There has been an interesting discussion going on among the middle and high school science teachers on the NSTA General Science email list about the lack of direct experience in their students’ background. Some have suggested that early childhood and elementary schools are not laying the groundwork for the later learning.
One teacher said, “I was talking to an honors ninth grade class and most of the students said they had not seen a live grasshopper. This explains why several schools have started their biology classes with the ecosystems because they want students to be able to see and experience life sciences before moving to conceptual ideas in biochemistry and genetics.”
The National Science Education Content Standards (A and C) for K-4 call for all students to develop:
- Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
- Understanding about scientific inquiry
- The characteristics of organisms
- Life cycles of organisms
- Organisms and environments
I know grasshoppers from a childhood field—with two visible bulbous eyes, pincher-like mouthparts, barbs on the hind legs, and wings that you don’t notice until one goes zooming past you. And they spit tobacco! At least that is what we called the “partially digested food material along with some semi-toxic compounds from the insect’s crop region.” It stained our palms when we held a grasshopper too tightly. Have your students had that experience?
I’ll share this comment with the early childhood teachers I work with to let them know how vital the experiences they make happen, or take advantage of, are to their students’ future learning. It may inspire us to take walking fieldtrips to a nearby field or brush at the edge of a parking lot to look for wildlife, or encourage them to keep a container of Tenebrio beetles (mealworms) in the classroom.
Here are two great sites about grasshoppers and other insects:
- Grasshoppers: Their biology, Identification, and Management. USDA-ARS-Northern Plains Agricultural Research Lab in Sidney, Montana
- Using Live Insects in the Elementary Classrooms: For Early Lessons in Life. The University of Arizona’s Center for Insect Science Education Outreach
A few crickets are still chirping and crawling under leaves in my neighborhood but I rarely see grasshoppers. Time to create a small habitat so students can bring a cricket inside for a week!