Krebs' Class Blogs

Constructing, creating, communicating, collaborating, and thinking critically in grade 5.

Bugscope Session


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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. I would have double-checked the chat feature in plenty of time to ask our IT person to enable chatting.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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:

    1. A student was the one who figured out the chat was working again, and he began right away asking relevant questions.
    2. Students were attentive, interested, and made sure to record the experience with photographs, video and notes (not even required).
    3. 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.)
    4. Some students even came back into my room with their lunches, spending the period asking questions and watching the insects while they munched.
    5. 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.

Author: Denise Krebs

I'm the chief learner in life's adventure.


  1. Hi Mrs. Krebs and class,

    This looks incredible! What a fabulous experience! I keep revisiting their website and see it’s free, that it looks like 6 weeks out from submission of application, and they will adapt to the age of the class. Fabulous!

    I appreciate that your reflection included what you would do differently next time. It helps others think through some details that easily get left out. I am passing this on to many others in my district and hope they take advantage of this fabulous collaboration.

    Were the bugs you sent alive? I wonder if they’d take scorpions. We have several different types of scorpions that live here and the kids are always intrigued by them. They are easy to find at night if you have a black light and you know where to look.

    Thank you for this wonderful post!

    Kind regards,
    Mrs. Watanabe

  2. Hello, my name is Noah and I am an education major from the University of South Alabama. I found it remarkable how you had this experience set up for your students and wonder how I would be able to achieve such things when I get into the field.

    You have also seemed to have taught your students to be very literate when it comes to technology which is impressive when i look back in my education background and see that was left out while I was going through school. You are really a teacher to admire! keep up the good work.

    • Noah,

      Thank you so much for the humbling and kind comment. It is nice of you, but I feel that as I have opened up my classroom to the genius that the students bring, my job has just gotten easier.

      I have come down off the stage, and gotten out of the way, letting my students take charge of their learning. It is sometimes a wild and crazy ride. We have so much to do, and when students see meaningful tasks that connect with others and have the potential to effect change in the world, they respond with leadership. I’m so proud of them this year.

      I have been a teacher quite a while, but this way of doing school is fairly new for me and for students. I’m excited that you, with professors like Dr. Strange, are going to come out more prepared to join the 21st century learning environment that’s out there already (and, unfortunately, some teachers are still ignoring!)

      Thanks again for the visit. Be a passionate learner!
      Denise Krebs

  3. Dear Mrs. Watanabe,
    Thank you for commenting on the post about Bugscope. You don’t send the insects or bugs alive. We think you would be able to send scorpions or other arachnids as long as they’re dead.

    Thanks again,
    Mrs. Krebs’ 7th Graders

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