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Magnificent Microscopes Unit including Mystery and Alternative Assessment Activity

By Heidi H. Haugen


Students at Florin High School focus on six learner outcomes throughout the curriculum. Students will be:

  1. Effective Communicators
  2. Complex Thinkers
  3. Quality Producers
  4. Collaborative Workers
  5. Self-directed Learners
  6. Community Contributors

The unit on microscopes begins with a cooperative prior knowledge assessment known as a "Share Sheet" (see activity #1) which is completed cooperatively on a large sheet of poster board or butcher paper. The "Share Sheet" is a prior knowledge assessment strategy adapted from California Science Project-Sacramento. The student learning can be "built" or constructed around their prior knowledge. Students learn the parts and function of microscopes as well as their history and use. Students construct their own learning about microscopes through a variety of hands-on and collaborative activities. Activities include bringing in their own specimen to view and observing the letters 'e', 'd', and 'c'. Students practice using the microscope and obtain their microscope operating license . Next, students participate in a "Microscope Mystery" (adapted from Carolina Tips, reprint of Science Scope -National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) publication see activity #2) in which they collect, prepare, and analyze evidence. As a Forensic Team students attempt to solve the mystery. Students learn how to work both independently and cooperatively as they learn and discover about microscopes and the invisible world around us. At the end of the unit students are evaluated through an alternative assessment writing activity. Students work individually on a letter to Anton van Leeuwenhoek (see activity #3). Students are guided through a writing process including brainstorm, drafts, peer review, and final copy.

Type of Activity

  • Hands-On
  • Cooperative/Self-Directed
  • Critical Thinking, Development
  • Alternative Assessment
  • Inquiry learning
  • Interdisciplinary
  • Target Audience

  • Biology/Life Science
  • Special Needs students including:
    ELL (English Language Learners)
    Special Education

  • Instructions for the Teacher


    * See Attached Laboratory Activities For Specifics


    * See Attached Laboratory Activities For Specifics

    Microscope Share Sheet

    Prior Knowlege Assessment

    "Share Sheets": Adapted and extended from CSP-Sacramento

    1. Diagram a microscope. Label as many parts as you can.

    2. Why are microscopes important?

    3. What do you already know about microscopes (parts, function, who uses them, etc...)?

    4. How does our microscope work?

    *What do you wonder about microscopes? What do you want to know? What do you want to see?

    Presentation of Share Sheet to Class
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    Panther Laboratories


    Adapted and modified from "Murder in the Science LabS from Carolina Tips, reprint of Science Scope-National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) publication


    • Analyze evidence related to a mystery
    • Use the steps of scientific method to attempt to solve a mystery, and make a conclusion about what occurred in the science lab
    • Wearing your microscope operator's license, properly use a compound microscope
    • Collaborate with team members in a forensic team
    • Participate in class discussion/debriefing sessions

    Background Information

    (from "Murder in the Science Lab" adapted from Carolina Tips, reprint of Science Scope -National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) publication)

    The word forensic means "pertaining to the courts of law," and thus forensic science means science applied to legal matters. Forensic science not only covers criminal and civil courts, but also quasi-judicial processes such as Veterans Affairs appeals and insurance claims.

    The science involved in forensic science include chemistry, physics, botany, zoology, biology, and especially medicine. Forensic medical science, which is especially concerned with pathology, is a very old branch of forensic science, going back thousands of years to the Greek courts.

    In 1910, Frenchman Edmund Locard founded a small police laboratory dedicated to forensic science. Locard was the first to put forward the theory that a criminal almost always leaves behind a physical clue at the scene of a crime-a fiber, a fingerprint, a bullet-all of which are vital pointers to the criminalUs identity.

    From Locard's research springs the modern study of forensic science. As crimes themselves have grown more complex, so has the technology used to solve them. The popular image of the forensic science who can unravel anything from a shootout to a poison case is a myth, largely perpetuated by crime fiction and thriller movies. In fact, forensic toxicologist, the ballistics expert, the forensic biologist, and the chemist.


    After reviewing the preliminary police report and collaborating with your team members, discuss what you think happened in room N-8? What evidence do you have support your hypothesis? Make sure that each forensic team member is ready to present their evidence to the Chief of Police (the teacher).

    Forensic Investigation

    In your group, examine each piece of evidence using the compound microscope. Following the appropriate procedures for mounting slides (most will need to be dry mounts) and focusing the microscope. As you observe the evidence in the bag, be sure to draw and label each piece (Investigation Evidence Report) and note your group's observations. Be sure to draw detailed pictures of what you observe, use color, and label the magnification (40x, 100x, 400x).


    Compound Microscope, Stereoscopic Microscope, Slides, Cover slips, Bag of Evidence (thread, hair, Elodea, prepared blood smear, pieces of incrimination note, slide for smear...). List any other materials you may need.


    Based on your analysis of the evidence, what conclusions are you able to reach about the mystery in room N-8? Prepare a written forensic team report describing what your group thinks happened and why. Be sure to include actual data and evidence to support your conclusions. See the Forensic Report Guide for the proper format for your final report.

    Microscopes in Real-Life

    Describe at least two practical uses for the microscope outside of the classroom. Complete an Internet search on microscopes and forensics. Record any Internet addresses that you investigate. What did you learn? Be sure to properly document you Internet information.

