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Why microscopy for kids?

K-12 science curriculum is often oriented around learning facts, employing relatively little scientific experimentation. Certainly, scientific “facts” provide a foundation for understanding science, just as learning grammar provides the basis for writing and speaking. However, English would monumentally dull if we learned grammar without reading novels or occasionally writing a fun story. Thus, in addition to learning “the scientific facts”, it is worthwhile to provide a taste of scientific experimentation to elementary school to sweeten the subject of science. Children need to see that science is about Discovery and that Discovery can be fun. They need to hone their Observational skills and learn that being a good Observer is a key skill for being a scientist. They need to have some sense of the unknown as well as the known. Elementary school is an ideal time to engage students in scientific discovery, since they are naturally curious and are at a critical age where their “likes and dislikes” for subjects are being formed.

Microscopy is an ideal activity to engage children in scientific Observation and Discovery. Much of contemporary science involves observing nature and making deductions from these observations. (Much of the research in my laboratory involves simply observing what cells do and how they behave). Using a microscope, kids are also Discovering a new world that they have never seen before- a world of fine structures of living things, rocks, and man-made objects. In doing so, they discovery how familiar macroscopic objects are assembled and function; they can record their observations and make deductions. In short, they become scientists.

Microscopy also serves a platform for didactic teaching that can be interfaced with a mandated scientific curriculum. They can learn about cells and then see cells for themselves. They can learn about DNA, and then see the effects of DNA mutations. They can learn about skin, hair, rocks, computers, and then see the fine features of these objects. However, in addition to planned didactic exercises (as I discuss below), it would be my greatest hope that having a microscope in a classroom on a permanent basis might stimulate some “spontaneous science”. Having found an amazingly cool bug on the playground, a student might want to have a better look at it with the microscope and maybe take a picture of it to show his/her parents. Even if such episodes of curiosity occurred a couple times a year, it would be a great victory for science education!

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