Entomology Week #3 – Insect Survey for Kids (w/ Free Notebooking Page)

As a part of the Introductory Entomology course we are undertaking this month, we took advantage of the long weekend to do an insect survey in our backyard.  We headed out with a homemade transect device (four 1-meter length PVC tubes connected with L-joints to form a square) and a butterfly net.  We had high hopes that we would find a variety of insects as well as numerous different orders.  Be it due to time of day or season, this is not how it turned out.  Either way, we did make a discovery.

We had observed two very similar insects while undertaking our survey and it lead us to ask a number of questions.  Are they the same species?  Is one male and the other female?  What do they eat?  As we sketched and researched the answers to our questions, I was tickled to discover they were two distinct species … Milkweed (Lygaeus kalmii) and Western Boxelder (Boisea rubrolineata).  The majority of the bugs we observed were Milkweed bugs, I therefore share some of the facts we learned about them here.

Edited 26 Feb 2014 – I wonder now if some weren’t Bordered Plant (Largus succinctus).  I’ll have to take pictures and investigate this further.

insect survey

True Bugs

Milkweed and boxelder bugs are true bugs (order Hemiptera); beetles, moths, flies, and butterflies are not. Bugs have the usual complement of structures that they share with just about all other insects: six legs, three body parts (head, thorax, and abdomen), and two antennae. Hemiptera do not have mouths for biting and chewing food—they have a tubelike beak for sucking fluids. The milkweed and boxelder bugs suck nutrients from seeds.

Milkweed BugLife Cycle Changes .. Simple or Complete?

Hemiptera go through simple metamorphosis. The insect emerges from an egg looking like a tiny version of the adult, with slight differences in body proportions and incompletely developed wings. The immature bugs are called nymphs. As with all insects, in order to grow the nymphs must molt periodically. Just after molting the bug is creamy yellow with bright red legs and antennae. Within a few hours the body turns dark orange, and the legs and antennae resume their usual black color.

milkweed instar

Hemiptera go through five nymphal stages (instars) as they mature. Each molt produces a larger nymph that is more completely developed. As they grow, the dark wings appear on the backs of the bugs as black spots. Other black markings start to appear and eventually develop into the characteristic patterns of black and orange. The last molt reveals the adult.

Male or female?

Milkweed bugs continue to feed as adults, inserting their long beaks into seeds to suck out oils and other nutrients. Mating is easily observed, as the two mating bugs remain attached end to end for an extended time. It is possible to distinguish female and male adults by body markings. Look on the ventral (belly) side of the bugs. The tip of the abdomen is black, followed by a solid orange segment (with tiny black dots at the edges). If the next two segments following the orange band have solid black bands, the bug is a male. However, if the segment following the orange band is orange in the middle, making it look like it has two large black spots on the sides, followed by a segment with a solid black band, the bug is female. Males tend to be smaller than females.

insect order printableWhile our insect survey didn’t reveal the diversity we expected, we did enjoy the experience. We had selected four different sites – the grassy hillside behind our house, a rocky area, in the shade beneath the Oleaders, and in a drainage ditch.  We observed the greatest number and variety in the cooler areas.  The kids thereby made a hypothesis that they would see a greater number and variety in a cooler time of day or season.  We look forward to doing this activity again to test their theories.   I’ve created a free  insect order notebooking page for my valued readers.  Please feel free to pin it and share it with friends.

As the summer progresses, we look forward to doing additional insect surveys.  We have talked about also setting up a few pitfall traps and a Berlese funnel.  These collection devices, as shown in my Introductory Entomology Unit Study eBook, are bound to yield greater numbers of insects.

Entomology Week #2 – Insect Collecting

Participants are underway with their long-term projects – either a traditional mounted insect collection or a collection of insect photographs – as a part of the Online Entomology Course I am teaching this month.  While I have always been interested in insects, I first began insect collecting when I was hired as the elementary science specialist in North Bend.  The fifth graders were required to undertake an insect project and I thereby spent the summer immersing myself in insect lore.  I became so immersed in the hobby that I continued through the school year and consecutive summers.  My students began to call me the Bug Lady.

