Digital microscopes offer increased capabilities. A digital microscope can be connected to a projector, allowing teachers or students to conduct whole-class observations. Software which accompanies most digital microscopes can be used to conduct time-lapse photography - say on rates of decay - which can be saved, sped up, or slowed down.
Some microscopes can be removed from their mount. If they can be connected to a laptop, you can take both into the field for observations, image capture, and analysis.
Young English language learners talk about the world using hand lenses
Jamie Chen teaches second grade in an urban school where many students speak English as their second language. His students need practice using English in authentic contexts. Chen tries to embed rich and authentic language use in all content areas; this year he will emphasize improving his student's thinking and communication skills in math and science.
Chen's classroom received four computers, a projector, and two digital microscopes through a schoolwide grant to purchase technology. During the summer Chen attended a conference on helping young learners practice inquiry. This gave him an idea for integrating reading and speaking practice into math and science learning.
Chen planned to focus instruction on helping students learn how to discern variables and attributes. This would also meet one of the standards: *Students will be able to sort, classify, and order objects by size, number, and other properties.
Identifying similarities and differences is a key research-based strategy, and came into play when Chen had students sort manipulatives and identify variables. But identifying similarities and differences also includes other sophisticated comparative tasks, such as using analogy and metaphor. Chen focused on helping his students understand and create analogies as a way to learn and understand math and science.
Chen quickly saw how he could use the new digital microscopes for this learning activity. The microscopes were easy for young learners to use. They can be removed from the stand to view objects at different positions and can be used to magnify at three powers - 10x, 60x, and 200x. Chen first did some experimenting with the microscopes on his own. Then, he used one microscope to create a learning station in his classroom, where students examined objects he collected around the room, at home, and in the schoolyard. He attached the other microscope to a computer, and connected the computer to the projector.
Chen explained to the class what an analogy is: Two things that are like each other in one way, but not in others. Learning about one can help understand the other. He walked them through a few examples using the microscope at its lowest power. Lower magnification is helpful because students can still recognize the actual object. He showed a human hair, and then described its properties. Students offered long and skinny, fuzzy, and round. Then they talked about what else had those properties.
Chen arranged his students in small groups and urged them to discuss what they saw as he showed other objects. What properties did each have? What did it remind them of?* He asked his students to draw what they saw, and talk with each other about their ideas for analogies. Having to talk about the variables in specific terms helped them learn and use new words, and grounded the students in ithinking by analogy.i*
When Chen asked, "What does it remind you of?", student answers were often limited to the same few things. When he prompted further he began to hear more complex and varied ideas as students stretched their thinking. He asked them to think about the function of the object. He helped students think more analytically by posing questions such as, iWhat does it look like it could do?i and "What else does that?" Once they began to think more abstractly, he asked sensory-based questions - what did it smell like, taste like, and so on.
Chen encouraged his students to use the digital microscopes and a classroom set of small, handheld magnifiers called jeweler's loupes to explore their world. They took turns using the camera feature on the microscopes to capture images, and Chen showed them how to import their photographs into word processing documents so they could write about their observations in science, or math.
Chen's students used the loupes during recess and in science class, even when writing. They shared objects with each other, suggesting connections to other objects in the world that were similar. The conversations inspired by these learning activities provided rich opportunities for all students to expand their language skills.