Microscopy is the practice of using microscopes to view objects that can not be seen with human naked eyes. It is one of the highest-impact innovations in the history of science within its origin in the 1600s under pioneers like Antoni van Leeuwenhoek and Robert Hooke. It has since evolved to impact life sciences, where the ability to observe the complex world of cells has improved healthcare, quality of life, and fundamental understanding of flora and fauna. At Edutab Africa, we are keen on enabling immersive learning experiences in the classroom using such innovations that make learning fun, meaningful and inspire an explorer mindset. We also aspire to use tools and technology suitable and available for the low-resource environments we work in. One such tool is a paper microscope called Foldscope, suitable for promoting microscopy activities for basic education and beyond.
In November 2021, we visited Mtelo Eco-lodge in West Pokot, an organization that has been at the forefront in protecting the ecosystem surrounding Mt Mtelo. Foldscope were used by the team to introduce microscopy to Community Development enthusiasts who run Mtelo Eco-Lodge. The Foldscopes had specimens and when asked to describe what they observed, one of them humorously described it as something similar to Coronavirus. The specimen under observation was pollen grains from a Hibiscus flower. The presence of spikes on the pollen grains, which resembles the spikes on Coronavirus, enables them to cling to insects’ bodies to facilitate pollination. They were excited about the use of Foldscopes in promoting the explorer mindset among learners and its potential impact in understanding the environment. The ecolodge owner introduced us to Mtelo Girls High School which is a few meters from the lodge.
The staff at the school were welcoming and also appreciated the presence of the female members of the team among whom were Microbiologists, Community Development specialists, Statisticians, and Journalists who acted as an inspiration to the girls.
We introduced the use of Foldscopes in microscopy to the teachers who were drawn from different subject areas i.e. Biology, Physics, Geography, English, and Literature. Each of the teachers was eager to learn how they could use this innovation in their classrooms. The Biology teacher, Mr. Dennis found this interesting and useful. He added that being in a school where the available Microscopes were faulty, it was really difficult for him to teach microscopy topics.
The Physics teacher, Mr. Muhindi, was perplexed by the magnification power of the Foldscope which is X140. We showed him one of the videos that we had previously recorded. The video was demonstrating Brownian motion which is the random movement of particles in fluids. He commented that he had been teaching this concept without a proper demonstration to the students and that Foldscopes would now help with providing a resource for demonstration.
Working with teachers drawn from different subjects underscored the salience of an interdisciplinary approach while working with different technologies in the classroom. For example, what’s the common ground that can be set to ensure that teachers adopt microscopy and other innovative learning methodologies while enriching learners’ understanding of the link between Science and Art?
After introducing the teachers to Foldscopes and Photomicrography, we went ahead and introduced the learners with the intention of setting up Science and Art Clubs that will explore their surroundings. We first explored different parts of the light microscope and their functions and then looked at how the Foldscope could perform those similar functions.
With the assistance of the teachers, we prepared onion epidermal cells, fern, and moulds for observation. While observing the onion cells, some of the girls said that they were seeing “boxes”, which is the shape of the onion epidermal cell when observed under a microscope.
The learners’ were so excited while interacting with the Foldscopes since this was their first time observing specimens.
In the end, the teachers and the students were grateful and delighted when we handed the Biology teacher twelve Foldscopes and one starter pack for their scientific explorations. We encouraged the teachers to train the neighboring schools on the use of foldscopes for microscopy activities. We believe that these tools will enable the learners and teachers to continue sharing and feeding into their sense of wonder and inquiry around their surroundings.