Thursday, 25 April 2013

Fun with a USB Microscope

Daisy Under the Microscope
We've been having fun with our new USB microscope for children. I've been impressed with how well it works and the kids have really taken to it and can operate it themselves which is brilliant.

I decided to get them a microscope after they had lots of fun using one during a hands-on session for kids at the Science Museum. It took some research to find the right one, but I'm very happy with the results.

Using the Microscope

 On a recent trip to the park the boys had lots of fun collecting things to take home and look at. Usually I'm telling them to leave sticks behind, and don't pick up that dirty bit of bark, and no, we really don't need any more stones however pretty. But not on this trip! I took a ziplock bag and they had great fun.
When we got home they set to work with the microscope. One of my favorites is the daisy above. I was amazed at the level of detail we got. We also looked at moss, grass, leaves, stones and tree bark. But we gave the ant requested by my 4 year old son a reprieve on this occasion as we hadn't brought a bug pot with us.

Micro Fiber Cloth Cloth
At home we found lots more cool stuff to look at. I really liked looking at the microfiber cloth that we use to clean the touch screen. You can even see the piece of dirt it has picked up! I think it's a bit of moss or tree bark from our nature experiments.

We also enjoyed looking at the kids hair, their clothing, 3D printed objects, surfaces that looked flat but were really bumpy, soft toys and lots more.

My 6 year old son brought a pine cone home from school because he wanted to examine it under the microscope at home. He chose one that had opened up well because he wanted to be able to see inside. Cool.

Choosing the Microscope

It took me a while to choose a microscope. I quickly established that I wanted a USB microscope so that we could easily take pictures and videos of what we were looking at. And that it should be hand-held so we could easily point it at objects like the kids hair, clothing and toys.

I didn't need any fancy features, but I wanted it to work well. I was willing to pay a bit extra to make sure it would be really usable (but I hate paying too much for things!) At first I assumed that the microscopes made for kids would be poor quality gimmicks and looked at the regular hand-held microscopes. But these seemed to get poor reviews and be difficult to configure.

So I went back to looking at the kids models and found good reviews on the Magic Pencil USB Microscope.

Our Magic Pencil Microscope

You don't need to focus the microscope you just point it at the object and move it around until you have the image in focus on the computer screen. This works much better than I expected although you do need a steady hand. You could use it with a clamp of some sort, I think we'll set something up.

The microscope is illuminated and operates as a webcam so you can use web cam software with it. It comes with software and I've also used it with Yawcam. The fact that it works as a webcam is quite neat. You could stream or record video, say for a science experiment in progress. We'll have to try that.

The daisy and microfiber cloth images above were taken with our Magic Pencil microscope. 

You also get some educational software with the WebCam that allows kids to work through the activities and record their findings.

The Magic Pencil USB Microscope is available in 3 colors: pink, blue and yellow. We're not keen on the whole blue for boys thing so I chose the yellow version. The prices are sometimes different for the different colors so you might need to compromise on color to get the best deal.

Buy: Magic Pencil Microscope @ Amazon

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