Every elementary teacher, whether they have formal science training or not, can begin to give their students high-quality science education that will last a lifetime.  Simply by instilling a sense of wonder and enthusiasm for creatures and phenomena in the world all around them will pIMG 8507 278x300 - Discover a Magnified World - Tying Elementary Science, Math, and Language Arts Togetherrovide an educational environment for students to expand and deepen their understanding of science concepts.  So, where do you begin, you ask?  Why, in the hidden beauty of the magnified world, of course!



I personally believe, one of, if not, THE most important and powerful science tool that every elementary classroom should have is a microscope.  This piece of equipment is fantastic for two reasons – one, it allows students to investigate safely and independently, and two, it gives them a really close perspective on a world that is usually limited by our eyesight, and when I say close, I mean close.  You say, there’s no budget for classroom microscopes right now.  Don’t worry, I have budget-friendly alternatives here.

Now, to be clear, just handing students a microscope or a magnifying lens to look at objects is not teaching science.  This article will help you actively involve science inquiry in your instruction and will meet the following recommendations from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) that support high-quality elementary science learning:

  • build on students’ understanding of the world and help them confront their misconceptions
  • give students time and space to structure their own investigations
  • have students in scientific discourse by helping them communicate conclusions or findings effectively through speaking and writing
  • embed authentic mathematical applications within scientific investigations
  • help students understand the difference between scientific data
  • work to integrate all the disciplines in the elementary curriculum with science
  • encourage and engage families to support children’s interest and investigation in science and other STEM activities through communication including sharing of community resources



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Students must first understand the significance of what lenses do to magnify.  Hand out magnifying lenses and encourage students to experiment with the lens to find how to get the best results.  Should they use one eye or both eyes?  Is it better to hold the magnifying lens far from the object or close to the object?  Should you look with your eyes close to the lens or far from the lens?  HINT: One eye closed works best, and generally when working with hand lenses the best magnified image appears when the magnifying lens is about 12 centimeters (4-5 inches) away from the object and about 12 centimeters (4-5 inches) away from your eye.

Also, ask them what they notice about the lens – is it flat, is it curved?  Does the curve go inward or outward?  A great site to help explain how a magnifying lens works can be found here.



Scientists collect data – so it should not be any different for your class of junior scientists.  In general, data can be broken into one of two groups – quantitative or qualitative data. Quantitative data can be counted, measured, and expressed using numbers. Qualitative data is descriptive and is based on traits and characteristics and is what we will have students focus on to help boost literacy.  When magnifying specimens, we are going to ask that students focus on collecting qualitative data then writing about, drawing pictures, or even do both of what they see.  Encourage students to use rich descriptive words when trying to explain color, texture, shape, movements, or even smells.

QUICK LESSON: Set up discovery stations around the room with some familiar and not-so-familiar items.  Have students collect qualitative data of each using their magnifying lens, then ask students to share their descriptive data.  Make sure to highlight great examples and share some of your own.

Student uses descriptive language

Student describes exoskeleton using great descriptive words like “brittle” and “thin”


Magnifying power is a measurement of how much bigger an object appears when viewed through a lens or a microscope. The “X” inscribed on each eyepiece and lens stands for “times,” so a 10X lens will make an object appear 10 times bigger than it is.

Magnifying objects is a real-world example of multiplying, in this case, the image size, and really helps your visual learners.  Side note: correct any misconceptions by making sure the students understand that the microscope or the magnifying glass is not magnifying the actual object – the lens is magnifying the image of the object.

QUICK LESSON: Use a digital microscope to magnify the image of a penny to your smartboard or screen and ask students to determine how many times has the image been magnified?  Ask students to explain how they came up with their answers.  This may lead to discussions about estimation and inference – all fantastic stuff!  When you are ready to reveal the answer, tape a strip of construction paper across the diameter of the image of the penny on your board.  With double-sided tape, have students start coming up and adding pennies (real or paper replicas) one-by-one from left to right.  When complete, students will count and see that the total number of pennies is how many times the image has been magnified!



Students use microscope to look for image of Abraham Lincoln statue in Lincoln Memorial

When looking at/for specimens, beginners will require a bit more patience.  You want to remind them to sit in a comfortable position, making sure to not strain their neck or hunch their backs.  This is just as important when you begin with microscopes.  Make sure that the microscopes are at a level that is comfortable for the kids to reach and look into.

QUICK LESSON: You can do this whether you have students using a magnifying lens or a stereo microscope.  Hand every student a penny and ask them to find and focus on Abraham Lincoln.  When they have it, ask them to raise their hand.  When you ask them to show you, they’ll most likely show you the profile of his head.  Say, “no, not just his head – I want you to find Abraham Lincoln where he is sitting in his seat.”  With a little patience (and maybe a few hints) they should be able to find the statue of Abraham Lincoln sitting in the Lincoln Memorial.  Wait until you see their reactions!!



Once your junior scientists understand the significance of magnification, it’s time to introduce them to a stereo microscope so they can really dive into the world of microscopy and begin to observe, collect data, record, and communicate their findings.  I highly encourage having students first complete The Magnified World: Intro to Microscopes.

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Once students are familiar with how to adjust and focus the stereo microscopes, you can use them throughout the school year to enhance your curriculum as you concentrate on different themes in science, such as The Magnified World series:

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Not only does this series nurture science inquiry skills, such as gathering data, identifying patterns, and understanding form and function, it also supports student understanding of the following Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for elementary science:

  • K-2-ETS1-2. Develop a simple sketch, drawing, or physical model to illustrate how the shape of an object helps it function as needed to solve a given problem.
  • K-LS1-1. Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive.
  • 1-LS1-1. Use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs.
  • 1-LS1-2. Read texts and use media to determine patterns in behavior of parents and offspring that help offspring survive
  • 2-LS2-2. Develop a simple model that mimics the function of an animal in dispersing seeds or pollinating plants
  • 3-LS3-1. Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence that plants and animals have traits inherited from parents and that variation of these traits exists in a group of similar organisms.
  • 4-LS1-1. Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction. [
  • 4-LS1-2. Use a model to describe that animals receive different types of information through their senses, process the information in their brain, and respond to the information in different ways.
  • 5-LS1-1. Support an argument that plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water.



As a secondary science teacher for over a decade, most of my students entered secondary school never having touched a microscope.  Secondary science standards require students to use compound light microscopes to look at cells, which, don’t get me wrong, are pretty cool, but to a kid who is using a microscope for the first time, cells are a pretty abstract specimen.  It is difficult for students to understand the significance of the magnification of cells since they have nothing for comparison.  Things not only get lost in translation, but many lessons on teachers helping with focusing techniques, adjusting lenses, and saying, “No, that’s just your eyelash!”.  Just think of how much deeper their understanding and investigations could be if they were already familiar with microscopes.  Not only that, but secondary science teachers would also be shouting praises and thanking you from the rooftops of their schools!