Plankton might be difficult to see with the naked eye, but they are absolutely crucial.
Found in every standing body of water from ponds to oceans, plankton play a critical role in our food chain and provide important information about water quality.
If you want to see plankton, then you need a microscope. “These microscopes have to be especially powerful because plankton are almost transparent,” says Paul Mühlenhoff, a biology teacher at the Hainberg-Gymnasium in Göttingen, Germany. The systems must offer good contrast at high resolution.
To make learning more effective, Paul Mühlenhoff makes plankton digital for everyone in his class. The individual microscope systems just need to be networked. Not only can the teacher monitor them using a smartphone or tablet and project individual findings on the board, but students can also see other groups’ results. “Students are significantly more motivated when they can work using a digital device in class that they use at home all the time – and the students simply learn more,” says Mühlenhoff.
Share the results with the whole class
The setup creates a sense of cohesion in the classroom: whereas before each student could only look through their own microscope, now they can share their results with the rest of the class visually. But there’s more. All the videos and images transferred from the microscope to a smartphone or tablet are stored for subsequent use. This is a real benefit for those who missed class, because later they can have a close look at their classmates’ experiment for themselves. The captured images can be integrated into a report template and printed or sent via email using the sharing function.
This has changed the classroom experience. Whenever a teacher just stands in front of the class and lectures, students’ brains switch off after just five minutes. That is why brain researchers recommend that class be as interactive as possible and that teachers make use of different media.
Head, heart and hand
Back in the early 19th century, the Swiss pedagogue Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi’s was already advocating an approach to education that utilizes the “head, heart and hand,” i.e. students should use all their senses when learning. Working with a microscope and tablet enables teenagers to increase their ability to think abstractly and creatively, such as when turning their microscope image into a (digital) drawing.
Not only do networked microscopes make plankton visible, but students learn more effectively while enjoying greater flexibility to do their schoolwork when and where they want – and all while having a lot more fun.