Student Insect Collecting & Mounting Kit {aff link}

Insect collecting does not require a lot of tools or equipment.  Some collectors prefer to collect only specimens they happen upon that have died.  Other collectors take the traditional route, collecting live insects that they preserve carefully.

Traditional Insect Collecting

Live insects can be caught with the aid of a net, jar, or by hand. Be careful of those that bite or sting!  Insects can then be preserved by:

  1. Placing the jar in the freezer for approximately 20 minutes, or
  2. Put a few drops of fingernail polish remover (which contains acetone) or rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball and drop it into the jar with your insects. Don’t drown your insect – this makes for a poor specimen.

To mount the insect, put a straight pin through the thorax. Very small insects should be glued to a small triangular piece of paper and then a pin can be put through the center of the paper.

Stick the pin into a display such as a piece of cardboard or Styrofoam. Display your collection in a frame and consider hanging it on the wall.  Use your imagination!  Using insects in art is a growing art medium, see my earlier post Tiny Footprints, to enjoy the incredible artistry of Pamela Cole.

Alternative Collection Ideas

If you’d rather not do a traditional mount style collection, consider one of the following options.

  • Take photographs and display / share your images in an album (either online or in print).
  • Keep a field journal and make detailed illustrations of insects you observe in their natural surroundings.
  • Set-up a terrarium (either permanent or temporary) and enjoy watching insects in their habitat. Record daily observations of preferred diet, terrain preferences, etc.
  • Build a Squidoo lens of your own of the insects you have observed in the wild.

For more information on insect collecting, you may be interested in my HubPage, Bug Collecting.  You’ll find detailed information about how to set up a terrarium for insects and well as how to get started with scientific illustration and nature journaling.

Entomology Week #1 – Insects in Art

The Introductory Entomology Course is well underway. Tomorrow, the newsletter for Week #3 will be emailed to all of you who have subscribed and indicated your interest in the course.  There are many families taking part and I would love to see the participants artwork and hear what the children have enjoyed most.   A few examples from Week #1 – Insect Symmetry & Insects in Art – are shown here.

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A few families have signed up to share their work with one another on our Flickr group and I encourage those who have not yet done so hop over there.  I know the kids would love to read the comments the others leave for their Insects in Art work and I know you’ll come away feeling inspired.

insectsIn addition to the lessons I outline each week, some students are working on independent research projects according to their interests. Some students are focusing on specific insects and are creating a poster to share what they have learned. Other students are exploring insect anatomy and adaptations more closely.  Another student is investigating the hobby of apiculture or beekeeping. Regardless of the chosen topic, I want to encourage everyone to share with us what you have learned. You can do so by emailing a link to your blog or YouTube video, uploading your work to our Flickr group, or sending me an email attachment.  Whatever works best for you.

bugsRemember, the course is self-directed.  Participants work through the material at their own pace, completing the projects and lessons when it bests suits their schedule.  There is no obligation and you may join in at any time simply by subscribing to the newsletter and indicating your interest in the Introductory Entomology Course.

We are fascinated by insects and love art – please share your favorite art that features insects by leaving a link in the comment section.  :)

Planning a Fun Science Fair in 10 Easy Steps

For the past few years, I have organized an informal science fair for our local homeschool community.  It has been such a joy to see the diversity of projects, listen to the kids share their experience, and receive encouragement from one another.  It takes little effort on my part to coordinate the event and I walk away reinvigorated and more enthusiastic than ever.  Today, I share a step-by-step guide to planning an informal and rewarding science fair.

This is the third year I have coordinated this event and the first time I’ve done so here in California.  It is always interesting to me to see how the participant numbers vary.  Regardless of how many students take part – 10 or 45 – it is wonderful opportunity. My children thoroughly enjoy the process and the chance to share their work with others.  I want to encourage you all to take part in a science fair yourself.  If you find your area lacks the opportunity, don’t be discouraged.  You can follow the ten steps here to planning a great science fair of your own.

