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The Private Eye®: (5X) Looking/Thinking by Analogy

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Review Synopsis: by afterschool program expert John Ervin

The Private Eye science curriculum uses an unexpected tool, the jeweler's loupe, to stimulate scientific exploration and learning. Students view objects of interest through the loupe at different magnifications and then interpret what they see, using their observations as basis for further exploration. The curriculum is easy to use and interdisciplinary, letting students build on knowledge and skills from other sources. It encourages creativity and independence, while allowing students to hone their analytical skills and draw on their own imagination. The Private Eye would make a good addition to an afterschool program.
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I liked the Private Eye science curriculum and recommend it for use in afterschool programs. This program takes an interdisciplinary approach to science by modeling and teaching scientific concepts through several academic subjects. Private Eye utilizes an unexpected tool, the jeweler's loupe, to stimulate exploration and learning through analogy. It entices students to see the extraordinary in the ordinary by giving them the means to view objects from a nontraditional perspective. It also encourages students to be creative and artistic in viewing objects through the loupes.

Students view objects through the jeweler's loupe at magnifications of 5X or 10X. Each level of magnification offers students a new perspective on the object. Students are able to observe closely and interpret and document what they see. For example, viewing a starfish at different magnifications produces varied visual effects, leading students to formulate theories and interpretations. Students are then guided to use their interpretations as the basis for further scientific exploration or even as inspiration to write a poem. Students also have the opportunity to observe at an even finer grain through the 100X and 300X magnification of a microscope that is available as part of the Private Eye curriculum (different sets of materials are available from the developer of the Private Eye program). The Private Eye curriculum is only limited by the users' imaginations, and since children tend to have quite active imaginations, the possibilities are expansive.

The Private Eye curriculum is so easy to use and understand that program leaders, college students, and others could facilitate activities based on this model quite effectively, though some preparation time and experience working with the target youth population is advisable. The basic set of loupes and instructors guide is available at a relatively low cost. The objects that students view can be collected at no cost in any yard, field, beach, home, or park. Instructors may even be able to plan a field trip to collect objects of interest for investigations. By collecting the objects themselves, students can decide what they want to view: their curiosity can form the foundation for scientific inquiry as they seek answers to questions of interest to them within the framework of this material.

The activities in the curriculum are flexible and can serve as individual or group projects. The Private Eye program is adaptable, a good stimulus for creativity, and interdisciplinary in nature. It does not require extensive planning or preparation time, because of the ease of use and availability of replacement materials. I have not seen many programs that allow students to so easily and effectively engage in inquiry in math, science, writing, and the arts.