January/February 2018 – Vol. 31 No. 2

The “e” Alternative

Posted: Friday, October 1st, 2010

by Rick Pomeroy

This is a simple scenario-type lab that addresses the same concepts and processes that the traditional “e” microscope lab addresses but in a way that engages students in using evidence to solve a simple problem.  (A copy of the traditional lab is included at the bottom for your comparison.)  This activity is appropriate for grades 7-10, but can be adapted to any grade.  Providing the students with a purpose for looking at the print and writing samples under the microscope promotes critical thinking and demonstrates the ways that scientific tools can be used to answer real-world questions.  The level of description given by students of what they see when looking at the samples gives written context to the drawings that they are producing.  Emphasize that students should describe the texture of the paper as well as the way the “ink” is applied to the paper.  They will naturally draw the letters inverted, an observation which then allows further discussion of optics and magnification.


  1. Create a ransom note about a scenario of your choosing and print it.
  2. Photocopy the note and then tear/shred the original into tiny pieces to give to the students.
  3. Obtain other samples of printing on different white papers with black ink, trying to make sure that the fonts are the same.  You might try printing the same passage on different papers on different printers or typewriters.  I suggest using the text from a newspaper or magazine article so that these paper and print types can be included as samples from suspects’ printers.  Suggestions for samples: ink jet printer, laser printer, typewriter, magazine article, newspaper article.  (The print and the paper quality will be different for each of these.)
  4. Place the samples from suspects’ printers in cups or dishes for students to access.
  5. Provide microscopes, slides, cover slips, etc. for students to use in their investigation.  (Compound microscopes on low power work great for this activity.)

Note: To prevent students from comparing answers, the teacher could provide several different ransom notes either within one period or for different periods.


  1. Read or relate the scenario description to the students.
  2. Provide samples of the note and samples from different printers on different types of paper.
  3. Instruct students that their task is to look at samples from the ransom note under the microscope and compare those samples with similar samples from the known sources of printer and paper evidence.
  4. Students should make a drawing of their sample from the ransom note and samples from the other printers.  The drawings should be detailed and accurate enough to support their conclusion as to what printer or what type of paper was used to create the ransom note.
  5. Students should write a brief statement describing which printer or what type of paper was used to create the ransom note and give evidence that supports their conclusion.  Part of their evidence should be their drawings.  Other evidence could be students’ statements about the type or quality of the paper as seen under the microscope.

The Scenario

This morning I received the following message in my mailbox.  I copied the letter to show to the principal and then, by mistake, I shredded the original.  Since I had just purchased a new shredder, I am sure that the samples that I have here are all from the ransom note.  Because of the content of the ransom note, I have also obtained printing  samples from the students who were in class yesterday.  Those people include AC, DJ, KE, JH, GJ, and NL.  Your task is to compare samples of the ransom note with the printing samples, make accurate drawings of what you see, and write a brief explanation of who you feel has the missing coffee cup.  Since I am going to go to this person and ask for my coffee cup back, your explanation MUST be supported by evidence.  Please include all evidence and drawings that you use to make your decision in your explanation.

The Note

Dear Rick,

When I was in your class today, I saw your elegantly engraved coffee cup sitting on the table.  Last night after everyone was gone, I entered the room and found your cup.  I just wanted you to know that I am willing to return it to you for the princely sum of eleven dollars and eleven cents.  If you ever want to see that coffee cup again, I would expect you to place the eleven dollars and eleven cents in an envelope and ease it under the front right corner of the candy machine down the hall.  No harm will come to the cup if you comply with this request.

Signed,  Me

The “e” lab (For comparison purposes only)


The purpose of this lab is to learn about microscopes, how they invert images, and the differences in size of samples under 10x, 40x, and 100x magnification.


Obtain the following materials from your teacher:

  • Microscope with auxillary light source
  • Microscope slide and cover slip
  • Eye dropper and beaker of water
  • “e” sample from teacher


  1. Set up your microscope as instructed by your teacher.
  2. Prepare a wet mount slide of the “e” by placing a drop of water on the center of your slide.
  3. Place the cover slip gently over the “e.”
  4. Look at the “e” under low power, medium power, and high power.
  5. Draw what you see in the appropriate circle below.


10x                                                   40x                                                 100x


  1. Describe in your own words the orientation of the “e” under the microscope.
  2. Describe in your own words how the sizes of the three views compared.
  3. Did the “e” look like you expected?

Rick Pomeroy is a teacher educator at the University of California, Davis, and is president-elect of CSTA. He can be reached at jrpomeroy@ucdavis.edu.

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Written by Rick Pomeroy

Rick Pomeroy

Rick Pomeroy is science education lecturer/supervisor in the School of Education, University of California Davis and is a past-president of CSTA.

2 Responses

  1. Hi Rick
    I really like the idea of promoting critical thinking & solving a “crime” in a simple lab, such as the “e lab.” I’m sure the students will really enjoy thing. Thanks for sharing.

