I like using microscopes. It’s an art that requires complete attention to the task at hand; you can’t be worrying about other things when you’re trying to focus a microscope. And what you see is wonderfully cool.
Teaching microscopes, on the other hand, can be trying. Students tend to get frustrated if they can’t focus their scopes immediately. Even very independent students want lots of reassurance during microscopy, and the struggling students want constant support, so your name gets called about every 20 seconds. I’ve managed to alleviate this a bit in the way I structure my labs, but there’s no way around the fact that students will want you to be everywhere at once.
Setting up a microscope lab is one of the most annoying things in the world. First there’s the actual labor of setting the scopes (and I’m lucky; we have a lab aide who can do this for me). Even with conscientious students who are trained in lab clean-up, the clean-up is more tedious than most labs. Management can get tricky because unless you have a scope for every kid, there is unavoidable down time for the students.
It’s like a whole other world, when you look through a microscope!
My student was right, of course. It is a whole other world, one that most of these students won’t ever see again once they leave my classroom. And while I worry that the microscope lab is not student-driven enough, is not cognitively demanding, is too “old-school,” I forget that my kids exclaim in surprise and wonder more often and more loudly with microscopes than at any other time.
Sometimes, we don’t need to be solving puzzles to engage our minds with science. Sometimes, science really is about appreciating the wonder of our natural world, and the best part of my job is facilitating that appreciation.