Academic journal article Science and Children

Small Wonders Close Encounters: Introducing Students to the World of Digital Microscopy

Academic journal article Science and Children

Small Wonders Close Encounters: Introducing Students to the World of Digital Microscopy

Article excerpt

Looking at small objects through a digital microscope is like traveling through a foreign country for the first time. The experience is new, engaging, and exciting! A handheld digital microscope is an essential tool in a 21st-century teacher's toolkit and the perfect tool to engage elementary students across the grade levels in the 21st-century curriculum. This article, which provides elementary teachers a starting point for using handheld digital microscopes, describes how a second-grade teacher introduces students to microscopes as scientific tools. Students observe, capture, and interpret still, video, and time-lapse images of structures of mealworms with handheld digital microscopes. By using digital microscopes, students view firsthand evidence of small wonders in science, solve problems, ignite creative thinking, and create digital artwork.

By planning lessons that include handheld digital microscopes, teachers can align their instruction with the Next Generation Science Standards. Students can learn science and engineering practices (e.g., developing and using models and planning and carrying out investigations), crosscutting concepts e.g., structure and function), and multiple disciplinary core ideas. In this case, the disciplinary core idea was 2-LS4-1, in which students make observations of animals to compare diversity (Achieve Inc. 2013; see Internet Resources).

Comparing Insects and Microscopes

For the past eight years, I have used Lawrence Hall of Science's Full Option Science System (FOSS) (2000) for teaching hands-on science in my second-grade classroom. During the fall, we use the FOSS Insects science module to investigate and compare structures, behaviors, and metamorphosis of several insects, including darkling beetles, American painted lady butterflies, and crickets. We begin with the darkling beetle and go on to compare the structures of all insects with one another to better understand their diversity. The kit includes live insects, supplies for habitats, plastic hand lenses for observing, and forms for recording observable changes in the structures of the darkling beetle over time. For information about care and maintenance of mealworms (darkling beetles), visit FOSSWEB (see Internet Resources).

To enhance our observations further, we used digital and compound microscopes in addition to the provided plastic hand lenses during three one-hour lessons. Our school had recently purchased three digital microscopes (see "Purchasing a Digital Microscope," p. 56). Finding compound microscopes was a little bit more challenging! After rummaging around our school, I located three dusty, old compound microscopes. After cleaning them off, I set up three stations in the room, one for conducting observations using the FOSS hand lenses, one using the compound microscopes, and one using digital microscopes. I created three groups and rotated the groups of students through the three stations.

During whole-class teaching I increase active participation by having students take turns using the digital microscope at the presentation area. Meanwhile, students at their desks observe the same objects using less expensive, lower magnification plastic hand lenses. Alternatively, students can draw, label, and describe a projected digital microscope image.

Introducing the Digital Microscope

The first time I used digital microscopes with students, I shared ground rules for safe and responsible use:

1. Respect the equipment.

2. Hold the digital camera carefully.

3. Keep the lens dry. If the lens comes in contact with any wet or sticky substance, clean and dry it immediately.

4. Work with the digital microscope on dry tables.

After demonstrating some of the features of the handheld digital microscopes, I taught students to observe and capture still images. (Later, they learned to use other features--capturing video and time-lapse images, measuring, and using the side-by-side feature. …

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