If any of your students have turned away when peering into a microscope, they may be turning away from science. Rather than being intrigued, some elementary students are adversely affected by what they see in a microscope. Unidentifiable squiggly things in a drop of tap water, the magnified eyes of a fly, the prickly legs of a garden spider…any or all of these could dampen a young child’s curiosity about the world around him.
The effects can be long term and far reaching. Science contributes significantly to preparing students to become effective problem solvers and plays a role in creating the context for many personal and community issues. For students in the early grades, the emphasis should overwhelmingly be on gaining experience with natural and social phenomena and on enjoying science.
Avoiding the “Fear Factor”
Encouraging your students’ curiosity and problem-solving abilities is as easy as choosing less “scary” specimens for microscopic examination. For example, fingerprints, photographs, household powders, sand and fabric are innocuous objects that you can use to teach your students about differentiation, composition, formation, chemistry, erosion, and observation.
Pique the curiosity of potential crime lab scientists with a foray into the microscopic world of fingerprints. Have your students examine and identify the differences between their fingerprints and those of their classmates.
Draw the attention of nascent artists and photographers by zeroing in on the dots that make up a picture or a color. Use black and white newspaper photos, a postage stamp, perhaps a business card and a coin or dollar bill.
Surprise your students with the details of what they see, like how a few dots of different colors combine to make other colors.
Hold the interest of young engineers with a few fabric swatches. Focus on the intricacies of construction of woven, knitted and pressed fabric samples.
Appeal to budding chemists using samples of table, rock, alum, boric acid, and Epsom salts. Ask them to examine, compare and describe each. Use the Epsom salts to show them how chemical solids form crystals.
Grab a globe and a few samples of different sand to intrigue promising geologists. Encourage them to discern the colors, shapes and textures of each sample. Help them identify where the sands came from based on their composition.
It’s Not Just What They See
It’s also how they see it. Microscopes come in all sizes, shapes, and configurations; and some are better than others for elementary students. For example, a binocular eyepiece is more comfortable, but young children may have trouble focusing and would benefit from using the monocular style. Here are some other things to consider when choosing the right microscope for your class:
Compound Microscopes. Comprised of two lens systems: one (monocular) or two (binocular) eyepiece(s) and the objective. Fewer objectives work better for early grades and simple observations. Ideal for viewing blood samples, cells and cell structures, bacteria and liquids. If viewing a solid specimen, the specimen must be thin enough so that transmitted light can shine through.
Stereomicroscopes. Lower magnification power and higher resolution for viewing the surface of solid specimens. Provide a finely detailed, 3-D image of the specimen. Ideal for viewing coins and stamps, inspecting gems, fossils, and rocks, and observing machine and electrical components. Because most include transmitted lighting, they can also be used for viewing translucent specimens like plants and pond water specimens.
Microscopes are only as durable as the material from which they are manufactured, so choose one with a sturdy frame (to minimize vibration and fluctuations with temperature changes) and high-quality components. You’ll find specification information regarding illumination, diaphragms, focus options, and lenses for all of our microscopes in our online catalog.