Some frequently asked questions:

What should I say when I want to use The Private Eye and the loupes and the students say "We've done this before"?

There's a whole batch of answers, for instance :

Good! We'll start at a higher level! or: "Good, you can help the others since you've got some background." or: "What small change can you think of to make the project/subject slightly different? or: "You've looked at worms but not THESE worms!" You've drawn leaves, but not THESE leaves." and "YOU'VE changed. You're smarter now than before."

Like a pencil and paper, we'll use The Private Eye all through school, high school and college and even as adults. Like microscopes, we'll use it again and again. Like other things you repeat: recess, birthdays, books, videos, ball games - we'll enjoy The Private Eye again and again.

Ah, but you did that in 1st grade with your 1st grade eyes. Now you've got 2nd grade eyes and can see more.

Now you've got a 7th grade brain or a 12th grade brain and can think better. What if we teachers stopped every time the class said, "We've done that before!" Oh, I think you'd have a 2nd grade brain in an adult's body. Remember, a 2nd grader sees four things and thinks "that's all there is." A 6th grader sees eight things and thinks "that's all." A 12th grader, who should be smart by now, may see ten things and mistakenly think "that's all". If it were true, there'd be no need for college. There'd be no need for professional scientists, or artists, or writers. Everything would be done by the 2nd grade, by that logic!

Good! Tell me what you already know - about ants, leaves, worms, pond critters, flowers' reproductive systems, growth and form, etc. - and we'll start from there! (Invariably even high school students recall very little of a subject they think they've "mastered" already. If it were enough to study worms in 2nd grade or 8th, when the college Zoology professor says, "Now we're going to study worms." - at that moment, does the college student raise her hand and say, "Excuse me, but I've already studied worms. What else have you got?" or in Art School when the instructor says "We're going to sketch a tree, outside today." - does the adult art student say, "Oh, I've already done trees in 2nd grade, in 5th and also in 8th. What else have you got?"

Each teacher is as individual as his/her fingerprint, as is each lesson a particular teacher invents or composes. For example, artist Andy Rosane re-applied the fingerprint lesson into block printing (See The Private Eye Newsletter, Spring 1997). Further, each student can ask: How can I change this a little to make it new? (Just changing one ingredient in a "recipe" can change the whole flavor. E.g., after students write an analogy list, cut out the "it reminds me of" or "it looks like" and instead start the poem with the phrase "I see..." - Use the phrase perhaps three times in a ten line piece.

If you're using The Private Eye in a "Science" segment: You looked at an ant last year? Last week? We'll look again because this is "Science," and scientists who study ants (or leaves or pods or flowers or pond critters...) look at them thousands of times in their career. I want you to at least look at an ant 12X or 24X so you'll have some sense of how much you can see if you look again and again at something. By the way, is this the same ant? Has the ant changed? Have you changed?

If you're using The Private Eye in an "Art" segment: You looked at an ant last year? Last week? We'll look again because this is "Art," and artists look at ants or leaves or trees or flowers or faces thousands of times and do many paintings (or rugs or pottery designs or etchings...) of the same subject. An artists always looks for some new detail, some new light or shadow, some new way of seeing the subject- that she/he missed before. Turns it around, upside down, backwards. Draw it from a new angle. Draw it in blue this time, or red tones. Draw it huge. Draw it thin. Draw it on the computer this time. Use watercolor this time. Or clay. I want you to at least look at an ant 12X or 24X and consider 24 ways of presenting an ant - so you'll have some sense of being a real artist. By the way, is this the same ant? leaf? dragonfly? Has it changed? Have you changed? (...so that you might see with more mature eyes, mind?)

