Advice Column, Child, Education, Tween & Teen

Foldscope – When paper art and science meet.

A paper microscope that will change the way children learn about science.

As a rule, microscopes are expensive, delicate instruments. Certainly not a suitable toy for an eight-year-old and probably the last thing parents would think of giving to a child. But what about a microscope made from paper that costs around R40? A microscope that is water-resistant, tough, and small enough to fit in a shirt pocket, or slotted into a book? Enter the Foldscope, an innovative piece of equipment that is set to change the way science is taught at school and at home.

Most schools in South Africa are not lucky enough to have a single microscope, let alone one for each child. And most children never have the opportunity to use a microscope or to freely explore what the inventor of Foldscope calls the “microcosmos”. It is an accepted fact that children learn best through experiences rather than instruction, and hands-on activities form a critical part of experiential learning. Experiential learning also stimulates the imagination, inspires curiosity, and nurtures a love for learning in general. How can we expect our children to be excited about science when it is inaccessible, and its education is usually one-dimensional?

One of the reasons that South African schools perform consistently poorly in maths and science is a lack of access to appropriate equipment and materials. Now imagine what could happen if every child had access to a microscope, or even better, their OWN microscope. Before the invention of the Foldscope, this was a near impossibility for the majority of South African schools. 

What about a microscope at home? Picture yourself exploring the garden with your child, collecting flowers or insects, and studying them using the Foldscope. Even something as simple as examining the difference between salt or sugar crystals could be a fun and educational activity. For homeschoolers, a tool like the Foldscope is invaluable to enhance their studies. By motivating our children to spend time in and interacting with nature, the Foldscope could also provide a way to reduce the time spent in front of a screen.

A Foldscope starts out as a flat sheet of plastic-coated paper, precut into shapes that are folded and slotted together to form a fully functioning microscope. Its magnification is similar to the microscopes found in classrooms and research laboratories, meaning it can easily magnify plant and animal cells, insect parts like wings or eyes, pollen, hair and follicles, a variety of microorganisms, algae, red blood cells, and larvae; the list is endless. As long as a sample can fit on a standard microscope slide, it can be viewed with a Foldscope. One of its most attractive features is the ability to couple with the camera on a cell phone or tablet. This gives children the opportunity to take photos and videos and to share their findings with friends, parents, and teachers. By attaching the Foldscope to a cell phone’s flash, the image can also be projected onto a screen. 

Teachers all over the world are starting to see the fantastic possibilities for getting children excited about science, biology, and engineering. In the United States and India, Foldscopes are now regularly used in the science classroom.  South African schools, especially resource-poor schools, could also certainly benefit from having these devices in the classroom. In fact, if we hope to ever compete with the rest of the world in terms of science and maths, tools like the Foldscope are essential.

Foldscopes come in kits of 20 or 100 basic units, perfect for classroom use. To keep the costs down, these kits also come with a limited number of accessories that are to be shared among learners. Sales of Deluxe individual kits, including an extensive set of accessories for home use, partially subsidize the classroom kits. 

SciBuddy, a new player in the field of scientific educational materials, is the exclusive distributor of Foldscopes in South Africa. The owner, Arista Burke, has a background in microbiology and education and believes that Foldscopes will be a gamechanger for South African schools. “For the first time, giving every child in SA access to a microscope is a real possibility. The schools that realize the potential of this tool are going to have a definite edge going forward”, says Arista. SciBuddy wants every school to have at least one set of Foldscopes. To make this possible, they are donating one kit to an underprivileged school for every 20 kits sold. 

To find out more about SciBuddy and Foldscope, visit www.scibuddy.co.za or their Facebook page, SciBuddySA. 

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