Sunday, October 21, 2012

"Label the parts of a microscope..."

Parts of a doorknob, by Henry Robinson Town, 1904

                                microscope worksheet
                label microscope
 mikroskop
                label the parts of a microscope
                                       parts of a microscope worksheet


Google allows me to peek under the hood to see how various folks stumbled onto the blog. One of the tools lists the searches used to find my site.

Five of the top 10 searches were the phrases above.

Yes, I know it's kids looking for an easy way to do their homework, or a desperate teacher or two on a Sunday night looking for something, anything, to get through the next day.

I like that particular post--"The microscope "e" lab kills science"--and what I wrote then I still believe now:

          It's not about power, it's about seeing.


Because of the cultural power of grading, children across the States continue to memorize, or at least pretend, the parts of a microscope. Their future depends on decent grades and their ability to jump through hoops. Such is the fate of the landless.

Who says irony is dead?
***

One of the best biology lessons I've seen was shared here by Jeffrey Michals-Brown:
How bout some solid ideas for "homework" that's worthy of doing? I'll begin: Go home and find some wild dirt. (If you don't have a yard, find some in a weedy lot near home.) Put a good double-handful of it (just the dirt: no plants or roots) into a biggish transparent jar with a lid. A big mayonnaise or peanut butter jar (wash it well!) is just the thing. Put your name on jar and lid. Bring it to school and leave it on the classroom windowsill. We'll water it a bit, and leave it in the light for a few weeks. We'll poke around in it periodically. What do you think will happen in your jar? Why?

How many kids  know what would happen? How many kids have seen it happen?

There are only so many homework assignments a child can do in a single year of biology (if you believe homework is worth doing at all). What is your "Label the Parts of the icroscope" worksheet replacing?
***

Why do we need to know the parts of a microscope?

Here's a list of words unfamiliar to most of us:
                                escutcheon plate
                 cylinder
                                  spindle
                            rose insert
But I bet every one knows how to use a door knob--and even if you didn't, learning the various parts of its mechanism won't help you a lick, no matter how motivated you might be to get out of the house.

So why do we do it?

It's easy to test, easy to grade, it's "scientific",and, when you get down to it, we simply do not value a child's time enough to do otherwise.

Or ours, either.

If we knew what we wanted out of a lifetime, if we truly believed there's a life worth living beyond the tiny pops of dopamine surges we get from the thousands of artificial images and sounds we pay to receive daily, money some of us get for grading worksheets that have children label microscope parts, then we would not do this.

We are all of the earth. We are all finite. We are all capable (and worthy) of joy and creation.

Biology means the study of life--if I have a drop of pond water squirming with critters more bizarre than anything George Lucas can imagine, I won't have to prod a child into figuring out how to use a scope. I'll know she figured out how with the first Wow! out of her mouth as others jostle her for a peek.

She might not know a lick about the names of the parts, but she'll know how to use them, and she'll know how to use them because, in the end, life is interesting.




Do you realize how many folks forget those last three words?

7 comments:

Malcolm said...

i hate the parts of the microscope...i always call them what they look like: the big one...the small one...
the best label was the one at the bottom of their drawings: what i saw
my classroom dirt and grass (the pond) had amazing things to see growing in it....and that was without looking at it through a microscope.

John Spencer said...

I remember, as a child, being overwhelmed with excitement when I first used a magnifying glass. However, I remember science feeling inaccesible, rule-based, confusing when we had to use a microscope. We were supposed to see a cell and the cell was supposed to look like the diagram in the book. All I saw was a fuzzy red blob and a fuzzy blue blob. I didn't have the patience to get it right, I guess.

Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

I actually do insist the kids pass the microscope quiz before touching a scope: they're pricey and fragile, and also hard enough to learn to use that I don't want the details getting in the way. Once they catch on to the tricks of focusing and interpreting what they see, they can go a long way. Having said that, I agree that stereo dissecting scopes are probably a lot more fun and perhaps more widely useful.

Anonymous said...

I am a current student in secondary education of the biological sciences, and I find your blog to be really helpful. I agree that it isn't exactly vital to a student to know the names of the microscope, but they should still learn to properly use them. I think many students lose interest in science because of monotanous activities, such as microscope labeling, and instead they could be thinking critically and exploring the world around them.

Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

By the way, I've got a much better lesson than that:
Go out and find a Wild Place close to your home. It can be patch of woods, maybe with a little pond, or even just an untended corner of your own or a neighbor's yard. (Around here, the borders between yards are often a little wild where folks are not entirely sure where their property line is.) The bigger the better, but it should at least have a few trees and bushes, and a weedy area. You will visit your Wild Place regularly and keep a journal of your visits there. Your first journal entry will explain exactly where your wild place is, and describe it in detail. Later journal entries might name the plants you have there (bring in some leaves and we'll figure it out), seasonal changes you observe, weather, and so on.

I only actually used this lesson for a year or two, partly due to the difficulty of getting every kids set up with a decent Wild Place and verifying their work there, and partly because kids came to school with depressing regularity with tales of how their wild place was being bull-dozed. But the kids who participated whole-heartedly got quite a bit out of it.

doyle said...

Dear Malcolm,

Amen. Worse thing that happens is the kids crunch a slide or two. Which they do anyway, even if they know the names of the wheels they're using to crush them.

Dear John,

Turns out you get far better resolution with a magnifying glass. I start with them first. Helps with sense of scale, and gets the kids looking around for things to look at. Also cuts down on the prep work--things need to be sliced for microscopes, which is tough on live critters.

doyle said...

Dear Jeffrey,

I like your lesson!

I am a bit nutty about protecting the scopes--they know about the little wheel (fine focus), and they know how to carry them. We also spend time working on focusing--it's harder than it looks the first time out.

And every year, I get one or two kids who forget to plug them in.