Review by Kristina Duncan, Common Sense Education | Updated September 2014

Molecular Expressions

Basic site has school resources, stellar library of microscopic images

Subjects & skills
  • Science

  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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Pros: The site boasts in-depth coverage of microscopes, cells, and the physics of light, as well as curricula to use in class.

Cons: The amount of info is a bit overwhelming, and the site's design could use a spruce-up.

Bottom Line: With this much microscope-related info, science teachers are bound to find something useful here.

Teachers will get the most use out of the site's Science, Optics & You section, which is specifically geared toward school use. Info in other sections of the website may prove useful for gaining background knowledge about microscopy, but preview the content before you turn your students loose.

Every student activity has a corresponding teacher guide that gives background, timing, materials, procedures/tips, extensions ideas, and historical/art connections that you can incorporate into your lessons. Chemistry and biology teachers might like to use some of the beautiful images in the galleries to highlight some of molecules they teach about. Otherwise, the image gallery might not fit most teachers' needs for microscope imagery (microorganisms, tissue samples, etc.); many images are of the crystallized forms of substances. However, the Cells section includes lots of cell and organelle images, found within the info pages.

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Molecular Expressions is a website devoted to exploring the world of optics and microscopy. The site covers a comprehensive array of microscope-related topics, including technical info on different types and techniques, Java tutorials to illustrate concepts, a history of microscopy (up through present-day innovations), microscopist profiles, and physics of light and color. There's also the site's most notable feature -- an extensive library of photomicrographs (microscope pictures).

The photomicrographs cover categories like pharmaceuticals, DNA, amino acids, microchips, birthstones, and more. Teachers should note that the gallery also includes collections of microscopic images devoted to beer and cocktails, which may not be appropriate for school use. However, the site also has a section called Science, Optics & You, which is devoted to curricula for elementary and middle school use.

The Science, Optics & You section is best for kids who are learning about microscopes and the physics of light. There are a bunch of simple, hands-on activities for in-class use. The hands-on activities aren't inquiry-based, but they're paired with Java tutorials to help kids explore the concepts. There also are a number of text-heavy informational pages available for kids to read about. Topics include the history of microscopes and optics; there's also an extensive section on cells and organelles that kids can access through the main site. 

Content on the info pages seems most appropriate for middle school (or higher) reading level; the hands-on activities are better suited for upper-elementary through middle school students. The Microscope Primer that's available on the main site gives in-depth coverage of everything microscope-related, but is definitely meant for more advanced readers. It’s not necessarily written for school use, though it could be used with high school kids.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

While the microscopic images can amaze, the site's design doesn't compete. Navigation is easy enough, but there's an overload of info on each page.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

The site provides thorough coverage of microscopy, the physics of light and optics, and a generous section on cells. There are also some simple, hands-on activities and resources for elementary and middle school classes.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

An extensive teacher's guide and a wealth of background info on microscopy can be useful to teachers looking to brush up on scope skills. There's also a long list of links to other microscopy resources.

Common Sense Reviewer
Kristina Duncan Classroom teacher

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