QX3 Computer Microscope Biology Project

Activity Overview: 

Students work in groups to design and present a PowerPoint presentation that reflects research on the topic they select, utilizing the technological aspects of the computer microscope, and exploring new areas of biology in which they are interested.


  1. Create a renewed interest in science and make learning new things fun. Allow students to explore areas of biology that are of individual interest to them. 
  2. Use technology to enhance science education. Allow students to expand their knowledge base and teach others what they have learned.
  3. Select a biological topic that can utilize the technological aspects of the computer microscope (specifically magnified photos and videos ranging from 60X to 200X magnification).
  4. Research the selected topic, collect specimens/materials, capture photos and video using the computer microscopes.
  5. Work collaboratively with partners to design, create, and save a PowerPoint presentation that reflects research and use of the computer microscopes.
  6. Present final PowerPoint presentations to the class and make them available for others via our school computer network.

Students will work in groups to design and present a PowerPoint presentation that reflects research on the topic they select, utilizes the technological aspects of the computer microscope, and explores new areas of biology in which they are interested.

(Note: This is a unit plan that may cover several days to several weeks. Not all of the following activities/standards will appear in the video clips used.) 

Preparations: Curriculum Standards:
National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) Performance Indicators 
Initially, students need to experiment with the computer microscopes to identify exactly what this equipment can do. Plan to provide at least one class period for practice using the microscopes. Also provide specimens that are readily available (eg., Insects, earthworms, plants, pond water, snake skin, etc.) and encourage students to collect their own specimens for this part of the project. Science 9-12: A1, A2, E1, E2  Grades 9-12: 1, 8, 10
Students need to be divided into groups. (The teacher can assign group numbers based upon the number of microscopes that are available for use. I prefer to have the students choose the individuals with whom they wish to work.) The topic for the project needs to be selected and all members of the group need to agree on the topic. Keep in mind that the topic must be one that can (a) use the technological capabilities of the computer microscopes and (b) must connect with the biology course outline and objectives. The teacher needs to approve the topic selection before proceeding with research. Science 9-12: A1, A2, E1, E2 Grades 9-12: 1, 2, 8, 10
Students work collaboratively to research their selected/approved topic using magazines, newspapers, journals, textbooks, other library resources and the Internet. They must document sources of information.
Science 9-12: A1, A2, C1-C6, E1, E2, G1 – G3, depending upon topic selected Grades 9-12: 1, 2, 7, 8, 10
Students collect necessary materials/specimens to use with the computer microscopes and capture snapshots and/or video clips using their collections. They save these on the computer and on a floppy disk. Science 9-12: A1, A2, C1-C6, E1, E2, G1 – G3, depending upon topic selected  Grades 9-12: 7, 8, 10
Students work collaboratively in groups to design, create, and save a PowerPoint presentation that reflects their research and the use of the computer microscopes. A scoring rubric is provided to help students organize their presentations according to the grade they desire to get. Science 9-12: A1, A2, C1-C6, E1, E2, G1 – G3, depending upon topic selected Grades 9-12: 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 10
Students present their PowerPoint presentations to the class. Science 9-12: A1, A2, C1-C6, E1, E2, G1 – G3, depending upon topic selected Grades 9-12: 1, 2, 7, 8, 10
Students evaluate each other and themselves during PowerPoint presentations using the scoring rubric provided. The teacher uses the same rubric to evaluate the group presentation.    


Intel Play QX3 Computer Microscopes. Intel. Available: http://www.intelplay.com
Whiteboard/ Projection Unit

Microsoft Office 2000 (PowerPoint). Microsoft. Available: http://www.microsoft.com
Internet Explorer. Microsoft. Available: http://www.microsoft.com

Students will assess themselves and each other using a scoring rubric designed by the teacher and modified based on their suggestions. The teacher will use the same rubric to evaluate the group presentations. This activity will count as a test/project grade.

Barbara S. Bledsoe, Central Senior High School, Victoria, Virginia

The beauty of utilizing technology tools and teenage creativity is that depending upon the topic they select, it can fit almost anywhere in the study of biology. Our unit at the present time is on cells. Microscope observations are always included in cell study. This computer microscope simply allows students/teachers to capture, identify, record, and discuss microscopic observations more effectively. It also allows an archive of materials to be created and saved for future use.

We completed this project in one week (five days). However, depending upon the type of schedule at your school, it may take more or less time. We are currently on a 4 x 4 block schedule (90 minute blocks). I also provide additional supervised time after school to allow for absences or those who require more time.