If you're using The Private Eye in a "Math" segment: You looked at this last year? Last week? We'll look again because this is "Math," and professional mathematicians look at the shapes and patterns in leaves or trees or ants thousands of times and look for their geometry, for the way they'd explain the thing in algebra or trig. Real mathematicians dream up mathematical questions over and over for a subject. An ant is a great subject, whether it's a preserved ant, therefore holding still for your study, or a moving ant. A mathematician always looks for some new detail, some new angle of light or shadow, some new thrust or curve or spiral - some new way of seeing the subject and its relationships internally and when compared to others. Turns it around, upside down, backwards - to see its patterns, relationships of size and texture and spin and angle. I want you to at least look at an ant 12X or 24X - and turn it into mathematical questions, observations (and ask "What else does it remind me of in mathematics?" - so you'll have some sense of being a real mathematician. By the way, is this the same ant? (or leaf? dragonfly? or?)

If you're using The Private Eye in a "Literature" segment: You looked at this ant last year? Last week? We'll look again because this is "Literature," and professional writers and readers look and look again and write and write again about the same thing until they get it right. Until they have captured something in such an unusual way that the writer/reader thinks he/she has never seen or understood an ant until that very moment! Like a writer, you go on writing - until you feel as if a flower bloomed inside you as you ask and write: "What else does it reminds me of." Like a scientist, an artist, a mathematician, a writer always looks for some new detail, some new light or shadow, some new way of seeing the subject, of feeling the subject. Turns it around, upside down, backwards and draws it, describes it. What else does it remind me of this time? What else does it remind me of in sports? in my bedroom? among my classmates? in other stories I've read? in ballet? in my lunch kit? when I was small? etc. I want you to at least look at an ant 12X or 24X while you're in school so you'll have some sense of being a real adult writer, reader. By the way, is this the same ant? leaf? dragonfly?

"Genius is the capacity to see ten things where the ordinary man sees one." - Ezra Pound

A longer introduction to using The Private Eye in a "Literature" segment, as springboard to an additional sample writing lesson:

Today we're going to use The Private Eye approach as a starting point for an advanced writing lesson. We're going to imitate the respected Montana short story writer, David Long*, in two respects.

Part 1) "I am interested in the texture of life," Long admits. "I try to fill the stories with a lot of physical details, a lot of smells and surfaces, try to make the moment as full as I can."

So, for this assignment I want you to choose something you've collected or something from The World in a Box or from the class collection. Write your list of 10-15 things it reminds you of as you loupe-study it. This time include: "What else does it remind me of also in "my feelings?" in movement? in dance? in sports? in my room? on the mesa? etc. Stretch!

Part 2) David Long says "I try to find the moments in ordinary lives where we have to make choices, where we hit turning points."

The object you've just written about is going to appear in a short, short story you'll write... even though right now you've no idea how it'll figure into a story because you don't have a story yet. Reread your list, re-look at your subject and ask: Has this object ever appeared in your life that you can recall? Is there any scene out of your life in which you are alone OR with one other or with a group - where a small turning point happened - in the way you understood yourself? - in the way you understood, suddenly, someone else? or even a group? This will be fiction but it can be based on some experience you've had or wish you'd had or fear you will have. First just write some notes on how this object could appear at the edge - or in the middle - of a conflict or a realization - or even how it might have a role in the turning point, in the insight. E.g.: While you're listening to someone you notice you have stepped on a blade of grass that stands up straight again after you move your foot. Then zoom in on the blade of grass for a few sentences. Then back to the turning point you are experiencing with this other person and within yourself. You can begin your 1st draft today.

*Source: "Not Just Another Montana Writer: David Long", by Frank D. Miele,Poets & Writers Magazine, May/June 1997, pp. 40-43.)

If you're using The Private Eye in a "History or Social Sciences or Geography" segment: You may have used it in Science or Literature or Math or Art before. When you use it here it involves all the above - to help understand social or psychological issues - issues of place and culture. We'll use The Private Eye to look at a subject - like an ant - to understand it for itself, and to understand yourself and the group you live among and make analogies to other groups and individuals.

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How do I clean my loupe?

