Unexpected Excitement

In the back of my classroom sits a fish tank. This tank does not have fish but instead grows aquatic plants and lots of algae and scum. Within this ecosystem live lots of microorganisms. Using microscopes, students observe these small critters and I enjoy every minute.

I love this activity because of the outcome. Students are skeptical when I first tell them we will be making slides from the tank and looking for organisms under the microscope. Lack of enthusiasm and body language of dread often fill the room at this point. BUT, as soon as one group sees something moving under the microscope, the atmosphere in the room changes. Suddenly everyone wants to see that slide and they want their own slide to be as cool.

Students have discovered they can take pictures and videos using their phones on the microscopes. We have these cool gadgets from Novagrade that attach to the scope and hold the phone in place. This week, I didn’t even have to mention this option as one student beat me to it. He was so into the activity that he grabbed one of these devices and his phone right off the bat. Once he found something, everyone wanted to use one!

My favorite moment of the activity was when a student called me over to look at the “worm” he had found and filming. I looked at the time stamp of the video as I was watching the critter. After I complimented him and went onto the next group, he asked if he should look for something else or stay on this creature. I said, “I think 5 minutes of video of that one is probably enough.” He had been so intent on what he was observing that he did not even realize he had been filming for FIVE minutes! It was awesome.

Here is the take-away from this experience. To engage students in microscope work, consider using something that will offer alive, moving critters. You can create your own ecosystem in a tank with rocks, plants from nature, and fish (if you want fish), or simply collect water from a nearby stream or pond (just be careful and make sure the students wash their hands afterward). Finding something moving is so much more exciting and interesting than looking at a prepared slide with a still image.


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