  2. It sounds like fun I was looking for a microscope lab for my seventh grade class, i’ll copy this and see how it works.

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Accelerating into NGSS – A Statewide Rollout Series Now Accepting Registrations

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

Are you feeling behind on the implementation of NGSS? Then Accelerating into NGSS – the Statewide Rollout event – is right for you!

If you have not experienced Phases 1-4 of the Statewide Rollout, or are feeling behind with the implementation of NGSS, the Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout will provide you with the greatest hits from Phases 1-4!

Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout is a two-day training geared toward grade K-12 academic coaches, administrators, curriculum leads, and teacher leaders. Check-in for the two-day rollout begins at 7:30 a.m., followed by a continental breakfast. Sessions run from 8:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. on Day One and from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Day Two.

Cost of training is $250 per attendee. Fee includes all materials, continental breakfast, and lunch on both days. It is recommended that districts send teams of four to six, which include at least one administrator. Payment can be made by check or credit card. If paying by check, registration is NOT complete until payment has been received. All payments must be received prior to the Rollout location date you are attending. Paying by credit card secures your seat at time of registration. No purchase orders accepted. No participant cancellation refunds.

For questions or more information, please contact Amy Kennedy at akennedy@sjcoe.net or (209) 468-9027.



MARCH 28-29, 2018
Host: San Mateo County Office of Education
Location: San Mateo County Office of Education, Redwood City

APRIL 10-11, 2018
Host: Orange County Office of Education
Location: Brandman University, Irvine

MAY 1-2, 2018
Host: Tulare County Office of Education
Location: Tulare County Office of Education, Visalia

MAY 3-4, 2018
Host: San Bernardino Superintendent of Schools
Location: West End Educational Service Center, Rancho Cucamonga

MAY 7-8, 2018
Host: Sacramento County Office of Education
Location: Sacramento County Office of Education Conference Center and David P. Meaney Education Center, Mather

JUNE 14-15, 2018
Host: Imperial County Office of Education
Location: Imperial Valley College, Imperial

Presented by the California Department of Education, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association/County Offices of Education, K-12 Alliance @WestEd, California Science Project, and the California Science Teachers Association.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

The Teaching and Learning Collaborative, Reflections from an Administrator

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

by Kelly Patchen

My name is Mrs. Kelly Patchen, and I am proud to be an elementary assistant principal working in the Tracy Unified School District (TUSD) at Louis Bohn and McKinley Elementary Schools. Each of the schools I support are Title I K-5 schools with about 450 students, a diverse student population, a high percentage of English Language Learners, and students living in poverty. We’re also lucky to be part of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative with the K-12 Alliance. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

2018 CSTA Conference Call for Proposals

Posted: Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

CSTA is pleased to announce that we are now accepting proposals for 90-minute workshops and three- and six-hour short courses for the 2018 California Science Education Conference. Workshops and short courses make up the bulk of the content and professional learning opportunities available at the conference. In recognition of their contribution, members who present a workshop or short course receive 50% off of their registration fees. Click for more information regarding proposals, or submit one today by following the links below.

Short Course Proposal

Workshop Proposal Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

CSTA’s New Administrator Facebook Group Page

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Holly Steele

The California Science Teachers Association’s mission is to promote high-quality science education, and one of the best practice’s we use to fulfill that mission is through the use of our Facebook group pages. CSTA hosts several closed and moderated Facebook group pages for specific grade levels, (Elementary, Middle, and High School), pages for district coaches and science education faculty, and the official CSTA Facebook page. These pages serve as an online resource for teachers and coaches to exchange teaching methods, materials, staying update on science events in California and asking questions. CSTA is happy to announce the creation of a 6th group page called, California Administrators Supporting Science. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

Find Your Reason to Engage

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Jill Grace

I was recently reflecting on events in the news and remembered that several years ago, National Public Radio had a story about a man named Stéphane Hessel, a World War II French resistance fighter, Nazi concentration camp survivor, and contributor to the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The story focused on a book he had published, Time for Outrage (2010).

In it, Hessel makes the argument that the worst attitude is indifference:

“Who is in charge; who are the decision makers? It’s not always easy to discern. We’re not dealing with a small elite anymore, whose actions we can clearly identify. We are dealing with a vast, interdependent world that is interconnected in unprecedented ways. But there are unbearable things all around us. You have to look for them; search carefully. Open your eyes and you will see. This is what I tell young people: If you spend a little time searching, you will find your reasons to engage. The worst attitude is indifference. ‘There’s nothing I can do; I get by’ – adopting this mindset will deprive you of one of the fundamental qualities of being human: outrage.  Our capacity for protest is indispensable, as is our freedom to engage.”

His words make me take pause when I think of the status of science in the United States. A general “mistrust” of science is increasingly pervasive, as outlined in a New Yorker article from the summer of 2016. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.