Sunday, October 21, 2012

Creepy Crawlies and Wicked Wings - A Units Worth of Lessons and Things

Completing a unit about "creepy crawlies" can be a great thing to do during the month of October as it will provide plenty of opportunities for the creation of some pretty cool crafts you can use for decorations (all the egg carton arthropods outlined here are in our cob webs for decor).  However spring is also a great time for such a unit for those that feel adventurous enough to raise some of their own "creepies" or want to go out seeking them in the wild.

Whatever time of year you choose to study them, when kids get to learn about insects, arachnids and other arthropods in depth, it can increase their confidence when in the outdoors.  The fact is, most of these critters will not do any harm and can actually be helpful to us humans.  Knowing the difference will help your children and/or students be safer in both the great outdoors and, for some, their garages, basements or wood sheds.

Crafts Lessons and Projects for the Great Indoors

Insects Vs. Spiders:

For starters, this is a great topic to use with a Venn Diagram.  Arachnids and Insects are both part of the Class, Arthropoda and therefore share the characteristics of having an exoskeleton, jointed appendages and the ability to creep us out.  To help your kids get familiar with the comparisons, try the egg carton activity where the kids build a spider and an ant and follow the activity by filling out Venn diagrams individually, in groups or as a class.

Egg Carton Crafts

I have posted a series of crafts using egg cartons to make a variety of creepy crawlies.  I don't show how to do all of the orders within Arthropoda and focus mostly on insects.  I don't even show how to make the most commonly encountered insect orders, but I will show you a couple of examples and you can take it from there and make adaptations as needed and you see fit. 

Have your students compare the different types of insects. What is similar? What is different?  Creating a table with a column for each of the orders of insects you will study, or for each of the classes of arthropods you will be taking a look at with a row for comparable characteristics is a great idea to help kids practice tracking data as well as using and constructing tables.

A Few Insect Orders That Could Be Modeled Using Egg Cartons:

  1. Orthoptera (grasshoppers and crickets) - in case you would like to give this one a try, you can use the photo above as a beginning model.  The cricket shown above still needs wings and a mandible, but it should give you the basic idea.  Use the basic model for an ant, but make the last set of legs with one pipe cleaner each and bend them to look like grasshopper legs.  You should know, grasshoppers have short antennae and crickets have very long antennae so if you will be making a grasshopper, use one pipe cleaner for both antennae.
  2. Coleoptera (beetles) - This article will give instruction on how to make a lady bug.  You may need to be creative because there are so many different shapes when it comes to beetles.
  3. Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) - Model a butterfly.  You can also keep the cups in the normal egg-holding position, paint them green and plant grass in them to make a nice hairy caterpillar.  If you want your plant caterpillar to be a lesson in characteristics of caterpillars, you'll want to paint on the legs, but leg number can be dependant upon the species you are emulating.  MOST will have three sets of true legs and five prolegs on the abdomen making the total sixteen, but some don't have any legs and for some species the number can change depending upon the stage of the caterpillar.  Mostly, the planted caterpillar is just a fun little science craft and a chance to grow a little green in the windowsill.
  4. Diptera (flies and mosquitoes) - The model built and shown below is for a fly.  For a proboscis, the fly got a sliver of sponge.  To alter it to make a mosquito, simply replace the sponge proboscis with a piece of straw or a narrow cone made with a twist of paper
  5. Hymenoptera (ants, wasps, and bees) For bees, you'll want to copy the fly's wing style (including the set of two little knobs for the residual secondary wings) and add a "stinger" to the abdomen.  For ants (at least wingless, worker ants anyway) use the link on the word "ants" in number six.
  6. Isoptera (termites) - These guys look a lot like ants (click link for ant instructions), but the connection between the abdomen and thorax is thicker.  

Creepy Crawly Encounters:

Hikes and Safaris

Taking your kids into the outdoors to search for arachnids, insects and other terrestrial arthropods can be a lot of fun.  Before you go, stress that picking insects up can be incredibly harmful.  If a child wants to hold a creepy crawly, they should first double check that it is not a biter or stinger and then place fingers in the path of the critter to see if it will crawl onto the child.  If it is just you and a few it might be fun to such an activity to get things going.  Hook your kids by finding a bunch of creepy crawlies and then spend your lessons trying to figure out what you found.  To be on the safe side, with groups of kids, these kinds of activities are often reserved for the middle portion of the unit or as a final experience.  This way the kids are more likely to know what they've found and how to act respectfully around the critter being observed even if you aren't standing right over them.  Doing such an activity at the end of a unit can also be a great way to wrap it up.  Just by watching, you'll get a pretty good idea about how much your kids know, how confident they feel in that knowledge and they'll likely be more able to notice more because they'll have a better idea of just what it is they are looking at and for. 

I'm a huge fan of photographic scavenger huntsC.  Why not take your kids on an upside down hike and ask them to get photos of ten different creepy crawlies along the way.  Can they find two different arachnids, an arthropod with more than eight legs (millipedes and isopods - also known as pill bugs), and seven different species of insects?  Can they capture any fliers on film?

The composter can be another great source for a creepy crawly safari.  You'll want to make sure to include a little info on worms for your kids too so they can appreciate these humble miracle workers they are sure to find in the compost.  Have your students assess the health of the compost by taking a species survey within the compost.  The more diversity the more healthy your compost probably is.  Ask them to keep a running record of what they find and how many of each critter they see.  If you have two composters, you can even run experiments where one compost is maintained as usual and the other gets more greens, more browns, less or more water, gets left open to the sun . . .  Come back in two weeks and compare the health of the two composters based on the diversity and number of critters found within.  What do they discover?  If you don't have a composter already, start one at the beginning of the unit and see how many residents have moved in at the end.

Raising and Releasing

When she was four, Alice and I planted a garden of flowers butterflies in our area would like and then raised a few from the chrysalis (butterflies make a chrysalis, moths make cocoons).  It was a wonderful and unforgettable experience for her - she still speaks about raising butterflies from time to time two years later.  There really is no better way to learn the life cycle of an insect than to actually watch it take place. 

Although we haven't done it yet, it is also possible to order kits to raise lady bugs, praying mantids and of course, ant farms.  Please choose responsibly and check that you are getting the right species for your area - even if you aren't planning a release (as in the ant farm), accidents happen.   Then have tons of fun with it.

For Books and Resources:

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