Saturday, December 18, 2010

Students learn about Wisconsin Science at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery

Three rules about lab visits

1. Quiet Voices
2. No running
3. Don't feed the grad students

MicroExplorers Visit the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery

MicroExplorers visit the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery and the Weibel Laboratory. It was a great time and the students were able to have hot chocolates at the Leopold Cafe.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Outreach at the Space Place

Thanks to Marie and Funita for their outreach at the Space Place on Sunday.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

New Club Starts This Thursday

Just a reminder to students who have signed up for the MicroExplorer Club. It starts this Thursday. If you are still interested in joining the club, please contact me to sign up for the next session that begins in January.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Teachers and Principals Talk about Google Docs

I am posting this video since we will use google docs to share student work in the Club. I am also using google docs for REACH. So, check back often to find out how we are using google docs at Leopold.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Options for the MicroExplorers Club

In the 2010-11 school year I will run three afterschool science clubs. They all will meet on Thursdays. With the final day of club culminating on a Monday field trip to the University of Wisconsin Madison for a lab tour.  Each of the clubs will meet for six weeks. If you are interested in your son/daughter to participate in the club, please return this form by October 8th. It is only open to fifth grade students. The regular club time is from 2:35 to 4:00 on Thursdays.  On the final day during the lab visits (when students and parents are encouraged to participate), we will leave the school at 12:30 and return at 4:00.
Option A
The first club will meet the following days,
October  14,21, November 4, 18 December 9
Lab visit on December 13th
Option B
The second club will meet the following days,
 January 6,13, 20,27 February 3
Lab visit on February  7th
Option C
Third club will meet on the following days,
April 7,14,28, May 5, 12
Lab visit on May 16th
If you have questions, please feel free to contact me, or at 204-4240
Mr. Dassler

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sign Up Begins for the 2010-11 School Year

Parents should receive sign up forms for MicroExplorers 2010-11.  Fifth grade students may sign up for one of three sessions that will each culminate in a field trip to the UW Madison campus!  If for some reason you did not receive a sign up sheet, please email me.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

MicroExplorers will be expanding to other Schools in the Madison Metro School District



UW-Madison Morgridge Center for Public Service supports family-based science program for K-8 students


Madison, WI, May 10, 2010—The Morgridge Center for Public Service recently announced a matching grant of $16,333 to the UW Department of Biochemistry to expand their science outreach programs in local schools.  The program will train UW Madison undergraduate and graduate students to teach hands on inquiry- based science to K-8 students.


The Morgridge Center match will help bring hands on science to young learners and their families through an innovative program called "MicroExplorers:  Adventures in a Tiny Universe."  The program is designed for local K-8 students and their teachers, and promotes family-based science discovery by using small digital microscopes to introduce students to the structure, properties and chemistry of matter.  The microscope magnifies an object 200x allowing users to take a closer look at many kid-intriguing items including nose hair, snail slime trails and insect appendages.  The microscope streams the image to a computer screen allowing students to acquire images and analyze them using child-friendly software.


Morgridge Center Associate Director Randy Wallar stated, "At a time when concerns about our children's science aptitude is at an all time high, the Morgridge Center grant will help the UW Department of Biochemistry expand their unique science education program.  We are pleased this will provide leadership opportunities for UW students to participate, while addressing critical educational needs in our local community."


The unique program introduces students and adults to the biology, chemistry, and structure of matter by exploring phenomena and materials with length scales from microns to millimeters.  To get a sense of these sizes, the human hair is approximately 100 microns in length, and crystals are often measured in millimeters. 


The Microexplorers program will develop activities to introduce and reinforce concepts of the physical sciences, including the study of metals, crystals, liquid crystals, micro- and nanostructured materials and plants.  Activities will be tailored to different age groups to address their unique level of scientific understanding.  The experience will teach children how scientists think and how observations and hypotheses can be tested using experiments. 


Douglas Weibel, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and lead on the project stated, "There is an exciting world waiting to be discovered by inquisitive minds using low-cost digital microscopes as a platform for discovery-based learning.  Many children and adults do not understand basic concepts in biology, chemistry and physics.  These principles are easy to understand when a hands-on activity reinforces a concept.  The microscope is a great tool to do this."


In collaboration with the Center for Biology Education and the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center at UW-Madison, MicroExplorers has already carried out pilot programs with over 1000 local K-8 students in classrooms, after school programs, museums and community science events.    In addition to providing educational programs, the project will develop a website for distributing outreach materials.  This will expand the impact of the program to students, teachers and parents across the country and will form a network with other science educators.


