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



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