Introduction: The Cow Eye Dissection is a discovery-based activity. Students will develop a basic understanding of the components of the eye, how the eyeball works, and the relationship between an eye lens and an optical lens.

This is an Exploratorium activity:


Timing: This activity should take about 60 minutes to complete.


Group Size: Small groups (3 or 4)


Learning Objectives:

a) The objective of this lab/activity is to introduce the following key concepts:

-Components of the eye

-Inner workings of the eyeball

b) The objective of this lab/activity is to reinforce the following key concepts:

-Transparent materials

-Bending of light




Guiding Question: How does the eyeball work?


Materials: This lab requires one cow’s eye, one single-edged scalpel, scissors, wax paper, paper towels, plastic garbage bag, dissection board, sheet of newspaper, and soap and water.

Cow eyeballs can be found through meat packers, or you can order them from science supply companies. There is an instructional page provided, but I would just project the procedure to the whole class. The pictures help.


The procedure Cow Eye Dissection is very straight forward. The diagrams included in the procedure really help students visualize the steps. During this experiment, students take apart a cow eye. It can be pretty gruesome, but I always give the students an option of not participating and writing a report on the workings of the eyeball instead.

Safety First: Students will be using a scalpel to cut the cow's eye, so care must be taken. Handling raw meat can be problematic, so rubber gloves would be a good idea.

There are tutorials posted by the Exploratorium that will walk you through the dissection if this is your first time.

The Cow Eye Dissection is a collaborative learning activity. To succeed, students will need to work together, follow instructions, and use their time wisely.


Assessment: This activity should be graded for completeness.


Answer Key:

None required

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