May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

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

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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.

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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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

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.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). 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.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. 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.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. 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 NGSS 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.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.