Ozarks professor, students introduce microscopy to fifth-graders

Release Date: 10/29/2012

University of the Ozarks Biology Professor Dr. Sean Coleman and a group of his students recently shared the hidden world of microscopic particles with fifth-graders at Clarksville's Kraus Middle School.

Dr. Sean Coleman

Biology Professor Dr. Sean Coleman and 10 of his students recently presented a special science lab to local fifth-graders.

Coleman and 10 student volunteers from Ozarks presented a special science lab for the fifth-graders in mid-October. Kraus Middle School recently built a science lab for its students, and Coleman was happy to make a guest appearance in their weekly lab.

"The fifth grade in Clarksville has a science lab once a week, which is pretty cool for fifth grade," Coleman said. "We taught three labs throughout the day, and I had 10 students from Ozarks helping me."

"The first thing we did was teach them how to use the binocular compound microscopes we brought with us. They had never used a real microscope before," Coleman said. "We had the students look at a typed letter E. With our high powered microscopes, you could see just a small section of the E, but you could also see the paper fibers underneath. That got them interested."

Once the students had learned to use the equipment, the real discovery process began. Coleman and his volunteers had the students stain their own cheek cells in order to see their own DNA under the microscopes.

"The students scraped their cheek cells, and prepared a wet mount," he said. "They stained the cells using capillary action. Basically, they put a drop of stain on one side of the cover slip, and then put a piece of paper towel on the other side to draw the stain underneath the slide. The kids really got excited about seeing that."

"Then, the students were able to see their cheek cells under the microscope. One of the stains actually does a really good job of staining the DNA. The students actually got to see their DNA in their cells. The kids thought that was really cool," he smiled.

The demonstration didn't stop there. Coleman and his group of Ozarks students also helped the fifth-graders look at slides of human tissues, blood, and plant root tip.

"Their favorite was actually human bone," Dr. Coleman laughs. "I don't know why exactly, but they really seemed to like that one. It does look pretty cool under a microscope."

The fifth-grade students weren't the only ones benefiting from this experience.

"I had enough volunteers to basically work one-on-one with the fifth-graders. All of my students had a great time with it. I was really proud of them. It's not always easy to deal with fifth-graders, and my students did a great job being patient and helping these students," Coleman said.

"The teachers really appreciate it too. They don't have a lot of equipment, so anytime we go to the schools or have them here the teachers really appreciate it," he explained.

Coleman hopes his efforts open more avenues for Ozarks to expose young students to the unlimited world of science.

"Ideally, one day, the biology department will be able to set up some kind of summer camp for science students, where they can spend a couple of weeks on campus and do something different every day. That would be a great project," Coleman said.