Academic journal article Science and Children

Channeling Your Inner Entomologist: A Partnership between a Teacher and an Entomologist Engages Second Graders in a Study of Insect Locomotion

Academic journal article Science and Children

Channeling Your Inner Entomologist: A Partnership between a Teacher and an Entomologist Engages Second Graders in a Study of Insect Locomotion

Article excerpt

"Are those big bugs coming back this year?" asked a group of second-grade students. "I heard that the roaches are as big as our fist," "Is it true that we get to hold them?" asked the students. "Would you like to?" asked the teacher. "Yes, we are so excited!" exclaimed the second graders as they rushed into the STEM lab to engage in a hands-on lesson involving live Madagascar hissing cockroaches and robotic Hexbugs. The lesson, "Exploring Insect Adaptations," is the result of a partnership between a teacher and an entomologist brought together by a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded grant that paired teachers and researchers to impact K-12 STEM education through partnership and innovation. This collaboration resulted in five lessons featuring live insects such as cockroaches, beetles, and grasshoppers. The lesson highlighted in this article features Madagascar hissing cockroaches.

Why Cockroaches?

Live insects are an excellent tool to teach students about many general science concepts. According to a recent entomological study, African millipedes and Madagascar hissing cockroaches were used in second-grade science classrooms, and a pre- and posttest demonstrated a significant increase in the understanding of biological concepts addressed in the lesson (Golick, Heng-Moss, and Ellis 2010). In another study, crickets were used to explain biology concepts when field excursions were not practical or possible (Rop 2008). Furthermore, insects are inexpensive for teachers to maintain and offer a great way to incorporate living things in the classroom (Rop 2008).

We chose Madagascar hissing cockroaches for the lesson "Exploring Insect Adaptations" because of a published scientific research study that used cockroaches to study locomotion over uneven terrain (Spagna et al. 2007). We felt that using cockroaches would facilitate student exploration of how insects make adaptations to their environment, the big idea of the lesson, while supporting the guiding question: Do spines help insects walk on uneven terrain?

Lesson Components

We decided to craft this lesson so that there would be several opportunities for students to conduct scientific investigations. A Framework for K-12 Science Education advises that "from the earliest grades, students should have opportunities to carry out careful and systematic investigations, with appropriately supported prior experiences that develop their ability to observe and measure and to record data using appropriate tools and instruments" (NRC 2012, pp. 60-61). The hour-long lesson was created in five parts to maximize student interest and engagement. Part one includes an anchoring event that involves showing a scientific research video of a cockroach running across wire mesh and a probing question along with a live cockroach to encourage students to generate observations and facilitate a discussion of ecosystems and microhabitats. Part two includes an investigation adapted from a scientific research study in the field of entomology. This investigation provides students opportunities to explore different insect adaptation models by using robotic Hexbug insects. Part three includes time for students to compile data gathered during the investigation and construct a graph. Part four of the lesson focuses on data analysis and student discussion of data and observations. Finally, part five features viewing research videos of invertebrates running across wire mesh with and without prosthetic spines (Spagna et al. 2007). These videos served as the inspiration for the Hexbug investigation featured in this lesson. See NSTA Connection for a sample lesson plan.

Importance of Safety

Prior to the lesson, students were taught how to hold live insects using a few simple rules. First, we discussed safety with students and described the importance of hand washing and sanitizing with a hand sanitizer comprised of at least 62% alcohol if they were to touch a cockroach. …

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