What to consider when purchasing microscopes for schools

Choosing microscopes for a school can be a daunting task.

You will need to look beyond basic functionality and price – to consider the layout of your classroom, your students’ needs and the actual design of microscope. It’s not easy, but it doesn’t have to be hard.

This guide describes 6 of the more important aspects of selecting the right microscopes for your school.

  1. Storage

Will your microscopes fit into your classroom?

It might sound obvious, but make sure your microscopes are small enough to fit into your storage area safely. Improperly stored microscopes left out in the open can be damaged by dust, sunlight and humidity, not to mention accidental knocks.

Your microscopes will also need to fit comfortably on the desk while still leaving enough room for your students to work.

  1. Portability

If you or your students will be carrying microscopes around the classroom, look for a model that’s easy to carry. This will prevent accidental injury and avoid expensive repairs if the equipment is dropped or knocked about.

The obvious concern is weight – lighter microscopes will be easier to carry, particularly for younger students.

Some microscopes come with handles or carrycases with easy handholds, and some can also lock any detachable parts in place, preventing any bits falling off during transit and getting damaged or lost.

  1. Durability

As any teacher knows, the classroom can be a dangerous place for delicate equipment.

Your microscopes will need to be tough enough to survive years of handling by inexperienced students – they’ll inevitably be bumped, jostled and even dropped.

So first up, get a sturdy base – you want a solid metal microscope. Plastic microscopes are too flimsy and won’t survive the rigours of the classroom for long.

Beyond a solid construction, look for built-in safety features. Some microscopes come with a variety of options that will help keep your equipment intact, including the following:

  • eyepieces and lenses that can be fixed in place so they aren’t removed and misplaced
  • locking pins that prevent the microscope head from being detached or falling off in transit
  • focus locks to prevent expensive collisions between lenses and samples.

Your microscopes will be seeing a lot of use, so it’s also a good idea to make sure your microscopes are easy to clean and maintain. It will save you time as well as extra expense in services.  

  1. Budget

Microscopes range in price and quality, but you won’t need to break the bank to get decent, good-quality microscopes for school use.

The biggest concern is in going too cheap. It’s essential that you resist the urge to buy the cheapest models. They’re too shoddily built to survive the rigours of the classroom and their image quality can be abysmal. Ineffective equipment can have a big impact on learning and student engagement.

On the other hand, you won’t need many of the features of the more expensive microscopes aimed at universities or laboratories. A good mid-range microscope is your best bet.

Unless you have specific needs, this means you should look at the range of microscopes generally known as ‘student microscopes’. With prices ranging from $300 to $800, they’re designed for school curriculums and are good enough for most classrooms while still remaining affordable. 

  1. Useability

Students learn best when they’re engaged and having fun, so don’t let poor optical quality or complicated assembly dampen their enthusiasm. They’ll want to see great images clearly and without fuss. It won’t help if their first view into the fantastic new world of microscopy is blurry and discoloured.

You staff will also prefer to spend their time teaching instead of adjusting and focusing each student’s microscope.

Microscopes that enable students to simply plug in, turn on, adjust the eyepieces, and start viewing their samples are ideal.

A tip – it’s a good idea to label the parts of your microscopes – it’ll help students to learn and use the equipment.

  1. Digital options and accessories

Digital microscopes are relatively new to the classroom but they’re now squarely in the frame and well suited to students who have grown up in the digital age.

Their computerised image capabilities, ease of viewing, and adaptability to group learning situations can’t be beat.

Generally speaking, digital microscopes are microscopes that use a digital camera to send live images to a screen or monitor instead of you having to down an eyepiece.

There are many kinds of digital microscopes, ranging from a fully integrated microscopes to eyepiece cameras that you just can pop over the eyepiece of your existing traditional microscope.

They have a number of advantages – they can be used to transmit microscope images to big screens or smartboards, or even to any smartphone or tablet within wi-fi range. This can let the whole class see a particular specimen, even from home.

If your budget is tight, you can teach the whole class using a single microscope with a digital connection.

It’s also very easy to take pictures and share them using digital microscopes. This can be helpful for assignments or for simply encouraging the social aspects of learning.

If you keep these fun factors in mind, your students may not know they’re actually learning!

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