This was a brand new activity for us. We only received the microscopes the week before the videotaping was done. Students always enjoy working with new equipment. One of the greatest discoveries made through this activity was that science is constantly changing and the textbook cannot be used exclusively for science instruction. Students enjoy finding new information not included in their textbook. They are delighted when new discoveries invalidate textbook facts, and they are the ones who announce these changes. 

Technology Resources:
These technology resources were chosen because new equipment sparks renewed motivation for the exploration of “old” topics. Students love computers and they find great enjoyment in using them to learn required subject material. They also have control of what they choose to learn about a particular subject. Often the quiet student is skilled in computer use and his/her peers may not be aware of the talents of this student. When working in groups, each individual student’s talent can be observed in a new setting. New friendships may develop. A new perspective on the various needs for diverse talents in society may develop during the completion of this project.

This particular microscope was selected because it was fairly inexpensive and could be purchased in multiples without exceeding the current budget.

School Background Information:

  • Victoria is a quiet, rural community of approximately 1,800 citizens. Central High School has 578 students. Around 50% of the students are White, 49% are African American, and 1% are Hispanic. Forty nine percent of the students receive free or reduced price lunch. 

Teaching Strategy:
Students enjoy “learning by doing”. Hands-on activities, a group setting, and using technology are all of the necessary components for student success. They remember what they learn, they have fun learning, and they enjoy creating something to use to teach others what they have learned.

Technology as Facilitator of Quality Education Model Components Highlighted in This Activity http://www.intime.uni.edu/model/modelimage.html
(Note: This is a unit plan that may cover several days to several weeks. Not all of the elements from the Technology as Facilitator of Quality Education Model that are described below will appear in the video clips used.)

Principles of Learning:
The students are actively involved. They choose their topic, they research it, they collect required materials, they design a presentation and they teach others. Patterns and Connections are often revealed through research or presentations and group sharing. For instance, the project on growth rings connected living things (biotic) and nonliving things (abiotic) with ring pattern and aging. Once a single connection or pattern is established it is almost like a challenge or a dare to find others! New synapses are created with this stimulation of the brain and who knows where that may lead. In the future, I see students having access to these presentations and expansion of the topics, growing to reflect new discoveries and new ideas. Informal Learning provides the opportunities for students to relax and learn without fear of punishment for “wrong answers”. Removal from the traditional classroom setting into a lab surrounded by computers and lots of technological equipment is stimulating for this generation. Students sometimes feel inferior to the teacher or feel that the teacher “knows everything”. By learning to use new equipment and searching for information about a topic that they are interested in they realize that they are important! They can contribute something to others, including the teacher. I love to tell my students…”I don’t know how to do that…..can anyone show me?” Or perhaps….”I didn’t know that! Thanks for sharing.” What a feeling of self-worth is provided by this experience. Students today are under too much stress. They don’t want to make mistakes, they don’t want to take risks in front of their peers. If it is encouraged….then all kinds of new doors will open. Kids today are much smarter than they want us to know or than they want to admit. They will find cures for diseases and solutions to world problems, and they’ll find their special niche in society if we only help them to feel free to learn as much as they can! Direct Experience is one of the BEST ways to remember anything. That’s why we took one entire class period to “play” with the new microscopes to see what they could do. We learned lots of new things about paper money, coins, spiders, cocoons, feathers, earthworms, and our bodies as the students “played” with the new equipment. Reflection was evident each day as the students reviewed the previous day’s work. Examination using a critical eye to analyze their creations and accomplishments, followed by modifications to the presentation provided daily improvements. If individuals had completed research at home, they shared their information with the group and the decision was made as to the value of that information. The Compelling Situation was of course, multi-leveled. First of all, the students were challenged to find out how to use the new microscopes and get them to do exactly what the students wanted them to do. Nobody has time to read thick manuals from cover to cover. We jump right in and experiment! Often we encounter problems that test our patience as well as our logic and reasoning. Second, the selection of a topic to be researched and complemented by the use of the microscopes was a problem. Everyone in the group had to present their ideas and then provide a convincing argument as to why their idea should be the one selected by their group. And finally, the finished product had to be created and analyzed according to a specific set of details listed on a scoring rubric. Frequent Feedback was provided within the group by the individual members of the group. The computer gives almost immediate feedback as information is put into the system and appears on the monitor. Visitors frequently stop into the computer lab to see what the class is doing. Students love to show others what they are doing! During the final presentation of the PowerPoint project, peer-evaluation, teacher- evaluation, and self-evaluation provide feedback for the group.

