Day 8: Hooke, Micrographia, and our own experiments with microscopes

One of my trimester electives (11th/12th grade science) right now is called Great Experiments in Science. The idea is for it to be a really interdisciplinary course where we engage with primary source documents, read some secondary sources, and try to recreate experiments (or parts of experiments) across the sciences. (No big deal, right?) I am also hoping to bring a social justice thread into this course (how can you not talk about the culture when you’re specifically focusing on the history, right?), and the kids responded really positively to that idea.

Our first week is focused on Hooke and Micrographia (read it for free online through Project Gutenberg). We started yesterday by reading his first set of observations (the point on a needle and the point of a period printed on paper). We talked about what was surprising and confusing in the reading (most confusing was the language and spelling!), and then we went to the Biology Lab’s set of microscopes and started recreating those same observations. It was amazing how much our needles and printed periods looked like Hooke’s drawings.

Today, I picked out five different observations from the book and had groups randomly adopt one each. They spent a little while reading them and discussing them at their tables, then we projected the images onto the board and had each group explain a little about what the image showed. Then we started our mini-project—doing our own observations (from prepared slides and from whatever else they can find and want to examine) and creating our own drawings.

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One kid noticed she was bleeding on her arm (nothing major—probably just a scratch from something) and she immediately wanted to look at her blood. Another kid helped her get it on a scrap of paper and then onto a slide (in as sanitary a way as possible, of course). She spent some time figuring it all out and getting it in focus, but it looked just like the prepared slides we had of human blood (good news for everyone, but really exciting for her to be able to do that). She also looked at the bit of paper that she had used. Before we got it in focus, we thought there might not have been enough blood on the slide (compared to the prepared samples), and she looked at me and said, “I know what I have to do.” (Don’t worry—I wouldn’t have let her do anything!)

Some kids figured out they could take photos with their photos through the microscopes and one sent me a few of his.

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They spent the rest of the period working on sketches, and they will get one more full class period (65 minutes) to complete the project.


I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first proposed this class as a half-formed idea, but now that we’re into it, I’m so excited about doing this work with these kids.

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