To clean your loupes, use a soft cotton cloth, piece of chamois, or lens tissue. Do not use facial tissues or paper toweling as these may scratch the lens. You can rinse a loupe in water, if, say, you've been outside on fieldwork and have dropped your loupe. You don't want to rub dirt grains into your lens. (Of course, if you use a Loupe-lanyard this is less likely to happen.) Do NOT use rubbing alcohol on the lens, however, as this may cause clouding of the lens over time. A safe method of cleaning the entire loupe, if you like, is to rinse it in a solution of warm soapy water, then a clear rinse. Or you can rinse it in warm water and chlorine bleach at a ratio of one part bleach to ten parts water. The loupe can then be air-dried or patted dry with a cotton cloth. Most teachers give a simple lesson on loupe care when they introduce the loupe as a life-long tool. Some teachers add a small square of flannel to the loupe bag so kids can polish their loupe(s).

Generally all you'll need to do is polish off finger smudges from the lens.

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What is the pond box (seen at the workshops) and what are those critters inside the box?

The Pond Box, or Clear Acrylic Box "C" (1"x 2"x 3/4")  is the only box we know of that is virtually leak-proof for observing salt or fresh water organisms under the loupe or microscope. To insure an effective seal, however, you must keep the lip of the box bottom and the lip of the box lid DRY. Any drop of water on the lip allows a pathway for a leak. The secret is to fill the boxes by using an eye dropper to move "pond" water and critters from a holding cup into the "pond box." Don't top off the box with too much liquid. We usually fill box so water is almost level with the top of the bottom box rather than mounding the water. This allows an air bubble for the critters inside. Too big a bubble in the box can be distracting to the eye. If a drop of water gets on the lip, we usually dab it off with a Q-tip or tissue. As with the loupe, use a soft cotton cloth to dry the box. (Of course you can use this box for dry specimens as well.)

THE CRITTERS in our workshops and conferences are:

Daphnia, Ostracods, sometimes also copepods and blood worms. We collect them from lakes and rivers. You can also order them from biological catalogues, which we do during winter if our supplies are down


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What about eye strain when using the loupe?

Eye strain is rarely a problem for the K-16 age bracket. When you're a kid or even a young adult, the lenses in your eyes are flexible, like the rest of your body. (The lens in your eye has to flex to change focal distances.) But, when you're somewhere around 40, the lenses in your eye may become less flexible (like the rest of your body) and so you may feel a strain as your eye tries to shift its focus through a loupe. Most of the teachers in our workshops never experience any eye strain. For those who do, we notice that many seem to acclimate during the day and are comfortable after their eyes get "the hang of it" (like any exercise!). For those whose eyes don't acclimate, yet love what The Private Eye does for their students: Just close your eyes as you model use of the loupe!

Teachers tell us that maybe one out of a 100 or 200 students will experience any strain. Some students may take a little time to "acclimate" to the change in magnification, and then be fine. For the few who feel strain, an instructor need only say, "Use it for as long as it feels comfortable." Remember: young eyes are very athletic and resilient.

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How do I best introduce the jeweler's loupe to Kindergarten and First Grade?

Always use the tip on page 22 of The Private Eye. Most Kindergartners do need an introductory step before using the eye loupe: they need an introduction to the CONCEPT of "blurry" vs "clear" or "in-focus"/"out-of-focus." The best way to convey the clarity and sharpness associated with focus is to place an image on an overhead projector or slide projector (e.g. a close-up photo of a baby's face) and move it in and out of focus until kids can verbally recognize which is "in focus" and which is "out-of-focus". It may also be a good idea to make sure that the younger ones really understand about holding the loupe right up against their eye.

Its a great idea to team kindergartners with older students (e.g., 4th or 5th graders already familiar with The Private Eye - who can act as mentors; or parent volunteers who can transcribe what the younger ones are narrating as they loupe-travel). You can also use a tape recorder at a learning station for one or two students at a time... then transcribe their oral answers to the question: "What else does it remind me of? Look like?" as they loupe-explore an object. After their words are transcribed... this becomes their Private Eye reading book.

For more information, please see our PreK book.

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