Design a Cyborg Eye - Part 1

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SWBAT gather and synthesize information that sensory receptors respond to stimuli by sending messages to the brain for immediate behavior or storage as memories.

Big Idea

Students brainstorm, research and create cyborg eye designs.


15 minutes

The purpose of this lesson is for students to begin to learn how our eyes function in order to develop their cyborg eye.  Students need some assistance getting started formulating questions that will help them determine this information.  

To get student thinking along these lines I begin by having students complete this quick lab.  Each student will need a drinking straw and a pipe cleaner.  Students follow these directions:

  • Hold the straw in one hand and the pipe cleaner in the other.
  • Extend your arms out in front of you.
  • With both eyes open, try to insert the pipe cleaner into the straw.
  • Close your right eye and again try to insert the pipe cleaner into the straw.
  • Repeat once again but with your left eye closed.

Have students answer the following questions in their journal:

  1. How did closing one eye affect your ability to judge distances?
  2. Why do you think closing one eye had this affect? (this is a best guess)

(Be sure to add this to your list of research questions later in this class.)

The goal of this activity is to get students to begin to ask questions about how vision works (SP1 Asking Questions and Defining Problems).  To further assist with this, each day I show the students a couple optical illusions at the start of class.  I try to be strategic in my selections picking things that are likely to prompt questions from the students.  I use the series Brain Games by National Geographic.  There are many clips and full episodes of this series found on YouTube but the PowerPoint Optical Illusions has some videos and pictures to get you started.  I do not show the entire PowerPoint in one sitting but rather opt to show 3-4 examples per day to keep the questions fresh in students' minds.  Be aware that some of the videos provide explanations for the illusions shown; you may opt to show these to your students or not, it depends on the level of the students and how much you want them to determine on their own.

Vocab, Brainstorm, Research, Design

30 minutes

Students must be able to accurately use relevant science vocabulary in order to demonstrate mastery of a concept.  To assist with this, I have students list all of the words associated with the parts and/or function of the eye.  Once they have their words listed I have them describe what each part does and what material they might use in their cyborg eye to serve the same purpose and why they selected that particular material.  I allow students to organize this in a way that makes sense to them but I recommend using a chart with the following headings:

Part of Eye


  Alternative Material 

  Reason for Choice  


At minimum, students will have the following words, which were part of the student directions they were given during the introductory lesson, though students are encouraged to broaden their list: 


Not all students will know the function or purpose to each part of the eye they list and that is ok as they can look it up later. I also have students keep track of things  they wonder while they are working on the vocab.  The vocab/question log is one resource you can use to help students organize this information.

Once students complete this, I refer them to the Student Directions, specifically the part entitled "Part 1: Brainstorm, research and design".  

First students brainstorm what they want their cyborg eye to be able to do that a normal eye cannot.  This helps students activate prior knowledge and builds their excitement for the project.  

Some students really get into this part of the project.  The student examples provided here were created by a group of 3 girls within 10 minutes - pretty impressive!

Eye - Brain Connections

Next, students develop research questions, the things they need to know to be able to design an eye that functions like a normal eye.  This supports SP1 (Asking Questions and Defining Problems) and SP6 (Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions) as students gather and record information.  I purposely do not provide the students with resources to use.  I want students to find their own resources and determine the credibility of those as they gather their own information which helps students develop the skills they will need to become independent learners.

Finally students create scientific drawings and a model to explain how their cyborg eye works (SP2 Developing and Using Models).  Here are two videos of a students explaining their ideas for their "project in development".

For the next several days (up to a week) students work to complete those three sections of the project during class, being sure to keep a record of all questions and answers either in their journal or in a shared Google doc.  (I prefer students use a Google doc that is shared with myself and all group members.  This ensures all students have access to all information from any computer and it allows me to more easily monitor progress.)  I provide students with the Design an Eye Checklist to help them work independently and ensure they include all required components of this part of the project.

Formative Assessment

10 minutes

With students in charge of developing their own research path, it is challenging to know exactly what everyone is learning.  Once students have had a few days to research, I give them the following image.  To ensure that all students understand the basics on how vision works, I ask them to describe the path that light takes which allows this person to see the tree, being sure to incorporate appropriate vocabulary and describe all aspects shown in this illustration.

For students who are still struggling to accomplish this, I either send them back to the computer to investigate further or, if they need more support, I work with them in a small group setting to provide some guided instruction on this concept.

With this assessment I am looking to ensure that students are figuring out how basic vision works and are able to describe the process at a basic level using the appropriate vocabulary.  A sample answer might be light reflects off the tree and enters the eye by passing through the protective layer called the cornea and through the pupil.  Light then travels through the lens which focuses light on the back of the eye called the retina, where the image is upside down.  The image is translated into electrical impulses which travel through the optic nerve to the brain which interprets the signals and tells us what we see.

Once students show an understanding of vision, they can use what they know to develop their cyborg version that models this type of sight but surpasses what we can do with our own eyes.

The next lesson has the students putting together a presentation to sell their designs to investors and works to increase the rigor of the overall project.  I use the Product and Pitch Rubric to assess both parts of the project