Phones, Collaboration, & Microscopes

A few weeks ago I came across this post on Instructables detailing an inexpensive way to turn your smartphone into a digital microscope.

I’m always looking for new ways to utilize smartphones in my classroom to enhance student learning, and as a biology teacher, this particular idea seemed like a no-brainer.  Not being the most savvy person when it comes to building things, I sent the video to one of my colleagues in the engineering department at school asking him if we could make this happen.  He thought it would be pretty easy and two days later showed up with the first prototype during one of my biology classes.

Looking at a fern leaf

Looking at a fern leaf

As we explained what the contraption was, students were of course anxious to try it out.  The spent the next twenty minutes crowed around my desk figuring out exactly how to use the microscope, looking for things to magnify, trying different phones and photo settings, taking pictures, and joyously exploring a cool new toy.  Of course, I was thinking about all the possible ways I might incorporate this into engaging learning activities.

The almighty dollar

The almighty dollar

We plan to try and make more of these microscopes, and even possibly have the engineering students work on improving the design, adding features, and decreasing the cost of production.  Reflecting, I’m amazed at how a cool and useful idea emerged on the internet, was so widely disseminated to the point that I saw it, and then how quickly it became a reality in my classroom through collaboration with a colleague.  Watching the students enthusiastically explore also reminded me how important it is to remember that while there are certainly many unbelievable and amazing ways to engage students using web tools and resources, nothing really compares to giving them a hands-on experience.

Onion root cells

A pictured of onion root cells taken with a student phone camera using the microscope and then shared via Twitter using the #mrvigs122bio tag


My First Week & A Half In The Professional Twitter World

I must admit, I never knew that people used Twitter for anything other than sending witty (and not so witty) messages back and forth, wasting time, and seeing who could come up with the most ironic hashtags.  I have been continually amazed for a week and a half as I’ve immersed myself in the most robust, dynamic discussion of education that I have ever witnessed, complete with how-to’s, videos, articles, and support and encouragement from passionate educators all over the world.  I have been exposed to resources I probably never would have found on my own, lurked and participated in #edchat, been favorited and retweeted, created hashtags to facilitate discussions for my classes, posted twitpics, and most importantly, have been continuously making connections with people I almost certainly will never have the opportunity to meet in person who will now contribute to my professional development (and hopefully I to theirs).  All of this, and practically no negativity, just enthusiasm for sharing ideas, integrating tech, and discussing education – very cool!

An Initial Attempt to Use Twitter With Students

After using Twitter for a week, as well as thinking and reading about how it may be used to engage and interact with students, I’m going to try starting an ongoing conversation with my students by creating some hashtag conversations.  I’m going to ask students to use the hashtags in order to share interesting articles or videos related to class content, ask questions, and generally discuss class and school related issues.  I will try to actively participate as well, and hopefully students will engage and continue the learning process outside of the classroom in a way that is meaningful for them.

I’m going to start with two hashtags in order to differentiate the general subjects that I teach.  They will be #mrvigs122bio for my Biology students and #mrvigs122sis for my Studies in Science students.

For anybody looking to get started with Twitter, I have found the link posted by SaraKLMS to be extremely helpful (The Twitteraholic’s Ultimate Guide to tweets, hashtags, and all things Twitter), but for those overwhelmed by gobs of information, A Refreshingly Simple Guide to Twitter For Teachers might be more your speed (it’s where I encountered the infographic below).

Getting Connected With Twitter

In my continuing effort to become a connected educator (and with the encouragement of Sara K), I am tossing my hat into the Twitter ring.  Using Twitter to follow other educators as well as science news and content providers gives me access to amazing amounts of information that is both high quality (as it is vetted by actual users and professional organizations) and timely (not out of date like so many websites).  I had already started using my Facebook account in a similar way by “liking” pages of science content providers, which enables me to constantly see links to cool news stories and videos that I can use in my classes, and Twitter allows me to take this approach one step further as it adds even more layers of connectivity.

I’m a little nervous about becoming an addict, as I really don’t want to spend any more time looking at my phone then I have to, but if it provides me with some good resources then it is worth a try.

Follow me @MrVigliotti