Tiny Creatures – The World of Microbes

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Microbes….what do you think of when you hear that word? Fear? Illness? Antibacterial soap?  Oh my! How did we get to this place of fear and ignorance when it comes to microbes? Well, it’s quite logical, and yet it’s not. The Black Plague, Polio, Malaria, HIV, Ebola. All these dreaded diseases lead us to think the worst about microbes. Yes, those illnesses deserve the fear they inspire but microbes as a whole don’t. They deserve awe and wonder and curiosity.

Try this. Draw a triangle on your paper. We will use this triangle to represent all the microbes on Earth. Yes, your triangle is now a model. A model depicting an area where all the microbes on Earth are now located. Now shade in as much of the triangle as you think will hold all of the “bad” or dangerous microbes, the ones that cause illness.  How much did you shade in? 1/2? 3/4? 2/3? Based on the traditional education we receive about microbes, most of us would shade in any of those logical choices. Please draw another triangle, the same size as your first. Now place a tiny dot at one of the tips of your triangle. That dot represents all the illness causing, horrible, deadly microbes found on Earth. The rest of the triangle are the “good”, the necessary, the life giving microbes on Earth and in us! Really! It’s true. Yes, you should still wash your hands with soap and water to keep those microbes that cause illness from entering your body, but please get rid of all that antibacterial soap, lotion, cleaners. Unless you work in a hospital, they do more  harm then good. Let’s just say they aid in the evolution of nasty microbes, encouraging them to change into the super microbes that we struggle to kill. They also kill all the good microbes that live on our skin and that do really good things for us. Like eat dead skin cells.

Had enough? Oh I hope not! Microbes are AMAZING life forms and this book, Tiny Creatures, captures that notion beautifully. Microbes are the oldest life forms found on Earth. They are also the predominant life form found on Earth. You would think for something so old and so prolific we would spend lots of our science learning trying to understand them. But ask yourself, how much time did you spend in science class learning about microbes? How much time does your child spend learning about them? I bet not much. Not nearly the amount these creatures deserve.

How, you may ask, can we teach young children about microbes? I’m so glad you were wondering that. There are MANY ways to introduce young children to microbes. And you don’t even need a microscope. Although a digital microscope that hooks up to your computer and to a projector would be a wonderful tool to help young eyes see really cool things. Like microbes. In our classroom we have a Twist Scope available here:  http://www.learningresources.com/product/twist–8482 +flexible+digital+microscope.do

A few hundred years ago, a curious young chap named,Antony van Leeuwenhoek,  http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/history/leeuwenhoek.html was playing with glasses, lenses. He constructed a wonderfully simple device called a microscope. He wasn’t the first but he was the first to see what he saw. You see, technology development, curiosity, and discoveries often go hand in hand. What happened next blew his mind and as they say, “was history.” He put a drop of pond water under that scope and he saw life. Life forms so small that until that microscope no one on Earth had ever, ever seen or even knew existed! Could you imagine the study that could center around this amazing man and his amazing discoveries?! Everything a unit needs to inspire awe. Unlikely hero, curiosity, tools, Holland (who can go wrong with studying Holland. Tulip bulb dissection anyone?). What if we were to look at pond water under our Twist cam? Draw and record what we see? Write a letter to Leeuwenhoek about our “discoveries”? The kids will just enjoy saying his name! And so will you, I promise.

Back to: How, you may ask, can we teach young children about microbes? Start with the reading of a book. The book, Tiny Creatures The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton. Make yogurt, root bear, cheese, fermented pickles, bread, compost, explore digestion, looking at tiny microbes found in pond water and studying their shapes and movements….the list could go on and on and on. Play with bubbles. Bubbles have “skin”. So do microbes, membranes. Besides typical online or book research, microbial studies could  involve real science. Science with variables, data collection, questions, and more questions. It could encompass art…lots and lots of art. History. An Earth history timeline starting with microbes will amaze you and your students! And finally a microbe study would, must, involve the growing and eating of real food. A unit doesn’t get much better than that.

Let’s give a round of applause for the amazing world of microbes!!



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