Pivotal Bloggers: Supporting Hands-on Microscopy with Pivot Interactives

November 18, 2021

Biology Teacher David Madden shares how he introduces microscopy to his Biology Students.

This year my biology class is using Pivot Interactives to help support our lab investigations and explorations.  Our first experience centered around biodiversity and microscope usage.  My students had a wide variety of science class and biology lab backgrounds.  For many this was the first time they had ever used microscopes. To help gauge student backgrounds, I gave this form as part of our bellringer activity before conducting the labs.  The data was quite helpful when addressing students’ needs and potential students who would need extra attention and help during the labs.  I find it helpful to start the year with microscopes and most students find it fun and interesting. They get to participate and move and bring in organisms from their home and school environments.  

Goals for this series of class labs and activities included the following.  

Students will be able to:

  1. demonstrate the proper use and care of a compound light microscope and a dissecting microscope.
  2. focus the microscopes at different magnifications.
  3. examine organisms from different kingdoms.  
  4. describe the characteristics of life and how they relate to our study of biology.  


The order of activities went like this:

Activity 1 - Microscopes Form.  

The form we used generated some helpful information and helped guide our introduction and teacher demonstrations. I love using forms for pre-labs – they are a great way to do pre and post assessments, as well as a way to ask fun or silly questions that serve as ice breakers. They also help us learn about visualizing data – in pie charts, numbered stars, and Likert scales.  These screenshots highlight some of the collected data. 



I then tailored my class demonstrations to the Form’s results.  The depth of my explanations was catered to the classes’ level of prior knowledge (as best as I could).  


Activity 2 - Microscope Exploration on Pivot

Next we used Daphnia Exploration with Microscopes activity on Pivot Interactives. This was our introduction to Pivot labs this year.  I love daphnia, they are a charismatic model organism, and also easy to find for labs later in the year (both wet labs in class, and/or Pivot’s Daphnia related labs – Chemical Impact on Heart Rate and Daphnia and Temperature). 


The beauty of this lab, and all Pivot labs, is that it allows students to see things that we can’t see in class.  I love the incorporation of measurement tools in this lab, asking students to observe and collect data into a data table.  These skills are extremely helpful for my students, and hard for us to practice in class with limited equipment.  Students really appreciated seeing the data contribute to making a graph that showed clear relationships. 


In this Pivot Interactive the students are introduced to the parts and functions of the compound light microscope.  Students observe Daphnia under bright field and dark field conditions and under different magnifications.  I love seeing these little Arthropoda under the microscope, and most of my students did, too!  In addition to microscope usage and Daphnia anatomy, the lab also introduces biological levels of organization.  The lab concludes with students using the built-in video ruler to measure and compare Daphnia organs.  This data is collected into a data table and represented in a graph.  This interactive was the perfect beginning to our Pivot experience and a great companion for starting microscopes.


We also worked on our microscopes parts and functions handout while moving through the Pivot Interactive.  Most of the functions were addressed in the interactive.  Those that weren’t I made sure to emphasize during my introduction and demonstrations.  Additionally, the teacher is able to edit and fine tune their own Pivot Interactive lab so as to include more or different vocabulary, background, questions, and analysis.  It’s endlessly customizable.  

Activity 3 - Microscopes Show and Tell Biodiversity: 

Each year I try to connect our first microscope adventure to biodiversity.  Students are asked to bring in different organisms from our local environment.  Can you believe that we have rainbow scarab beetles here in Florida?  *My 4-year son found this little guy. He also helped me find a Leopard Moth, a Yellow Jacket, and a millipede.  I also brought in pond water for students to inspect.  A major focus of the lab is for students to get familiar with using microscopes while also learning about different kinds of living organisms.  Students rotated around to different stations, each with a different prepared slide or local specimen; both compound and dissecting microscopes were used.  


Activity 4 -  Characteristics of Life:

I wanted to bookend our class labs with Pivot’s activity: Intro to the Characteristics of Life.  This was perfect seeing as the interactive centers around protists seen under the microscope.  I wanted the students to start building their personal biodiversity database - giving them access to as many new and fascinating organisms as possible.  Some of these came in from our show and tell activity, others were seen virtually via Pivot.  In this lab, like all Pivot labs, students approach a central concept with the aid of topical scaffolding.  The scaffolding helps support student learning and also often addresses additional related material.  In this case, the lab covers characteristics of life while also giving students access to really cool organisms and experiences we otherwise would not have access to.