Thanks to the generosity of John and Tashia Morgridge, the Morgridge Center for Public Service has established the Morgridge Match Challenge Grant Program to further advance curricular and co-curricular civic engagement at UW-Madison. The program is designed to enhance learning and leadership experiences for students, encourage and support community-campus partnerships, and provide professional development opportunities for faculty and staff. The program will match up to 50 percent of new gifts and grants awarded to a UW-Madison entity or community-UW-Madison partner organization, based on the portion of the grant/gift specifically related to the mission and goals of the Morgridge Center.


The Morgridge Center for Public service, established in 1996 through a generous endowment by John and Taisha Morgridge, advances the "Wisconsin Idea" by promoting civic engagement, strengthening teaching and learning, and building partnerships through public service, academic credit-based service-learning courses, and community-based research.


The campus and community impact of the Morgridge Center student engagement and volunteering is dramatic.  Over the past academic year, over 4000 students participated in Morgridge Center programming.  These efforts have provided more than 51,000 hours of service to the community valued at over $1.1 million.  The center also supports over 1900 students participating in 94 service-learning and community-based research courses in 32 different departments.  This represents nearly 41,000 service-learning or community-based research hours, valued to the community at $850,000.




Contact Information:
Randy Wallar,
Associate Director
Morgridge Center
for Public Service
716 Langdon Street
Madison, WI 53706
fax: 608-262-0542

Friday, May 7, 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

A day at the University.

The students did an amazing job at the University today. We toured labs, met researchers, did some experiments, and asked a lot of good questions. I think that, for most of the kids, icecream at Babcock was a great way to end a really fun field trip. Thanks to the parents and helpers. More pictures and videos to come.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Windy Day...(I really like the researchers who are rolling down the hill)

Wind Energy

We had a great time while we modified the wind turbines to increase efficiency. The students did a great job and we had the perfect day for testing the wind turbines. It was really windy and our largest wind turbine ended up blowing apart.

Reminder that we will do lab tours and a couple of investigations on Monday the 19th. We are scheduled to return at 4:00.

The extra lesson has been scheduled for Tuesday the 20th usual time from 2:30-4:00.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Families learning together.

Science Expeditions

Timberwolves learning about Science

Science Expeditions

Just a quick reminder that microexplorers will be at Science Expeditions this Saturday from 12-4 on the UW campus. We will be in the biochem building at 433 Babcock Drive. I will post pictures of the outreach on Saturday.

Like water off of a duck's backside...

This past week we looked at different types of feathers. The explorers wrote in their science journals about each of the feather's properties. Once again, we looked at the feathers properties on the macro, micro and then nano scale. Most of the feathers were super hydrophobic. As most people know from the phrase, "like water off of a duck's backside," the duck feathers were super hydrophobic. Next week we will modify the wind turbines to make them more efficient using what we have learned from nature. I will also send home a note reminding parents about the lab visit on the 19th and I am asking for one more day with the microexplorers to do a special investigation lead by a researcher who works on "vampire energy suckers."  This investigation will take place on the 20th of April after school. 

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Cool Blue Light Experiment.

Wind Power

I hope the explorers are having a good break. They deserve it. They have been working so hard at the after school club, MicroExplorers. This past week we looked at chemiluminescence. We had a great time mixing chemicals to create a cool blue light. We learned about color using a Newton color wheel and had a lively debate about wave and particle theory. (just kidding-some things will have to wait for high school)  Next week we will talk about cleaner ways of generating electricity. We have a series of wind turbines that we will learn how to use to generate a current. The wind turbines are from a midwestern company,  They have an amazing website and very useful alternative energy kits for kids. Explorers will learn how to collect data and analyze their results. After we learn more about wind power, the explorers will modify their wind turbine in an attempt to increase its efficiency.  Good luck!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Link to the C. elegans video.

NSTA ends.

It will be wonderful to be back at home later today and see the students tomorrow. The last few days of the conference were amazing. I met a lot of teachers who had innovative ways to teach and inspire children. One of the best sessions I attended was a workshop about an organism I worked on this summer, C. elegan. I am working with a researcher at the UW who uses the worms for her research. We are collaborating on writing a children's book using the worm. It is really exciting. I created a music video with images/videos of the C. elegans. I will post a link to the video later this week. It is good to be heading back to school.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Well, the conference is going great. I am meeting a lot of new friends and catching up with some old friends. I presented a poster about the lessons we did on super hydrophobic surfaces. It went well. I also got some cool new materials to use when we start the lessons on light. Very fun!

