How To Buy a Classroom Digital Microscope

Digital microscopes have become a critical tool for classrooms.  They allow teachers to display the live magnified image for all students to see.  Even students in a virtual learning environment can see the live image and engage in the discussion. 

So what do you look for in a digital microscope?  How do you buy a digital microscope?

 

#1 - Software

  • Will the software work with your computing devices?  If you have chromebooks, is there a chromebook solution?  What about iPads?  Is there an app?
  • Is the software easy to use?  Is it reliable or does it crash regularly?
  • Does the microscope software include the education features that you need?  Can you measure?  Can you annotate?  Can you compare two images side-by-side?  Can you create a quiz with an annotated image?  
  • Does the company offer technical support?  Can you call someone if things aren’t working correctly?  Can you email and get a helpful response?

 

#2 - Image Quality

This should actually be #1, but if it doesn’t work with your device, the image quality really doesn’t matter because you can’t see it anyway… 

There are two primary factors here:

  • Resolution
  • Optics

A low resolution image may be ok if you’re only looking at it on your phone or a small computer monitor.  But if you’re going to project for the entire classroom to see, a crystal clear image is critical to achieving the educational outcome you desire.

Resolution is one way that image quality is measured and this is the most common way to compare one digital image to another.  It is however, not the only factor that influences image quality.  The quality of the optics is another important factor, but it’s much more difficult to evaluate on paper (or on a screen).  

Consider digital cameras, for example.  If you are comparing two digital cameras and both have 5 megapixel resolution.  Which do you choose?  Do you base it on price?  What if one is a Nikon and the other is a brand you’ve never heard of?  Nikon is known for quality and part of that is the optics they use in their cameras.  This component is very difficult to measure or compare on a table or spreadsheet. 

#3 - Lighting

Lighting is one of the most important components of a good microscope.

Most handheld digital microscopes have built-in lighting. It is very important to consider the life of that light source.  If the bulbs burn out on your handheld digital microscope, it’s little more than a paperweight.  You cannot get a good image without good lighting. 

Consider the warranty of the digital microscope and if the light is included in the warranty. 

Another lighting option is to use a backlit microscope stand.  This will deliver an image more like that of a traditional microscope as both are lit from underneath.  

 

#4 - Warranty

How long is the warranty?  What does it cover?  Will the company stand behind their product?  Will they help if you have problems?

Most digital microscopes were not built for the rigors of the classroom.  Your digital microscope WILL be dropped.  It will endure at least some abuse.  And it will be used regularly.  A long warranty is a sign of a quality product.  

Keep in mind that the dollar investment is not the only cost of a digital microscope.  The teacher will need to take time to learn how to use it.  If it breaks and is not replaced, that time has been wasted.  It’s a much wiser decision to get a product that will last. 

 

 

#5 - Teaching Materials

How to get started with student explorations?  You probably have lots of ideas about how to use the microscope with students, but some microscopes include microscope grade level specific investigations that are aligned to science education standards to help get a jump start.

For example, the SmartMicroScope 5M from SmartSchool Systems includes investigations in the 5E model and aligned to state science education standards and the NGSS:

  • 20 Elementary Investigations
  • 20 Middle School Investigations
  • 20 Biology Investigations

Online access to these investigations is included with each digital microscope.  

 

Summary

Choosing the best digital  microscope for your classroom should not be taken lightly.  It can be a big investment.  Keep these considerations in mind, choose a reputable seller with a good warranty, and you’ll have the perfect microscope for your classroom.  Your students will love it! 

David Walling

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