CLIA 11: Teaching 3rd graders about zebrafish

BioEYES is returning for Winter Study in January 2024.

BioEYES brings tropical fish to 3rd-grade classrooms in a science teaching workshop. Elementary students will breed fish in the classroom and then use microscopes to study their development. During the first week, Williams students will learn to set up fish matings and learn about embryonic development and the genetics of fish pigmentation, as well as practice teaching the 3rd-grade BioEYES lesson plans with hands-on experiments using living animals.  In the subsequent two weeks, we will work in 3rd-grade classrooms.  No zebrafish or science experience is necessary, and all transportation is covered. BioEYES is winter-athlete-friendly. The combo of 3rd graders and fish is awesomely fun!

Partnered with and supported by:

University of PennsylvaniaCarnegie Institution for ScienceUniversity of Utah

Monash UniversityJohns Hopkins School of EducationThomas Jefferson University

Photo Gallery

Counting eggs in a petri dishDemonstrating how to use a pipette Cleaning debris from the petri dishCatching an adult fish with a net. A closer look at a petri dishTransferring an adult fish between containers using a netCatching an adult fish with a net Using a net to catch an adult fish


Caitlin Murphy ’24
From the beginning, I had a lot of fun working with the kids and seeing them excited to learn and interact with college students. I loved witnessing their passion for science and learning, and the smiles on their faces were inspiring! I think the BioEYES program gave Williams students an amazing opportunity to interact with the greater Williamstown community. While COVID created some challenges, Dr. Marvin and Mrs. Schiek were very accommodating and helped us stay organized. Personally, working with the kids over Winter Study inspired me to pursue other CLIA opportunities at Williams. ”

Williams Student participant, January 2022
“I cannot stress to you how amazing this course was. Every second we spent in the classrooms truly meant the world to me. The impact that I feel we had on the students was like nothing else I have experienced. I sincerely feel like this class makes a difference for both the elementary students and Williams students.”

Ellen Cook ’15
“BioEYES overall was a great experience for me because of the enthusiasm and interest that I got from the fourth graders. It was rewarding to see students lighting up when they could see the fish under the microscope. BioEYES, most importantly, taught the students that science is cool and anyone can be a scientist. All in all, BioEYES is something that the students will remember throughout their school years as hopefully something fun that they did in science. I had a great time doing BioEYES and found it really rewarding, I even learned some things that I didn’t know before, and I would recommend it to anyone for a winter study.”

Nitsan Goldstein ‘15
“I really enjoyed this Winter Study Course. My favorite part was probably getting the experience of teaching in front of a classroom of elementary school kids, which I had never done before. I have worked with kids since middle school and given presentations before classes of my own, but explaining topics that I had been taught and found simple to a class of fourth graders that would not necessarily understand the material right away was a whole new experience. I was very nervous at first, and any public speaking gets me anxious, so I definitely appreciated the opportunity to practice the lessons many times in front of the Williams students and hear others run through the lessons before I actually did them.  Overall, I really enjoyed BioEYES and hope it continues to expand. If nothing else, the kids loved us and were so interested in the fish and learning, and that was great to see. Seeing kids arguing over who gets to use the microscope first was something I didn’t expect, and I was so pleasantly surprised to see how eager they were to learn and explore.”

Kelsey Loy ‘15
“I think that Project BioEYES is a great winter study course because it gives Williams students the opportunity to get out of their classrooms and give back to the community by going into classrooms of elementary schools. I found this class to be very rewarding because I was able to get to know a bunch of great kids, and I felt like I did contribute to their understanding and enthusiasm for science. I was pleasantly surprised to see the impact that BioEYES had on the fourth graders.  Looking at the difference between the pre and post-assessments, it is clear that the students not only gained knowledge about zebrafish and genetics but also that their attitude toward science changed.  The students realized that anyone can be a scientist and are now more interested in pursuing science in the future.  At the beginning of this winter study, I was expecting that BioEYES would be a fun project for the kids but was unsure of how much of the lessons they would actually absorb.  Working with my small group and looking at the difference in their assessments after BioEYES, it is clear that the students really were engaged in learning some very difficult subject material.  This program is so powerful because it draws the students in because they are working hands-on with living animals, and does a great job of teaching and showing some complex science concepts that the students may not otherwise be exposed to until later in their education.  It is impactful also because it allows the students to be scientific researchers as they make and analyze their hypotheses. I even gained knowledge about zebrafish, which I then relayed to the fourth graders.”

Kathryn McNaughton ‘16
“Spending time teaching fourth graders this winter study was an incredible opportunity to promote scientific knowledge and interest among elementary school students. The students gained confidence in themselves as scientists, and I gained confidence in my leadership and intrapersonal skills.  The greatest strength of the BioEyes program is its ability to put a face on scientific research and give elementary students an opportunity to get involved in science, challenging previous notions they may have had that science is boring, esoteric, and unrelated to their lives. BioEyes can continue not only teaching fourth graders about zebrafish, but also creating lifelong scientific thinkers and a future generation of problem solvers.”

Rebecca Fine ‘13
In his recently published book, “How children succeed,” Paul Tough poses the character hypothesis, which claims that developing non-cognitive skills, such as “persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence,” contributes to achieving success more than do cognitive skills (Paul, 2012). He claims that both ends of the socio-economic spectrum are handicapped by not having constructive character-building obstacles, for while the affluent insulate their children from adversity, poor children do not have enough support to “turn their obstacles into character-enhancing triumphs (Paul, 2012).” While developing these non-cognitive skills takes years, the week-long BioEyes program helps both to introduce and build upon the non-cognitive skills of self-control, conscientiousness, and curiosity in addition to enhancing cognitive skills. By exposing the fourth-grade students of Greylock and Williamstown Elementary School (WES) to the principles of scientific investigation through harnessing their innate appreciation for other living animals, like zebrafish, BioEyes encouraged the curiosity of the students and then gave means for acting on their curiosity. BioEyes taught the importance of model organisms in learning about humans, diseases and medicines, but more importantly, it strived to instill an appreciation for science and the idea that anyone could be a scientist.

I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to teach these two different classes. I have begun to learn how to present myself in front of an audience, how to convey information in a way that is accessible and entertaining to children, how to gather control and direct logistics of a rowdy classroom. Hearing some of them shriek when they saw the fish hearts beating or eagerly ask out-of-the-box questions after learning a concept was extremely gratifying. This experience was a wonderful opportunity to educate young minds of the importance of science and break down some of their current understandings of the field. The most exciting aspect of BioeEyes is its success at stimulating curiosity, building self-control, and conscientiousness of the students.”