The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

Getting buggy in the classroom…

Just curious:

Bug catching is serious stuff.

how many of you bug-geeks have brought insects, either live or mounted, into a classroom OUTSIDE of a university setting.   Spending time outdoors with students with insects in their natural environment certainly counts too.

I’m talking about bringing the bugs to littles here: students from K-12. 

If you have, what was the context?  Do you think kids benefited from the experience? Why or why not?  Would you do it again?   Do you think there is anything specific to be gained (or not) from using insects as the animal “model” in activities such as these, as opposed to other types of organisms?

If you haven’t, is there any particular reason why?

Please share.

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10 responses to “Getting buggy in the classroom…

  1. dragonflywoman November 8, 2010 at 11:38 PM

    I’ve taken live insects to many events, both indoors and outdoors! My latest events involved bringing giant water bugs, dragonfly nymphs, some aquatic beetles, and a few other things to the Biosphere for their Earth Day festival. Scads of kids there! At a recent outreach event at the AZ-Sonora Desert Museum showcasing beetles, I brought dytiscids, gyrinids, haliplids, and some aquatic beetle larvae and spent a good part of the night talking to hundreds of kids about them. I also spent a year teaching at an outdoor education center as a GK-12 fellow for NSF. I led K-8 kids on natures hikes in the mountains west of my city and told them all about insects while we walked. SO much fun!

    I usually do these sorts of things to introduce kids to insects in a non-scary way to show them that most insects are harmless and make them comfortable enough to learn some basic information about insects. With my water bugs, I usually go for something more splashy and feed large goldfish to the bugs to show them how predator-prey interactions work and how true bugs are able to eat. I think the kids benefit from these experiences for sure, if only because they get to see something amazing they’ll remember for a long time, an experience that helps them appreciate nature more. Using insects is very beneficial for these sorts of things. They’re highly portable, incredibly diverse, and you could talk about them for years without ever scraping the bottom of the barrel of entomological knowledge. Plus, a lot of people are scared of them. If you can make a kid a little less scared of a bug it helps them appreciate them more – and more willing to learn more about insects and their myriad roles in the world in the future.

    I’m curious to hear your take on this, especially since you ended up doing the impromptu outreach sessions over the summer! I think these sorts of activities are great fun, but I can see why other people might not like them.

    • TGIQ November 11, 2010 at 5:49 PM

      Somehow I knew you’d chime in on this one 🙂 Sounds like you have great fun with a great many kids!
      My take is very much like yours: I think any opportunity to expose children to nature should be seized upon, and insects can be a really wonderfully versatile tool that can be used to teach a variety of natural history, biology, behaviour etc etc topics. The “fear factor” can help make the experience even more memorable.
      Personally, I LOVE doing this kind of thing. The challenge is always to make the content relevant and stimulating AND age-appropriate for the audience. I’m always interested to see how some people naturally gravitate towards opportunities for outreach or teaching outside of their normal academic/work realm, and how others really couldn’t be bothered…I wonder about their motives…is it disinterest, lack of confidence, or do they not see any value?

  2. Morgan Jackson November 9, 2010 at 8:15 AM

    We routinely give tours of our collection to students visiting the university (take your kid to work day, PD days, high school previews, etc) but we have also given outreach presentations to schools or childrens groups in the past. I helped with one a few years ago where we took a bunch of large tropical pinned insects into a kindergarten class along with a giant millipede that one of our students kept as a pet and some freshly netted aquatic fauna from the local pond. The kids really seemed to like playing with the millipede and seeing all the big shiny insects, and I can’t remember any of them being afraid to come closer (unlike many of their parents I’m sure).

    I think that insects make awesome teaching tools in the classroom since they’re easy to obtain & rear, they look cool and they do so many neat things. I’m sure that you could populate an entire high school biology course solely with insect examples and teach all of the curriculum mandates without batting an eye!

    • TGIQ November 11, 2010 at 5:51 PM

      Tours at the university is a nice idea…a chance for kids to meet/see “real researchers” doing “real science” in a “real reasearch setting”.
      Funny how children don’t always share the aprehensions of their parents…I find this especially true with very young children.
      An all-bug bio class…now that would be pretty cool!

  3. Ruth Fitzpatrick November 10, 2010 at 2:42 PM

    We have a summer lecture series at the Zoo here in Alaska – each year we invite the people from the University to talk to the kids about bugs. We set up on the lawn in front of the coffee shop, and the kids get to scour the area looking for bugs for the presenters to identify for them. It’s one of our most popular programs each year!

    • TGIQ November 11, 2010 at 5:52 PM

      They really seem to enjoy the bug hunt, don’t they? It seems like a good way for kids to gain some ownership and mastry of the subject, and also helps makes the critters seem less alien. Sounds like a fun program!

  4. tim eisele November 11, 2010 at 8:17 AM

    I’ve given a couple of presentations at our public library where we brought a bunch of insects that we caught in the back yard, let the kids play with them while we answered their questions, and then went out in the yard to see what we could catch. These were very well-received, and I plan to do it again this spring. The kids particularly like the “bug hunt” part, although they really enjoy watching the antlions bury themselves, too.

  5. TGIQ November 11, 2010 at 5:54 PM

    The library is a neat idea for a setting for this kind of activity…were any links made to books available there? I’ve never seen an antlion bury itself…*sniff*…those lucky kids.

  6. Ted C. MacRae November 12, 2010 at 2:16 AM

    I’ve probably done close to 100 classroom/Science Center presentations over the years. The bulk of these have been to elementary schools students. I like to have several full grown tomato hornworm larvae and hissing cockroaches crawling on me when the kids come in, or if they’re already in the room just open the containers and start putting them all over me. Chaos erupts, the teachers lose control of the class, and from that point on they’re mine! I walk around amongst the kids with the bugs crawling all over me while I show them other live “bugs” like giant millipedes and drawers of preserved insects. As I walk I invite them to pet and hold the roaches and caterpillars – some do and some don’t at first, but by they end of the class and several passes through nearly everyone does. As I walk I tell stories about the bugs in the drawers – “How many kinds of beetles are in this drawer?” (only one – male and female Megasoma actaeon), “How do you tell moths from butterflies?” (the drawer contains a Urania day flying moth). Through “King of the log” stories they learn about sexual dimorphism. By actually looking at the antennae of moths and butterflies they learn about diversity of form – all this without me having to lecture. I don’t keep to any script and allow the students to bombard me with questions – it becomes an hour-long conversation about bugs tailored to what they really want to know about them. At the end of class, I leave them with a “bug in a cup” – a small cup with artificial diet innoculated with a few lepidopteran eggs (usually corn earworm) that they can keep in class and watch them grow. I don’t try so much to “teach” them about bugs as “experience” them with me.

    • TGIQ November 12, 2010 at 7:27 AM

      I LOVE this approach. Love it. Self-directed learning can be so much more meaningful than anything scripted. I, too have pulled the ol’ “covered in hissing roaches” trick and boy oh boy talk about an attention-grabber! Great stuff, Ted!

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