Today’s Blog is contributed by Diane Vukotic who is an outdoor enthusiast who encourages parents to take their children camping to reconnect with nature, learn respect for wildlife, and develop self-esteem. She blogs at www.momgoescamping.com and you can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
Entomology as a Gateway
Nature is often viewed as something which is located far away from humanity – something that we have to trek long distances into remote areas to access. With this viewpoint, it is no wonder that so many teachers feel challenged to teach environmental education from the confines of suburban and urban schools. Entomology is an antidote to this disconnect with nature and a way to garner students’ interest and appreciation of the environment as a whole.
Why Teach Entomology?
It is no secret that most people despise insects. They are considered disgusting pests that no one thinks twice about stepping upon. Yet, when you look closer, the world of insects is incredibly fascinating. After going on many insect-seeking treks with children, I am convinced that fear of insects is something learned from society. One vivid example of this is a 9-year old girl who joined my daughter and me on a hike. She was “terrified” of insects. She recoiled when my own daughter eagerly scooped up a large black beetle and started cooing “Oh, it’s so cute.”
After the girl got over her initial shock of seeing someone who actually likes insects, she also picked up the beetle. In her own words afterwards, “It is actually really cool. Its legs tickle.” We then proceeded to look at the tiny hairs on its legs which were helping it cling to her.
In my personal experience, there are countless reasons to teach entomology. Below I’ve listed the main ones.
Not all teachers can organize trips into wild spaces. But, regardless of where your classroom is located, it is easy to access the world of entomology. All one needs to do is go outside and lift up a piece of decaying wood or sift through some dry leaves. Insect traps can be easily and cheaply made from plastic bottles dug into the ground.
2. Adaptable to Many Lesson Plans
Entomology can be used as a springboard into numerous environmental education topics. Some examples include:
- Camouflage and mimicry
- Patterns and symmetry
- Social insects versus individual insects
- Life cycles
Entomology can even be incorporated into lesson plans outside of environmental education. For example, insects can be used in evolution lessons. Insects evolve much faster than mammals due to their shorter lifespans. Looking at insects is a great way to see firsthand the diversity that evolution produces. A possible discussion and essay topic includes how human intervention in the form of pesticide use affects evolution.
Even in classes such as business entomology can be used. Just consider how companies like Southwest Airlines and Unilever are utilizing studies about swarm behavior in their business practices.
Taking this even further, entomology can be incorporated into architectural design, engineering, and cyborg designs. Older students will be fascinated in hearing how studying flying insects helped solve an engineering problem in drone design, that the Australian government research group CSIRO was able to develop a near-perfect rubber by studying flea legs, and that programs at Harvard are designing robots based on insect biology.
3. Teaching Entomology Teaches Respect towards Nature
When it comes to the environment, the big things are the ones which get the most attention and garner our respect (I have yet to see a zoo which advertises its entomology display when they can instead bring in crowds with large mammals like elephants and giraffes). Yet, without insects in their places in the circle of life, none of our complex ecosystems – and the grand animals in them — would be possible.
If children are taught to respect the smallest of animals, then it is an easy leap for them to also respect the larger animals and ecosystems as well. In my experience, any person who has been taught that insects are fascinating, important creatures will also respect the environment as a whole.