Many public school students learn how to use a microscope in late elementary or middle school. Most teachers consider this an essential science skill for biology students. In my school district students used scopes in sixth grade and used them relatively frequently in seventh grade.
Yet, when they got to me in ninth/tenth grade, many of them acted like they’d never touched one. Granted, the scopes they used with me were much newer and more modern, which made them look a bit different. I learned early on that just diving in and assuming that students knew what they were doing when using the microscopes was a big mistake!
Reviewing How to Use a Microscope
Our microscope labs came fairly early in the year. We’d start with our Letter “e” Lab, and then move on to learning how to do measurement microscopy. But before we’d start any kind of formal lab activity, I’d spend 2 – 3 periods doing some review activities.
I would always start out with a Powerpoint and notes going over the parts, functions, and uses. We’d also cover some of the rules such as “never use coarse adjustment when on high power.”
While we were covering the Powerpoint, I had each student sitting with a microscope in front of them. I feel that this was what made my review more successful. As we’d talk about the eyepiece, they could each see it and look through it rather than just seeing it on an image. They could manipulate the adjustment knobs and SEE how close the high-power lens was to the stage. It made the “coarse adjustment rule” much easier to understand when they could see it in front of them.
Let’s Give It a Try!
At this point in our lesson, I’d give each student a prepared slide that contained an easy specimen, something they could see with the naked eye so it would be easy to find. Then we’d go through the focusing procedure step-by-step, start to finish, together.
As I’d talk them through each step, they would perform that action. I would circulate, checking each student to make sure they were following along correctly and not having any issues.
When it came time to actually focus with the low-power objective, I would take the time to look into each student’s scope to make sure they had focused correctly and could see the specimen.
Switching to high power was always the biggest challenge. Over the years I’ve noticed that many kids wanted to raise the low-power lens (or lower the stage) before switching to high power. Of course, that would make it almost impossible to focus under high power. I think they were afraid to break the slide. Once they learned to center the specimen in the field of view and NOT to change the low-power focus, they were much more successful in focusing under high power.
As before, I’d go around and check each student’s high-power focus to make sure they were able to get it.
Walking through the procedure step-by-step with them was a huge game-changer when it came time to start our microscope labs! They were much more confident in their ability to use the scopes. Does that mean that there were never any problems? Of course not, but they knew how to troubleshoot when they had difficulty and relied on me much less.
Microscope Review Activities
I also created Microscope Review Activities to reinforce what they’d learned in the lab. One is a color-by-number worksheet where they answer basic questions. Answering correctly tells them which color to use for which number. Students always enjoy coloring!
The other activity includes a diagram to label and fill in the blanks about how to prepare a wet-mount slide and focus it under both low and high power. I’ve included an optional word bank on a separate sheet. There are also five analysis questions that dig a bit deeper into using and focusing a microscope.
These activities are great for a simple review, lab stations, sub plans, quizzes, or whole class activity. I’ve put them in my TPT store if you’d like to use them in your own classroom.
How do you review how to use a microscope? Please share in the comments below!