    Panther Police Department

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    Preliminary Police Report

    Date: February 14, 1996
    Location of crime: Florin High School, Science Lab N-8
    Estimated time of occurrence: sometime around midnight
    First Arriving Officers: Sergeant S. Holmes and Lieutenant Colombo

    Last night, the body of a scientist, whose name and identification are being withheld pending notification of next of kin, was discovered in the science lab at Florin High School at 7965 Cottonwood Lane. The body was located in the rear of the classroom (in proximity to the rat cages) in a sprawled position, ventral side up. The person was wearing a disguise of some kind and a heart shaped box of chocolates was found nearby. Apparently some of the chocolates had been eaten. One chocolate had a bite taken out of it. The impression in this chocolate was suspicious. The officers placed the chocolate in an evidence container for further inspection with a stereoscopic microscope. Lieutenant Colombo examined a wet, green plant-like material near the body and on top of Lab Station '6'. A sample of this material has been obtained for further inspection at the forensic lab. There was no evidence of a struggle; however, foul play has not yet been ruled out. The victim attempted to identify the aggressor by typing an incriminating note, which was found in pieces near the body. Small blood samples were taken near the body. Slides of these samples are included as evidence. In addition, a unidentified red substance was found near the rat cages. The officers have requested that the laboratory technicians, at Panther Laboratories, make "smears" and determine if the substance is in fact blood. Hair and fiber samples were collected. No fingerprints were found; however, unusual markings resembling a set of tracks were faintly apparent near the body. Officers were unable to identify these markings. Police are baffled by 2 things: What actually occurred in the lab, and where did the blood come from?

    According to Roger Rameriz, Chief Custodian, the science labs were cleaned and secured at 11:30 p.m. He didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. However, he did state that Dr. Lum was the last to leave the building at 11:15 p.m. He said that this wasn't unusual. Dr. Lum was working overtime on a top secret physics project.

    The following morning students were called in for questioning. Chief Wildlife Mangers reported that one rat was missing from his cage.

    Forensic Team Responsibilities

    Chief of Forensics

    In charge of entire investigation. Responsible in proper handling of evidence and forensic laboratory examinations. Ultimately responsible for the accuracy of the final Forensic Report.

    Investigative Reporter

    Primary responsibility is to prepare a written Forensic Report after reviewing the evidence, preliminary police report, and collaborating with other Forensic Team members.

    Evidence Recorder

    Responsible for obtaining the evidence from the scene, making sure it is handled properly. In addition, the Evidence Recorder will prepare the evidence for viewing with a compound light microscope. All evidence must be properly observed and diagramed/logged onto a Forensic Laboratory Evidence Sheet.

    Forensic Photographer/Documentation

    This person will photograph the scene and evidence. Thorough documentation includes a full sketch of the crime scene as well as an additional 4 sketches of pertinent evidence. In addition to sketches, the photographer will utilize a Quicktake camera to photograph and digitize the scene.

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    Forensic Report Guide

    In your forensic report you will outline the evidence you collected and present a report to the Chief of Police (the teacher). The Investigative Reporters primary responsibility is for the processing and submittal of this report. Be sure to follow proper reporting format.

    Your report should be set up as follows:

    Investigation of incident at
    Florin High School
    7956 Cottonwood Lane
    Sacramento CA 95828
    room N-8
    date 2/14/96
    *Create your own Investigative Company Name and Logo*

    Chief of Forensics

    Evidence Recorder

    Investigative Reporter

    Forensic Photographer


    What did you see at the scene...facts, where, when....JUST THE FACTS!


    What happened? (Educated Guess). Based on your teams analysis of the evidence---> What conclusions are you able to reach? Why? Is there a motive?


    Support your hypothesis (what PROOF do you have) include ALL of your evidence in this section of your report.

    What evidence did you discover?

    What does the evidence show/prove? What conclusion(s) can be made about what actually occurred?

    Use the evidence to support your conclusion(s).

    Ex. The evidence        leads us to conclude that .....

    Ex. It appears that....

    Microscope Assessment

    Design Your Own Letterhead with your: company logo, name, address, and phone number.

    Mr. Anton van Leeuwenhoek
    100 Microscope Ave.
    Cell City, Calif. 95828

    Dear Mr. van Leeuwenhoek,


    • The history of microscopes (discuss the contributions of at least one other scientist-example: Robert Hooke)-You may use a variety of resources including the Internet!

    • What the word "microscope" means.

    • How your microscope is similar to and different from those in the past.

    • Discuss how to properly use your compound light microscope and make a wet-mount slide.

    • Discuss 4 types of microscopes and what they are used for. Explain which ones kill the specimen & the magnification of each.

    • Explain what objects you have seen under the microscope and why you think the microscope is a great invention.

    • Explain how the microscope can be useful to you both now and in your future.

    • Inform van Leeuwenhoek of the impact he had on science and thank him for his contributions.

    • your own drawing (label the parts). Also include the powers of each objective as well as the total power of magnification for our classroom microscopes.

    Scientifically Yours,

    ----SIGN HERE-----

    Albert Einstein (YOUR NAME)
    (put your company title under your name)

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    What do you like best about this paper?

    Areas of Focus (What needs improvement? -- List some concerns):

    Microscope Assessment Teacher Evaluation

    This Final Copy Belongs to:      

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