Reaching Out: Stories of Science Outreach

**This story was originally run in the March 2013 issues of The Signal, the monthly newsletter of the W. M. Keck Center for Behavioral Biology at North Carolina State University**

February was full of wonderful outreach opportunities for the Your Wild Life team.

We’re interested in engaging the public in the appreciation and study of the biodiversity in our daily lives – be it the camel cricket in one’s basement or the tiny mite living in the pores on one’s face. We employ diverse channels — Twitter and Facebook, our blog, visits to local classrooms, outreach events at museums and science festivals –  to engage diverse audiences. We are also motivated to get the science we do in the lab accessible to teachers in the classroom – with the goal of having students get involved in citizen science projects early and often (like collecting ants for the School of Ants project).

Face Mite collection by the Your Wild Life team and the Molecular Lab in the Nature Research Center.

Forehead mite collecting at Darwin Day at the Nature Research Center. Photo by Lea Shell

From a poster competition at Research Triangle High School, to Darwin Day festivities and a teacher workshop at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences (NCMNS), this month has been full of amazing ways to connect entomology to K-12 education. When I started working with the Dunn Lab and joined the Your Wild Life team a couple months ago, I never imagined that I would be involved in all of the wonderful things I’ve been a part of over the past several weeks. What makes the outreach that we’ve done recently so special, is that it wasn’t all our idea – it was a response to many requests we’ve received from teachers to find ways to incorporate our citizen science into their classrooms.

Our team spent several hours at the Efland-Cheeks elementary school for their Math and Science night talking about insect research, video-project live ants under a microscope, and showing off live camel crickets. Being able to get the parents involved in their children’s education was very rewarding. Parents (and even some teachers) were clued into the notion that science doesn’t have to be expensive nor inaccessible. We helped them to understand that they live in a lab – they can make important scientific discoveries in their backyard, in their refrigerator and even in their belly button.

And so a conversation was started… A week later many of those teachers from Orange County, NC, drove almost an hour to attend a special workshop hosted at the Nature Research Center at NCMNS to discuss ways to incorporate School of Ants (and ant biology, in general) into their curriculum, in a way that also satisfies state-mandated standards. Our goal was to come up with at least one ant example for each of the life science standards; I think we far exceeded that goal! With just a brief overview of ant biology and the School of Ants protocol, the K-5 teachers were well on their way to brainstorming ways to incorporate ants into their science curriculum, as well as into their mathematics, language, literature and even art lessons.

Orange County, North Carolina K-5 school teachers looking at ants on the Capitol grounds.

Orange County School K-5 teachers looking for ants on the North Carolina State Capitol Grounds. Photo by Lea Shell

On a snowy Saturday in mid-February, we took the Your Wild Life citizen science show on the road back to the NCMNS’ Nature Research Center. Our team set up shop in labs on two floors, and spent the day talking about camel crickets, recruiting ideas for a common name for a common ant, discussing and showing off arthropods collected in homes, and sampling for face mites in celebration of Darwin’s 204th birthday. February outreach has been more fun than I ever imagined, I can’t wait for the future – in March I’ll be doing ant outreach from New York City medians — Stay tuned!

 

 

By |2016-11-22T13:47:28+00:00March 13th, 2013|

About the Author:

Lea Shell
Lea Shell is an entomologist and educator who devotes her time convincing others just how wonderfully important insects and microbes are to our lives. She enjoys playing with slime mold, ants, GPS units, climate loggers and interviewing scientists about their middle school experiences.

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