The Bugscope is an $800,000 scanning electron microscope housed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A student sitting at a laptop in Iowa (or anywhere) can focus, change contrast, and zoom in on some really interesting specimens. My students and I were privileged to be the first Bugscope session of the season. It was certainly a first in more ways than one, because, for my class and me, it was the first time we have made real-time connections with someone off-campus.
Besides my initially high stress level because of an unexpected scheduling conflict at my school and the chat feature being disabled for a while, it turned into an amazing experience. The scientists involved were professional, hospitable, accommodating, and knowledgeable. The ones we interacted with most were Scott Robinson and Cate Wallace at Microscopy Suite, Imaging Technology Group, Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
We were delighted with the wonder of looking at insects from our own backyard up-close and grossly personal. (Yes, we had actually sent our own insects to the lab.)
My students loved it. Here are just a few of their reflections:
As I said before, I was new at connecting like this so I made some mistakes. Not for the purpose of having a pity party, but just to share objectively some of the many things I did wrong, I offer my top six list of things I would have done differently:
- I would put my Bugscope session on the main calendar in the school office and not just on my classroom calendar. That would have prevented an impossible scheduling conflict.
- I would have run the systems test at school instead of at home. Of course, I needed to test our network at school, not just my laptop’s system. What WAS I thinking?
- I would have double-checked the chat feature in plenty of time to ask our IT person to enable chatting.
- I would have taken time before the session to practice with my students using Google chat. They could have practiced asking relevant questions, using good conventions, and reading previous responses to ensure they were joining the conversation and not repeating questions that had already been asked.
- I only had two laptops for designated chatting. Next time I definitely would have expanded the number of students connecting with the scientists, giving each person a partner and having the pairs work together to ask questions of the scientists on chat. I would have put their first names instead of calling ourselves Student 1 and Student 2.
- I would have scheduled the session a little later into the school year after we had time to learn more about insects.
I share these because maybe someone reading will be hosting their own Bugscope session. Or maybe these ideas will be good to keep in mind for others and myself when connecting via Skype or another situation like Bugscope that involves chatting.
It’s easy to point out all the things that went wrong, but there were many things that went right, and I was tickled to have had the opportunity to experience these winning moments:
- A student was the one who figured out the chat was working again, and he began right away asking relevant questions.
- Students were attentive, interested, and made sure to record the experience with photographs, video and notes (not even required).
- While we looked at compound eyes on the screen, I remembered I had a basket full of little prisms that simulated compound eyes. (Usually I would have remembered the next week or so.)
- Some students even came back into my room with their lunches, spending the period asking questions and watching the insects while they munched.
- The folks at the Microscopy Suite provided us with the transcript so we can refer back to it.
On a side note, we participated in the Bugscope project solely because of a tweet I received this summer from Kevin Ricketts.
Just another example of how Twitter is changing the way I teach! Thanks, Kevin!
Also, thanks to Mrs. Hunt who so quickly enabled chat for us when we discovered the problem.
And a great thank you to Scott and Cate and all the others who did such an amazing job making my seventh graders feel like scientists.