ASCC 03: High School Biology Students Capture Breath-Taking Microscope Images With Smartphone Cameras


This third featured post in A Series of Classroom Connections comes to us from the high school biology classroom of Liz Michaels at Grosse Pointe North High School. 

In my high school Biology, Physiology and Microbiology classes, it is expected that all students have the ability to use a microscope and analyze what is being observed underneath it. Never before have they been able to capture, archive, and share what they saw with others…until now.

Until recently, the biggest challenge in teaching these skills was the fact that only one person could be looking through a microscope at a time. This meant that every time a student wanted to point something out, or had a question about what they were seeing, we ended up doing a little dance.

First the student would look into the microscope and explain what they were looking at, then I look in and try and guess what they are talking about. I would inevitably be wrong and we would have to switch again. This switching might go on for a minute or two until we both agreed on what was being observed. When there is only one teacher and a class of 25-30 students, this dance gets old fast.

Things started to improve a few years ago when a student noticed that the camera lens on their cell phone was able to capture what they were seeing in the microscope. It was as simple holding up their phone’s camera lens to the eyepiece and pushing a button. After the discovery, other students starting trying to snap pictures with their own devices.

We discovered that all Apple devices, including iPads and iPods, as well as Android phones were able to take very clear pictures through a microscope. Students were even able to capture video of moving microorganisms under the microscope with their mobile devices. At the high school level, almost all of my students have at least one device with a camera.

The protocol became: If you have a question about what you are seeing, take a picture of it and we will look at it together.

Images taken by students with their mobile devices through the microscope.

The ability to quickly take a picture through a microscope made it easier for students to share what they were observing with me and in small groups.

Unfortunately, it was still difficult, even with these new digital image captures, to have whole-class discussions about the specimens we were observing through the microscope. That is when I was introduced to the Apple TV.

The Apple TV allows students to quickly and wirelessly project what is on their phone to the entire class through our data projector shining onto the wall. With this new ability, we can practice analyzing microscopy samples together. Students who captured the original image explain what they noticed about the specimen and other students then have a chance to add to or question the initial observations. The Apple TV also allows us to easily compare two different samples of the same substance. My Physiology students found this particularly useful while preparing for their lab practical.

Taking the image sharing a step farther, one savvy student took on the task of creating a shared Instagram account and hashtag system. They crowd-sourced images from around the class, which had been taken on various cameras, by providing students a way to upload their own images to Instagram and tag them. The tagging system allowed students to go and see all the photos from class that were of muscle cells, or any that demonstrated a particular structure. This allowed students to collaborate on curation of the images and provided a handy and portable visual study aid.

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Gary is an influential teacher leader with extensive experience educating students at the high school and university level. He is a regular conference presenter, education speaker, and leader of staff development for educators. His classroom practice embraces a collaborative environment centered on constructivist teaching, project-based learning, classroom branding, Modeling Instruction, standards-based grading, and mobile device technologies.

About Gary G Abud Jr

Gary is an influential teacher leader with extensive experience educating students at the high school and university level. He is a regular conference presenter, education speaker, and leader of staff development for educators. His classroom practice embraces a collaborative environment centered on constructivist teaching, project-based learning, classroom branding, Modeling Instruction, standards-based grading, and mobile device technologies.

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