I also saw one of my heroes, Bill Nye the Science guy. I kept missing him at the conference, but ran into him at a restaurant. My good friend Evelyn took our picture and Bill Nye was nice and posed. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


MicroExplorers is skipping a week since I will be gone to the National Science Teacher's Association conference in Philadelphia. I am looking forward to the conference. I will lead a workshop talking about MicroExplorers. I am hoping to generate interest in spreading the club to other schools around the US. I am also doing a poster presentation about the lessons I worked on about super hydrophobic surfaces and categorizing leaves on the maco, micro, nano scale. The poster is absolutely beautiful. I will show the students the poster at the next MicroExplorers club meeting. As a recipient of the Toyota Tapestry grant I will spend a couple of hours at their table talking about MicroExplorers and how I will use the funds. Thankfully, I will also be able to go to quite a few sessions. I am registered to see Bill Nye the science guy. I am so excited. I will post pictures and updates throughout the conference.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Toyota Tapestry Grant Announcement

I am happy to report that MicroExploreres has been awarded the Toyota Tapestry Grant for the 2010-2011 school year. This year, 50 large grants of up to $10,000 each and 20–32 mini-grants of up to $2,500 were awarded to K–12 teachers of science in the United States. The categories are Physical Science Application, Environmental Science Education, and Integrating Literacy and Science.

MicroExplorers has been awarded a large grant that will support an after-school science club at Aldo Leopold Elementary School in Madison, WI. The awards reception will take place at the National Science Teachers Association annual conference in Philadelphia in March of 2010.  

This award will allow Leopold students the opportunity to expand the afterschool science clubs started in the 2009-10 school year.

For more information about the Toyota Tapestry Grants, please visit their website.

Thank you for supporting science education!

Iridescence in nature

Today went too well. I was able to get though only about have of what I had planned for the day. The students are looking at the following objects: a peacock feather, a beetle wing, a milkweed silk, and a sea shell. All of these objects have something in common. It took over an hour to guide the students through the lesson that finally lead to their discovery that they all exhibit iridescence.  Next week, we will look at how light interacts with surface structure and how not all color is created by pigmentation. We will test out the wings of the blue morpho butterfly to see if it gets its color from structure or pigmentation and then attempt to create iridescence using all that we have learned about how light reacts with surface structures. Super exciting lesson next week. I hear that Dr. Tracy from the UW may join us.

Super Hydrophobic Surfaces

The students last week started looking at super hydrophobic surfaces. We continued our investigations on levels of scale. Students categorized leaves based on their properties. On the macro scale kids sorted leaves based on color, texture, shape. After categorizing the leaves using the microscopes, they came up with some really amazing ways of categorizing the leaves. One group came up an interesting response I had not heard before. They grouped together leaves that all had a similar micro-structure that looked like a human tongue. Another group put all of the leaves together that seems to shine under magnification, or as one of the students said, “It looks like there are diamonds.” Finally, the students used water on the leaves to see if they had the nano-structures that would make its surface super hydrophobic. The first time I submerged a nasturtium leaf, the students gave a couple of wows. Then they were able to test the leaf surfaces of the leaves they had been using to test for super hydrophobicity. The poster by at NISE-Net is a great representation of scale. I also was able to share SEM images of the nasturtium leaf. The students were able to “see” what was happening on the nano scale.
Then, to represent through a model, I used a glove that is usually used to wash cars, to represent the nano sized “hairs.” Bubbles were used as a model of the water droplet, showing that because of the “hairs,” the water is not able to impregnate the surface of the leaf.

Dr. Neil Shirtcliffe from Nottingham Trent University used another model to demonstrate this using a bed of nails and a balloon. So, I tried it out with the students. I may need to modify my design a bit, but I think the students really liked it when we put the balloon on a single nail and got a nice loud pop.
This week’s investigation is about iridescence in nature and how light interacts with various surface structures.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I love the lightbulb!

Club Update

The club went very well last week. It was amazing to meet the new group of students. Their work was truly amazing. We talked a lot about the macro and micro scale. The students learned how to take notes in their science notebooks and justify their conclustions. Great work! The photos below show some of the students at work. This upcoming week we are going to look at Super Hydrophobic surfaces and we have a guest scientist who will join us from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dr. Tracy!

Writing about what is a scientist.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

MicroExplorers Club starts this Thursday.

