CENTERVILLE -- Fourth-graders at Reading Elementary stretched gloves over their hands in their classroom on Friday and proceeded to pick up the awaiting sheep brains on the table in front of them, being extra cautious they didn't squish the specimens after they were instructed to treat the brains with respect.
"A brain is like a cube of butter, and if you squeeze it, it will squish, and you can ruin them," said teacher Peggy Hyde.
Most of the students were excited to hold the brains, but not everyone held the same enthusiasm. Fourth-grader Taylor Davidson was hiding behind her mom, anxiously peering around her shoulder to catch a glimpse of the sheep brain on the table.
"They look too slimy and weird," said Taylor. Her mom was trying unsuccessfully to talk her into it. "It's not too often you get to hold a sheep brain," said Anita Davidson.
On the other hand, Ridge Pettingill was so enthralled with the brain, he couldn't resist pretending to eat it when his mom took his picture. Ridge was surprised when he first saw the brain, though.
"It was cold and I thought it would be silvery gray, but instead, it is an orange-tan," said Ridge. "My favorite part about the brain was seeing all of the different parts."
Students had learned all of the brain parts and their functions. Ridge said he liked learning about the cerebrum and how it affects one's balance. "I learned that it can be damaged by drinking alcohol," said Ridge.
Hyde has been heading up the event for the last 14 years, and has students in the grades prior to fourth grade asking frequently about the brain event, making sure they will get the opportunity in fourth grade.
"I think there's nothing better than a hands-on activity, especially something that's unique because they really pay attention when we're learning about our brains," said Hyde.
Hyde orders 10 sheep brains every other year from a science lab in the Midwest. She says they come stored in a preservative liquid, which allows her to use them for two years before ordering replacement brains.
When asked why they focus on brains in their class, Hyde said, "I want to teach them that our brains are so advanced that if they try, they can do whatever they set their minds to do."
During their week-long study of the brain, Hyde would point out things they could do because of their brain, such as memorizing their multiplication tables because of the hippocampus, or stand on one leg because of their cerebellum. "All of a sudden, they realize the brain is alive and becomes real to them," said Hyde.
Fourth-grader Ellie Christensen said she had no idea how important the brain was until this year. "I learned that we wouldn't be able to live if we didn't have a brain," said Ellie, who never thought she would get the chance to hold a brain.
"I thought it would be disgusting, but it's actually awesome, even though it feels gooey and slimy."