Information Processing:
Selecting a topic of individual interest instead of being assigned one is the beginning of the Appreciation stage ofInformation Processing. Teaching and sharing the information discovered by their research continues thisAppreciationPresearch is reflected as students brainstorm to choose a topic that meets the criteria of the project. Discussion among the members of the group allows the students to take control of their own learning. It is interesting to observe how various students will defend their ideas and persuade the group to pursue their idea and eliminate others. Search is evident as students utilize the resources in the library and on the Internet to find out information on their topic. Once the research is complete the students must analyze it and determine its value. This is the beginning of the Interpretation stage. Once useless information is excluded from the research, the students must communicate with one another and organize the valuable material into a PowerPoint presentation. The synthesis of the newly found information into a great product takes a lot of team effort. ContinuousCommunication among members of the group is required throughout the duration of this project. The final communication is to be delivered during the presentation to the class. Evaluation is in the form of a rubric score sheet and this is completed by each student and by the teacher. However, I feel that it is worth mentioning that this presentation may not be the end of this investigation. If students have selected a topic that they are genuinely interested in, they will continue to talk about it and research it. One never knows where research will lead or where it will end up. The stimulation of a teenage mind has unbelievable potential!

Content Standards:
Inquiry based learning is a MUST in science education. Students must develop the ability to identify questions and concepts that guide scientific investigations. This can only be accomplished if they are given opportunities to design and conduct their own investigations. Of course there must be guidelines provided for inquiry-based investigations, but with teacher supervision the students can be convinced to follow certain rules. With this microscope project, numerous life science standards were addressed by the various topics that were selected. As group presentations were given, 
Science and Technology standards were evident. Historical perspectives may also follow the presentations and students may be given the insight into a career possibility. 

Tenets of Democracy:
The skills for living in a Democracy were observed at various stages of this project. Tolerance was needed among the members of the group as they decided on their topic. Critical Thinking and Decision Making was evident as all individuals presented their ideas for consideration and one specific topic was agreed upon and selected.Thinking Together and Making Meaning was a requirement throughout this project. Students had to research the topic, share their information, and then create their presentations. Power Sharing and Empowermentoften made a surprise appearance as problems with using the technology developed. Individual talents were revealed and those talents were often shared not only within the individual groups but between groups as well. For instance, if we had difficulty saving our presentations on the A: drive, someone would share how to save on the G: drive of one computer so that it could be accessed on a different computer where the A: drive was functional.Individual Responsibility was often observed as our videotaping deadline quickly approached and certain members of a group had been absent or had not completed their assigned task. Civil Involvement With Others can be observed on the video when one group asks to present their project in the absence of one of the members of the group. They must decide whether or not they should go ahead without all members or whether they should wait until all group members are present.

Teacher Knowledge:
I believe that all good teachers have knowledge of the special needs of each of their students as well as the content of their subject. However, I do not believe that the teacher should claim to know everything! It is important for the students to see an attitude of learning new things modeled by their teachers. If the teacher can learn something new from the student or from new research and show excitement in gaining new knowledge, then a positive attitude toward daily learning can be developed by the students. Attitude is everything! Teachers can learn from their students as well as the other way around! 

Teacher Behavior:
Every teacher has his or her own unique method ofClassroom Management. I am quite open with all of my students from the first day of school. I let them know that I enjoy teaching and that I love biology! I try to demonstrate my love of science and teaching by showing that example each day. I never say one thing and then turn around and do something else. That tells the students that you are a hypocrite. Students deserve to be treated fairly, with respect, and with understanding. If one shows sincerity and compassion for students, then classroom behavior should not be a problem. I don’t think that a teacher can be a dictator and be effective. I also know that unpreparedness for class breeds discipline problems. Teachers need to be creative and stimulating in their delivery of content to students. The use of technology in the classroom is one technique that can help to attain this goal.

Student Characteristics:
The students currently enrolled in my biology class are considered to be college-bound. However, they have various backgrounds and abilities. Special education students are mainstreamed into the classroom. By working in groups, students can share their talents with their group. Some are good in researching while others are better at using the microscope to capture photos and videos. Those who are unorganized can benefit by working with others who have organizational skills. Students working in small groups benefit by experiencing the mechanisms of teamwork. They can actually see how it takes varied talents to produce a final product of high quality. They even discover that they may possess new talents that had not revealed themselves in prior activities. In this setting everyone is valued for his or her contribution. Self-esteem can build as the final presentation is shared with the class.

Evolution of the Activity:
Since this is a brand new activity, I cannot predict how it will change over time. I do, however, anticipate that if I allow the next students to view the presentations of this year’s group, that they will expand and improve upon what they have seen.

(Learning activity format adapted from National Educational Technology Standards for Students Connecting Curriculum & Technology http://cnets.iste.org/students)