Magnificent Microscopes

Heidi Haugen
Florin High School
Sacramento, CA

In this series of activities students will explore the "invisible world", make meaningful microscopic discoveries, and learn the importance of the microscope as a tool in science and research.

Three activities are presented here for this teaching module

  • beginning with specimen viewing to instruct students on the use microscopes
  • a microscope-based mystery
  • composing a letter to Anton Leeuwenhoek as an alternative form of student assessment

In the biology laboratory, the microscope is a very important instrument. The development of the microscope has made possible the identification of organisms and has assisted in microscopic discoveries. The microscope is used to examine organisms and specimens that are too small to be seen with the unaided or "naked" eye.

ACTIVITY 1: The Share Sheet
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 ones which students bring in their own specimen to view and observing the letters 'o', 'd', and 'c'. Students practice using the microscope and obtain their microscope operating license .

ACTIVITY 2: "Microscope Mystery"
Next, students participate in a "Microscope Mystery" (adapted from Carolina Tips, reprint of Science Scope -National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) publication 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.

ACTIVITY 3: A Letter to Leeuwenhoek
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. Students are guided through a writing process including brainstorm, drafts, peer review, and final copy.

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

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

Type of Activity

Target Audience

Activity 1: Microscope Share Sheet
Student Handout

  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?

  5. What do you wonder about microscopes?

  6. What do you want to know?

  7. What do you want to see?

Activity 2:
The Microscope Mystery

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


Background Information

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 sciences 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 criminal's 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 scientist 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 science is multi-disciplined, calling on the very specialized skills of the pathologist, the 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 appropriate equipment (hand lens, stereoscopic microscope, compound light microscope, etc...). Follow the appropriate procedures for viewing evidence, mounting slides (most will need to be dry mounts) and viewing/focusing with the microscope. As you observe the evidence, be sure to document (draw and label) each piece on an "Evidence Record Sheet". Be sure to draw detailed pictures of what you observe, use color, and label the magnification (40x, 100x, 400x).


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 your Internet information.

Activity 2: The Microscope Mystery
Preliminary Police Report

Date: November 26, 1996
Location of crime: Your High School
Estimated time of occurrence: sometime around midnight
First Arriving Officers: Sergeant S. Holmes and Lieutenant Columbo

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 7956 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. A heart shaped box of chocolates was found to the victim's left. 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 bag for further inspection with a stereoscopic microscope. Feathers were found scattered around the carpet. Samples of feathers have been collected for analysis.

Lieutenant Columbo 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 (apparently cut up) near the body. Blood samples were taken near the body. Slides of these samples are included as evidence. In addition, an unidentified red substance was found near the rat cages, on top of Lab Station #6, and near the head of the victim.

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 apparent footprints were found; however, unusual markings resembling a set of tracks were faintly apparent near the body. Officers were unable to identify these markings. The scene was "dusted" for fingerprints. Detectives were able to "lift" one print from Lab Station #6. Preliminary analysis of the print lead detectives to believe it to be a thumb print. Science teachers working in the vicinity have been requested to submit a thumb print for comparison. 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 its cage. The FFA (Future Farmers of America) Department reported that their prize turkey is missing from the animal facility.

Activity 2: The Microscope Mystery
Forensic Team Responsibilities

Chief of Forensics:_____________________________

In charge of entire investigation. The Chief of Forensics reviews the Preliminary Police Report with the other team members. Responsible in proper handling of evidence and forensic laboratory examinations. The Chief of Forensics is responsible for checking evidence out and back in to the Chief of Police. This person will assemble the final report based on the rubric/"check off list" provided by the Chief of Police. Ultimately, responsible for the accuracy of the final Forensic Report. The Chief of Forensics will also be participating in the collection of and documenting of evidence. This person is also responsible for laboratory facilities cleanliness.

Investigative Reporter/
Evidence Monitor:______________________

Primary responsibility is to prepare a written (Rough Draft) Forensic Report after reviewing the evidence, preliminary police report, and collaborating with other Forensic Team members in order to insure accurate information in the final report. In addition, this person must computerize/word process a final Forensic Report to be duplicated on the Forensic Report Form. The Investigative Reporter will also act as an Evidence Monitor and assist in the analysis and documentation of evidence from the scene.

Principal 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 (low, medium, and high power). All evidence must be properly observed and diagramed/logged onto an Evidence Record Sheet (ERS). The Evidence Recorder will collaborate with the Investigative Reporter/Evidence Monitor and Forensic Photographer. This person will report final analysis results directly to the Chief of Forensics.

Forensic Photographer/
Documentation :______________________

The Forensic Photographer is the only person who may enter the scene. This person will photograph the scene and evidence. Thorough documentation includes a full sketch of the crime scene as well as an additional 5 sketches of pertinent evidence. Additional evidence such as the chocolate with the bite will be recorded as a single isolated item. In addition to sketches, the photographer will utilize a Quicktake camera to photograph and digitize the scene (~3 computerized images). As with all team positions the photographer must discuss the findings with the other team members.

Activity 2: The Microscope Mystery
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 11/25/96

-- 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....

Activity 2: The Microscope Mystery
Evidence Record

Scientist_____________________________ date___________ period_____


You will need to design an Evidence Record Sheet to document the following evidence:

HAIR SAMPLE-Ms. Walzberg
HAIR SAMPLE-Mrs. Spithorst
HAIR SAMPLE-Mrs. Jackson
Microscope Images-Low/Medium/High
hand lens sketches/descriptions
FINGERPRINT-Mrs. Spithorst
hand lens sketches/descriptions
hand lens sketches/descriptions

For the following evidence use Microscope Images--Low/Medium/High sketches/descriptions...




PIECES OF NOTE (dry mount only/hand lens)



Activity 3: A Letter to Leeuwenhoek
Microscope Assessment

In a letter to Anton van Leeuwenhoek you will "show" me what you know and have learned about microscopes. Be Creative! You must use proper letter format and include the following (~3-4 pages including drawing):

Design Your Own Letterhead with your:
company logo
phone number.

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

Dear Mr. van Leeuwenhoek,


  1. 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!

  2. What the word "microscope" means.

  3. How your microscope is similar to and different that those in the past.

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

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

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

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

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

  9. 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,

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

Learn more about Heidi

Return to the Share the Wealth Directory
Jump to the Access Excellence Homepage