10 Steps to Planning a Science Fair

1.  Reserve a space

If you aren’t already familiar with a space you can use for free, this could be the most time consuming part of the process.  There are many possibilities around you … be creative and don’t be afraid to ask around.  Possible locations you may consider include:

  • Fraternal lodge like Sons of Norway, IOOF, Lions, VFW Hall, etc.
  • City library
  • Church
  • A public school
  • Hotel conference rooms
  • A common house within a subdivision
  • A conference room at your spouse’s (or a friend’s) work

2.  Set a date

The date will likely be dictated to some extent by the calendar of the meeting space you select.  Keep in mind that science projects require planning time.  I like to plan the science fair sometime in the spring (late April or early May).  I announce the fair on our homeschool boards (Yahoo Groups, Facebook, and at local umbrella schools) in the fall, however, and provide regular reminders throughout the year.

3.  Make a flyer and registration form

With the logistical things out of the way, use a word processing program to create an attractive flyer and accompanying registration form.  Share these with your local homeschool community, including charter schools.  I charge $5 per family (or per participant), enough to cover the cost of the awards, but do what feels right to you.

4.  Determine award criteria and purchase awards

Perhaps you would like to invite a couple scientists to come a judge the student projects.  If so, you will likely want to use a simple scoring guide or rubric.  Alternatively, you may decide not to give out awards at all.  This is entirely up to you.  The fairs I have coordinated have been small, we have thereby had success with simply allowing the kids to vote for their favorite project.  The votes are tallied and prizes are awarded to the top three projects with the most votes.  You may also wish to have grade level distinctions depending on the size of your group.

5.  Get the word out and send reminders

As the date approaches, be sure to send out regular reminders and continue to distribute fliers or registration forms.  You may wish to hang a flier at the library.  You may also consider contacting the local newspaper to invite the public – and even a reporter or photographer – to the event.

6.  Create a program to identify participants

I would highly suggest having a deadline for registrations, perhaps one week prior to the event.  This should allow you time enough to create a program (a simple sheet of paper will do but you can get very creative) listing the participants and their project titles. Many families like to keep these as souvenirs or to take notes upon as the students give presentations.  I have found though that at least in my homeschool community, getting families to commit in advance is like pulling teeth.

7.  Create participation certificates or buttons

I have found the kids really like buttons.  If you have a Badge-a-Mint, I highly suggest you create a graphic image that you can print and thereby use for buttons.  You can even set up a station at the event so the kids can make their own.  Alternatively, you can print simple certificates.  Regardless, the kids appreciate the small token.

8.  Purchase small gifts for the winners

The award value is contingent upon the number of participating families.  This year, we had 3 families (not including my own) and 10 children taking part.  I thereby took in only $15 in registration fees. I thereby elected to award $10 for first place, $5 for second place, and $2 for third (yes – I covered a little out of pocket).  With larger number of participants – and with advance registrations – you can be more creative in awarding prizes. In the past, I have used the fees to purchase gift cards (Acorn Naturalists, Carolina Biological, etc.)

9.  Arrive early and greet families upon arrival

Let everyone know that the event is relaxed and informal.  Smile and be yourself. Depending upon the time of the day and the length of the program, you may wish to have snacks.  You can ask for family volunteers to bring something or if the participant pool is large enough, you can purchase a few things.

10.  Positive feedback and award the winners

Once everyone is set-up and as guests mingle, call everyone together and invite the participants to volunteer to share their projects.  If there are many participants, you may wish to divide into smaller groups (perhaps by grade level).   At the end, ask that the students vote for their favorite, tally the votes, and award the winners.

