To teach the Biological Sciences sub strand of the Australian Curriculum well, teachers need to feel fairly comfortable with living things. Of particular benefit is knowledge of insects, firstly because they are invertebrates and therefore don’t require the enormous screeds of paperwork for approval to use them. Secondly, insects are just simply amazing and frankly, without them, we’d all be dead!
Insects of course are one of the main organisms which support the food webs of all others. For the lower primary year levels (K-6), insects provide a wonderful real life resource that students can observe at first hand. Insects are freely available and with a little knowledge can be easily kept for classroom learning. Many go through some quite mind-blowing transformations and they have found ways to survive in nearly every physical environment on this amazing planet. They can teach students about the needs of living things, external features, growth and change and the effects of the physical environment on survival. And insects are cited for classroom use in the Australian Curriculum and in a number of current curriculum resources for example mealworms in C2C units and the new Primary Connections module. Watch it grow!
For older students (7-10) insects are an exceptionally good resource for teaching about biodiversity, classification, taxonomic keys, sustainability and the planning and conducting of extended experimental investigations. Queensland Museum Entomologist Dr Christine Lambkin (shown below getting a few hot tips from Quentin), has been instrumental in developing a project called Backyard Explorers. The materials and videos located on the QM website provide a step-by-step guide to conducting a biodiversity assessment using insects, complete with Excel spread sheets for recording and an automated graph creator. For this investigation and especially for the safety of students, the insects are immediately placed in preserving alcohol upon collection. Whilst this is not something teachers feel comfortable with, the deep understandings built through close and detailed examination of the specimens in fact create a greater respect for living things. The insects are only collected for scientific education explicitly following specified methods and certainly this is not open slather on killing things. The impact on insect populations is far less than that caused by the Mortein can, electric bug zappers, and car headlights.
For younger year levels, Quentin and Christine have some other ways to obtain insects which don’t involve killing them and are also safe because the identity (and ability to sting or bite) of the insects is known. To get you started there is a fact sheet called ‘Keeping live insects’ on the following page:
Quentin will return soon with more tips for Primary and Early Years teachers in future blogs.