a JHU adjunct associate professor of biology and education. Farber co-founded BioEYES along with Jamie R. Shuda, an adjunct associate professor at JHU's School of Education.
A study, published by the journal PLOS Biology, found that participants at all grade levels had significant learning because working with live animals — fish that swim, mate, and grow before their eyes — focuses children’s attention in a way a book lesson can’t. “The kids can’t wait for a chance to look at their fish; they’re natural scientists,” Farber says.
At Baltimore’s Thomas Jefferson Elementary/Middle School, third graders given male and female zebrafish one day this fall were amazed, just 24 hours later, to see embryos form, and thrilled to observe the growing life forms under a microscope. “You see a whole different side of them when they’re learning something that’s real,” said Kelley Taylor, their teacher. “I have some bright students in here, and they are definitely making the connection that scientists are changing people’s lives.”