Entomology Course Outline

In preparation for the online Introductory Entomology course I am teaching in May, I thought you all might like a little peak into the activities we will be covering.  The online class integrates many entomology topics including insect classification for kids, an integrated pest management simulation activity, and hands-on, inquiry based projects.  Access to the YouTube videos, Flickr group, Google Docs, andProject Noah classroom will be made available to those that register.  Subscribe to our newsletter here – be sure to select the topics of most interest to you.  In the future, you can always find the Mail Chimp subscription form in the upper right corner of the sidebar.  In addition to the materials listed for each week, students should have a notebook or binder in which they can take notes, keep their work, and record their observations.

entomology course outline

Week One

  • Insect Symmetry art activity (private YouTube video); post completed work on Flickrgroup
  • Review Scientific Classification
  • Materials needed for the week include:
    • your choice of a paint canvas (any size 5″x5″ or larger), acrylic paints, and brushes  OR  a sheet of watercolor paper, watercolor paint, and brushes
    • graphite transfer paper

Week Two

  • Live Insect Observation
    • observe and record the physical characteristics and behaviors of a live insect; notebooking page will be provided
    • sketch your insect in your journal; use the diagram Insect Anatomy to help you to label your illustration
  • Introduction to Insect Collection  (long-term project); consider uploading images to my classroom on Project Noah
  • Using the Insect Dichotomous Key  (private YouTube video)
  • Materials needed for the week include:
    • a cricket (available at local pet supplies stores) or other insect of choice
    • optional field collection tools (instructions will be provided to build your own with household materials)

Week Three

  • Insect Classification for Kids: An introduction to the common insect orders – PowerPoint presentation & accompanying notebook page
  • Insect Data Collection – choose a local site and collect data on the species richness; share your results on the shared document
  • Materials needed for the week include:
    • optional field collection tools (instructions will be provided to build your own with household materials)

Week Four

  • Insect Life Cycles – watch the suggested videos
  • Insect Wings (optional lab)

Week Five

  • Integrated Pest Management activity 
  • Research Assign:  Find a local example of IPM & share with the group (consider writing a blog post, a newscast video, or creating an informative poster)
  • Materials needed for the week include:
    • local newspapers or magazines

Week Six

  • Hot Foot, Cold Feet activity (private YouTube video)
  • Share your Insect Collection project on Flickr group and/or a blog

If you should have any questions about the course, please do not hesitate to contact me.  Remember this is an online, self-directed workshop.  Participants will work through the assignments and lessons at their own pace when it is convenient to his/her schedule.

The NSTA Conventions :: Flashback Friday #1

I follow the National Science Teachers Association on Facebook and Twitter.  As a result, I have been seeing many posts this past week regarding the convention that is taking place in San Antonio this weekend.  I haven’t attended an NSTA convention in many years – I believe the last one was in 2002, a few months prior to the birth of my daughter.  As I read the tweets, I recalled how much I thoroughly enjoy conferences.  I thereby pulled out my journal and read a few entries (before I began blogging, I kept a hand-written journal).  Here is one I would like to share:

21 March 2001 
 
I have just attended my first National NSTA Convention (after attending a few smaller, regional and or state conventions).  It will certainly not be my last.  I  had a spectacular time and it has been even more special because Patrick was able to attend with me.   
 
The first day, like the other conventions I have attended, is a little overwhelming (trying to get organized, finding the location of the talks I am interested in, navigating the exhibit hall, etc).  Buzz Aldrin was the keynote speaker.  We had to wait in line for nearly two hours to enter the lecture hall (tickets were not distributed, it was first come, first served).
 
Just after we arrived, I realized that I had forgotten my copy of his book Men From Earth in our hotel room.  I was distraught as I had desired him to sign it.  Patrick, to my delight, was willing to ride back to retrieve it – a 1-hour bus ride – one way!  This meant he would miss Buzz’ address.  Patrick you are an angel!  Thank you for being there for me & coming to my rescue!
 
After Buzz’ address, I waited another hour for the book signing – needless to say, he wasn’t too happy to sign an old book.  He was there to push his newest title.  He signed my copy but was noticeably grumpy about it.  I heard later that he refused to sign a NASA lithograph a man had cherished since he was a little boy. 
 
The line waiting at the convention was very common.  I learned there were approx. 20,000 people in attendance.  Incredible! 
 
