Kids discover a whole new world using “grown-up” technology
CINCINNATI (February 21, 2019) – “Don’t touch” was not something that educators at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden were saying to students last week when they encouraged them to get hands-on experience with a high-powered scanning electron microscope (SEM) as part of a Greater Cincinnati STEM Collaborative program designed to introduce kids to technology.
“Kids are natural scientists, and this opportunity to see and use technology that isn’t accessible to most people, including adults, can spark their imaginations and open up a whole new world,” said Cincinnati Zoo’s Senior Manager of School Programs, Sarah Navarro. “It’s magical when the kids see things that aren’t visible to the naked eye for the first time, and they always ask to see more! We’re there to say yes!”
The SEM creates highly magnified images, like the compound microscope that most people use in high school science lab, using a focused beam of electrons. It can produce a usable image up to approximately x100,000 magnification, which is 10 times more than the average microscope.
An overnight group of high school students and pre-K – 12 kids in the Zoo Troop program were encouraged to bring in household items to look at under the powerful microscope that was loaned to the Zoo by the University of Cincinnati. They discovered that there’s a lot more happening under the surface of things like pet hair, insect wings, fingernails, a bee’s tongue and everything else that they magnified!
“They got a microscopic view of a worlds they never knew existed,” said Navarro. “And, they were in charge. We offered guidance, but the kids operated the equipment. They got to touch it and learn by doing. They even prepared their samples for the SEM.”
Each week, the Zoo serves 300 children and their families through Zoo Troop and provides opportunities for them to gain an appreciation of nature through the excitement of scientific discovery and participation in up-close authentic experiences.
“The SEM experience last week fit the goal of this program perfectly,” said Navarro. “Thanks to the STEM collaborative and UC, we’ll be bringing the microscope back in the spring and summer and putting the technology into the hands of even more inquisitive youngsters!”
Since 1976, the Zoo has had a full-time public STEM high school, The Zoo Academy, onsite. Education has been a principle component of the its mission for more than 50 years, and that emphasis is woven into its More Home to Roam master plan.