When we think about microscopes, we often think about our cells unit…. which is a biology topic. Microscopes obviously get the most use in a biology classroom. This year I switched over to a full schedule of earth and space science and I am having a very hard time letting go of my scopes. I love them and the excitement they bring to the classroom! And I don’t want students to forget how to use them!
There are multiple labs you can use outside of biology that you can use microscopes for. (Even if you don’t have a class set, borrow a few microscopes from a biology teacher on your campus and use them during stations). Here are a few ideas for you!
In environmental science, students learn about types of air pollution, ozone, air quality index, and more. In this lab activity, students can use microscopes to measure the amount of air pollution in different locations around the school. You will need microscopes, slides (gridded slides are best), and petroleum jelly. You can find a lab write up on my website or on TpT.
Teaching biodiversity? You could do a quadrat survey, but using microscopes is fun too! Get a pondwater sample and have students tally up the number of species they find. You can also have students check back every few days and see how populations shift. If you don’t have access to a good protist sample, you can grow your own colony with a hay infusion method. Head here to get directions.
Earth & Space Science
When you teach minerals, you probably talk about crystal structure. Even if you don’t want to do a deep dive into the specific structures, it is still fun to have them observe different types of cleavage. You can show students a large piece of halite, and then compare it to salt crystals under the microscope and make comparisons. Bonus- this lab will cost you nothing! You can find a lab write up on my website or on TpT.
It is rare to find a large meteorite outside, but did you know you can find micrometeorites? Head to a large, flat, undisturbed area (like the roof of your school) and sweep up dust and debris. Students will run a magnet through the dust to collect any magnetic material, and look at it under the microscope. Chances are anything magnetic and perfectly round is a micrometeorite (the pressure they undergo as they pass through the atmosphere turns them round). Check out this blog post with a few more details if you would like to try it.
You can order microfossil kits from science suppliers like Wards. Have students observe microfossils and make inferences about environmental conditions and changes over time.
In forensic science, hair and fiber samples can be analyzed under the microscope, and matched to a suspect. It is really easy to make your own hair and fiber samples- simply collect your specimens, place on a slide, and cover with clear cellophane tape.
Hair samples of different species are very fun to look at and compare. Different species have different medulla patterns. Try giving students some known slides, and then an unknown that they have to match up to one of the given species.
I hope you have fun with microscopes!