Thursday night, we attended a dinner in my honor at Cafe de France.  It was superb!  I ordered Greek Salad, Venison Steak with steamed veggies and potatoes, and Amaretto Cake.  Regrettably, I don’t recall all the details the server used to describe each dish.  Next time, I will be sure to write it down or request a keepsake menu.  [ I really do this now! I have quite a collection of menus. :) ]
 
The award coordinator for the CIBA Foundation, Lois Amend, was very classy.  It was a memorable occasion just meeting her.  I felt so comfortable in her presence – she was very humble and down-to-earth.  
 
On Friday, I did get a change to go to a couple of sessions and see many of the exhibits.  Surprisingly, even though there were four 160 page catalogs describing the activities (short courses, sessions, workshops, tours, and special events) there were few that were actually of interest to me.  Those I did desire to attend frequently conflicted with one another.  Disappointing yet I don’t believe that I’ll spend as much time in line at future conventions.  I spent another 2 hours Friday afternoon waiting to have Bill Nye sign a book – in retrospect, had I known he was going to address the Council for Elementary Science International (CESI) luncheon on Saturday – I would’ve waited.
I also participated in the NASA NEW Share-a-Thon on Saturday whereby past participants of the NEW workshops shared with prospective applicants activities and projects we had learned ourselves.  I was very nervous.  I had brought two activities to share:  film canister rockets (which turned out to be a familiar favorite for many) and Geometry of Moon Phases – a hit!  There were so many attendees, I ran out of handouts!  It felt really good to share my ideas with others.  Even other NEW alumni enjoyed the moon activity.  Wendall Mohling (NSTA Coordinator for NASA) and Christina Gorski were very appreciative of our participation and gave us small thank you gifts (NEW lapel pin, a patch, and a coffee mug).  Very Cool!
 
The highlight of the trip was above all the CESI luncheon on Saturday.  The council members were so genuinely excited to meet me.  I could not believe how special they believed me to be.  The CESI/CIBA award, I learned, is their highest honor.  When Patrick and I arrived, we were quickly ushered in (despite the huge line of people who had purchased tickets).  After we were shown our seats at a reserved table near the podium, I was quickly introduced to Barbara Morgan, the luncheon speaker and next teacher in space.  She was as excited to meet me as I was to meet her.  Everyone was giving me hugs and shaking my hand.  It was a little overwhelming.  When I looked over the luncheon agenda, I discovered that Bill Nye was also being presented an award.  My name was on the same agenda as his!! Wow! I am still in awe.  There were nearly 400 people at the luncheon including Connie & Bonnie (fellow JPL NEW alumni) … it was great to see them. 
When Barbara Morgan gave her address, she said, “Isn’t it wonderful to have bright, young people like Eva Varga teaching?”  I was so honored.  People I didn’t know were taking my picture as I was presented my award. As the luncheon came to a close, others came to shake my hand and congratulate me.  A retired woman even gave me the microscope she won during the raffle, “You’ll need this more than I, dear.  Besides, I don’t really want to pack it home.”  How delightful! :)
 
A few people even recognized me in the exhibit hall and came up to express their good wishes.  “Eva, you are such an inspiration.  Congratulations on your award.  You certainly deserve it.”  I never would have guessed the scale to which this award would be recognized.  I have truly been blessed.  The benefits will continue as the new relationships I’ve developed promise to open doors for me in the future.
 
In the word of Bill Nye, “Science teachers, like Eva Varga, are what keep the PB and J in teaching .. Passion, Beauty, & Joy.”

I share this with my readers in the hope that you will be inspired yourself to pursue your passions.  I have come to realize I miss this part of my life – the professional me.  I am thereby taking strides to bring her back.  Look forward to great things to come as I share my experiences and skills more regularly.

Have any of you attended conventions?  Perhaps a homeschool convention or blogging conference?  Perhaps you have attended conferences focused on specific interests or hobbies like stamp collecting, knitting, or jewelry.  I’d love to hear about your experience.