MicroExplorers will start again this Thursday. I am so excited to start with another group of students. Every time I begin a new club, I wonder what path they will take and how I will lead them through their discoveries. Here is the plan that I have set up for the first day of club.
Introductions: There is a new group of students who may or may not know each other. I have pulled from various third grade classrooms at Leopold. The only direction I gave to teachers was to encourage two students from each classroom to join the club. If there were more than two kids who wished to join the club, a lottery system could be used to pick the students. Since one of the classrooms did not have students who wished to join the club, I had a couple of extra empty spaces that were filled by a few kids from other classrooms.
What is the smallest thing you can think of? I love starting with this question. It gives me so much information about the student’s prior experiences. Children’s ideas of scale are amazing. I will post their responses. If this group is like all the other groups I have worked with, the smallest thing they can think of will range from a dime to a grain of sand. It is truly a gift to introduce the microscopic scale to children at a young age.
What does a scientist do? In this portion of the lesson I gather a little more information about what a scientist does and I introduce science notebooks. Each child will draw pictures, write descriptions of what they know about scientists. Once again, I will use this to understand prior knowledge and start to get students understanding, and more importantly, misunderstanding. I will post scans of their work.
Microscopes and Inquiry: Then,I will introduce how to use the microscopes and lab safety. Each child will get a set of goggles and a lab coat. They will work in groups of three and use the microscopes to discover the identity of nine objects. I took pictures of everyday objects that I magnified from 10-200X. The students will need to match and justify their conclusions based on evidence. It is a really fun challenge to see the students have to justify their answers. I encourage the students to challenge themselves. Some of the objects look very similar. So, they really must have some solid evidence based on their observations.
Finally they will have to justify their results the other MicroExplorers. I like starting this from the first day. It becomes part of what we will do each day of the club. Conclusions must be based on evidence. I will post videos of the student justifications after the investigation.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

SEM images taken of Coco the Gecko's skin by George Lisensky-Professor of Chemistry at Beloit College

Gecko Skin

Student testing the super hydrophobicity of gecko skin.

Here is a picture of Coco the gecko.

George Lisensky, professor of Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has taken SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope) images of samples of skin that Coco shed. The images will be posted later. They are spectacular!


In the MicroExplorers club we studied how water reacts with various structures in nature. We looked at elephant ear plant and how its structure makes it super hydrophobic (really afraid of water).  This is called the lotus effect.  See previous posts about the students discoveries and the lotus effect. 

Following the lotus effect investigation, one of my students wondered if Coco, our class gecko, also had super hydrophobic skin since water seemed to roll off of him whenever we sprayed the cage.  Coco agreed to allow us to spray him with water and we found that his skin is super hydrophobic. It even maintained its super hydrophobicity after it was shed. 

Monday, January 25, 2010

Children's Museum-Girl Scout Science

Here is a picture of Hannah Tuson from the Weibel Laboratory at the UW-Madison and me doing the girl scout cookie investigation we created to introduce microscopy to girl scouts. We will repeat the investigation on February 20th for troop number 2490.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Insipirations from nature... Kids drawings. Thanks to Greta Zenner-Peterson for scanning all of these for us.

Super hydrophobic stickers that will not come off in the bathtub.

(Iridescent Cloak)

A super hydrophobic roof. (This was inspired by a leaky roof)

No more worries about forgetting money in your jean pockets.

MicroExplorers and Girl Scouts

On February 20th, Girl Scouts will have the opportunity to explore the microscopic world around them. The girls will have to figure out what is in the petri dish to get another badge for the sash. is something that they sell a lot of! Researchers from the Weibel Lab will bring scientific discovery and inspire the next generation of scientists.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Coco the gecko

Coco the class gecko has been an inspiration for lots of investigations with the kids. Its skin is also super hydrophobic.
Disclaimer: no geckos were harmed in any of our experiments. He had some water sprayed on him and the skin he sheds has been studied under a microscope.

Toyota Tapestry

I just submitted my shot at the Toyota Tapestry Grant for Science teachers. I am looking to get funding for an after-school science club for next school year. I got a grant this past year from the Aristos Grant program in the Madison Metro School District for the science club that I am running this year, but so many really great ideas came from the kids this year, that I knew I would need more resources. So, I will keep my fingers firmly crossed.

Highlight text to find out what has been magnified 20X
. Sandpaper

Thursday, January 14, 2010

In the fall of 2009 I lead an after school club. One of the investigations was looking at Super Hydrophobic surfaces. The students tested various leaves for super hydrophobicity. We have a list going of super hydrophobic leaves. We have Nasturtium, Elephant Ear, Brassica, and Cabbage. Feel free to add more that you have discovered.


I am starting this blog to record the progress and development of the MicroExplorers After-School Science Club at Aldo Leopold School in Madison, WI. I will share pictures, lesson plans, and reflections.