New microscopes are invigorating scientific learning at Corvallis Middle School thanks to a Corvallis Schools Foundation fund drive this fall and winter.
The microscopes have arrived, replacing ones that were over 20-years-old and no longer functioning well.
Science educator David Chimo said the new microscopes are as good as the ones he used in college. “They have the ability for 1,000 times magnification,” he said.
This year students in his seventh–grade life science class could see bacteria, the perfect impact for introductory biology.
“We’ve never been able to see bacteria before because 100 power was about as good as I could get with our old microscopes,” Chimo said. “This is their first time to compare different unicellular objects. I think it increases the students’ ability to understand the structure of their organisms. Now it is hands-on and they get to see it in person.
“The microscopes are incredible,” Chimo told Harlene Marks, president of the Corvallis School Foundation who arranged the purchase of the instruments. “We can actually see bacteria now. Being life science I do study all the kingdoms of organisms and being able to look at them all is extremely important. We also look in detail at plants, fungi and animal tissues.”
Marks was on the Corvallis School Foundation for about three-years before becoming president, an office she has had for two-years.
The all-volunteer group has a focus on supporting academics by inspiring, innovating and investing in opportunities for all Corvallis students.
The microscope project was funded by grants from CSF and other groups including a $400 donation from PAWS (Parents at Work in the Schools) and an appeal letter detailing the need for microscopes was sent to the community and individuals that support education.
“They may be alumni, they may be members of the community that feel strongly about educating children, and we sent the letter out to about 1,000 people,” Marks said. “We were able to fund the project in about six months.”
Marks said getting hands-on with science is important for students.
“They absorb the information so much faster than just looking at something on the board because they are the ones doing it,” she said. “It’s also preparing them for what they will see beyond middle school — high school, college and work.”
Marks said the Corvallis School Foundation a nonprofit organization began in 1998 and has had great success stories. Their goal is to enhance and enrich education and have funded blue bicycles for students to pedal to Teller Wildlife Refuge, Performing Arts concerts and theater productions, STEAM based activities and tools to bolster their science, technology, engineering, art or mathematics curriculum in the primary school and nearly 60 other educational projects. For the complete list visit.csfmontana.com/.
CMS Principal Rich Durgin said he expected the funding process to take a year.
“The community support for this project has been amazing,” he said. “I thought maybe we would get the microscopes next year but we had them by second semester.”
The Middle School was able to purchase five polarized digital microscopes and 15 monocular 1000x microscopes for the $13,000.
The fifth-grade students in Amanda Bestor’s life science enhancement class used the new microscopes for the first time on Thursday.
The students were cautious about their first foray into the world of magnification. They were thrilled to be able to load their slides with pond water and algae and adjust the focus themselves. Discoveries of still-wiggling water-shrimp, worms and cells were key points of excitement.
Two types of microscopes — standard and digital — offered educational learning options and ways to get students excited about science that weren’t previously available.
“The digital microscopes allow images to be projected directly onto computer screens or smart boards, so are extremely easy to use for younger students,” Durgin said.
The students started pointing the digital cameras at flowers and leaves to see the detailed petals and stems. Because the images were seen on Chrome Books the students shared what they discovered with their peers. Soon students were exploring hands and hair.
Bestor said she is excited to take the microscopes out in to the field with her students.
“I’ve had a little document camera that I can show feathers and we dissect flowers but now kids can dissect the flowers under the microscope and adjust as they go,” she said. “This is the first day with the new microscopes and I didn’t realize how poorly the old ones worked until I saw the new images. This is amazing.”
She said her students are identifying the cell walls.
“It is exciting that they are seeing the parts you’ve been teaching them,” Bestor said. “There are dials we don’t know how to use yet, but they will. As they get older they’ll be able to do more.”
Her class makes 10-12 trips to Teller Wildlife Refuge each year. In May they complete a survival unit and learn native plants.
“We talk about medicinal uses,” Bestor said. “Students often confuse service berry and snow berry and I talk about how leaves look different, but you’re just holding up a leaf. It will be cool to have them look under the microscope and really see the differences.”
The fifth-grade students study protist.
“We read about protist, we write about protist, but until you actually see them and see them moving across a microscope slide it is really exciting,” Bestor said. “[Former educator] Ms. Bleibtrey used to say, ‘if anyone finds one I’ll give you a dollar’ and I’ve carried on that tradition because they are hard to find.”
Bestor also uses the outdoor classroom with trees just outside her window.
Durgin said the new microscopes are also polarized.
“That will allow our eighth-grade earth science class to analyze the crystal structure of thin sections of minerals and rocks for the first time,” he said. “There are just lots of options are now available to us.”
“We will be having another large project for the school next year and we will be selecting it in June,” Marks said.