We visited a 4th and 5th grade science class at Malcolm X to observe students participating in two interactive science grants awarded in the 2017-18 school year, one for digital microscopes, and the other for nature journaling and sketching. Debra Hill, Malcolm X science teacher, was giving a lesson to 4th and 5th graders on protozoans (single-celled organisms) as “primitive animals” using our Classroom Grant-funded digital microscopes.
Ms. Hill had set up an interactive lesson by preparing slides of 10 different protozoans on microscopes and had students identify them based on their characteristics (their shape, color and how they move) which they could see clearly. The students also were asked to sketch the protozoans they observed because as Ms. Hill explains, “drawing gives students the opportunity to develop a tool to help see, wonder, and remember experiences. It also gives them an appreciation for the living things around them and to be able to look closer at the world in which they live.”
Over the past year, elementary science teachers within the district have begun working together during professional development to incorporate nature journaling into their curriculum. Debbie Lenz, the lead district science teacher, says, “Through nature journaling the teachers incorporate observational sketching as an integral part of their science curriculum. There is so much more a person can observe from an object when they make a detailed drawing of it. They not only look for color and overall shape, but they look at the fine details, the multitude of color shadings, the structure, the variety of shapes and patterns, and the texture.”
The digital microscopes are essential for the students’ nature journaling activities. Student scientists set up the easy-to-use digital microscopes, connect them to Chromebooks and are able to not only look at the specimens up close but are even able to record videos of moving specimens. “The quality of the pictures that the digital microscopes yield,” Ms. Hill says, “lead to some sketches that are truly impressive.”
For future lessons, Ms. Hill plans on having students bring in specimens from the school garden or home to view and draw in class. “Allowing students the time to do this is important. The questions and curiosities that are sparked are essential to helping our students become lifelong learners.”