CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 41. . . .June 26, 2015
Creepy Crawlies and the Scientific Method: More Than 100 Hands-On Science Experiments for Children. 2nd. Ed.
Golden, CO: Fulcrum (Distributed in Canada by Codasat Canada), 2015.
288 pp., trade pbk., $21.95.
Professional Resource for elementary school teachers and parents.
Review by Barbara McMillan.
If there is no period of observation, then no questions will occur. This can be a fundamental stumbling block if children try to come up with experiments with no prior observation period. (p. 17)
A sheet of plywood or dark plastic left lying (and anchored) on damp ground, preferably with a little dead vegetation underneath, will almost certainly attract something. Among the possibilities are crickets, earthworms, roly-polies, millipedes, centipedes, snails, slugs, and small snakes. Spiders are another possibility, so students should be cautioned about not sticking hands in places they can’t see into. (p. 21)
At some point you may want to talk to the students about what features of any place are important to an animal. Most little animals are interested only in staying alive, and what they look for are features most likely to keep them alive. What do they need to stay alive? Food, water, and safety from predators. Aesthetics (yucky and dirty) are irrelevant to most animals. (p. 102)
I think it’s good for children to see how humans can benefit from the normal activities of a creature as inconspicuous as the earthworm. This fosters an awareness of the interconnectedness of all creatures. Even our most advanced technology can’t do for our soil and ultimately our vegetables what the little earthworm can do. (p. 112)
I like millipedes. For several years I’ve kept a thriving population of them in a big margarine tub – several different kinds of millipedes. They are happy as larks, reproducing like crazy. My captives range in size from as small as a comma to the length of my little finger. There is no larval stage; the hatchlings look like miniature adults except that they are all white and have only three pairs of legs. The adults have many more. As the young grow into adulthood, they shed their exoskeletons about seven times, get darker, and acquire more legs. (p. 147)
I tell the students to put the ant lions in the cup after a minute or two of watching. Then they’ll see the ant lion quickly bury itself, as it tried to in their hands. In a few seconds it will be out of sight. One child asked, “How do ant lions protect themselves?” I answered his question with another question: “Why do ant lions bury themselves immediately?” (p. 178)
Have you ever wondered how you might interest children in the natural world? Have you been puzzled over what is meant by scientific inquiry and scientific method? Have you wished that you could help children formulate scientific questions that can be answered by conducting experiments? Each one of these concerns is addressed in Sally Kneidel’s new edition of Creepy Crawlies and the Scientific Method: More than 100 Hands-On Science Experiments for Children. It’s a book that I believe should be on the desk of every elementary school teacher and in libraries accessible to the parents of all children. If place attachment as a child is one way of developing an interest in science, an understanding of our relationship with all other living things, and a conservation or land ethic, children need opportunities like those meticulously created and clearly described by Kneidel. As the title suggests, it is not only about the remarkable little animals that many find unpleasant and, in too many cases, repugnant.
The 288 pages of Creepy Crawlies are divided into six sections. These sections are titled “Contents," “Beloved Butterflies and Citizen Science," “Bugs that Squeak and Hiss," “Creatures Found In and Under Logs," “Terrestrial Predators," and “Insect Reproduction." The first section, “Contents," describes the layout of the book, including the format of the 18 chapters, a chapter on scientific experiments and the methods of science, and a chapter on where to find, attract, capture, and maintain invertebrates. Kneidel’s description of the phases of scientific experiments, the null hypothesis, replications of an experiment, variable control, and distinction between an activity and an experiment are the most clear-cut and intelligible I have come across. When reading Chapter 1, I wished I had been aware of these four pages so that I could have referred to them in the science methods courses I have taught.
Section two is divided into a chapter focused on black swallowtail butterflies and a chapter on monarch butterflies. It is when studying the monarch that Kneidel describes opportunities for children to participate in what is know as citizen science. These are experiences that enable a child to electronically share her observations with monarch researchers and educators. The two chapters in the third section of Creepy Crawlies look at two insects I have never encountered. These are bessbugs, a shiny jet-black beetle, that live in colonies found in tunnels that they make in rotting logs and stumps, and hissing roaches from Madagascar that give birth to live young and are the only roach known to communicate by hissing. Section four looks at five small animals that live in logs and under logs. These are the crustacean known as roly-poly or sow bug, the earthworm, cricket, millipede, and slime mold. The terrestrial predators featured in section five are ant lions that live in sand and prey upon ants, web-builder and wandering spiders that feed on flies, moths, and insect larvae, the preying mantis that preys upon “big flies… moths, crickets, beetles, grasshoppers – just about any insect," and baby mantises that feed upon fruit flies. The sixth and final section is focused on the reproduction of fruit flies, aphids along with their voracious predator the ladybug beetle, and the birth and metamorphosis of the mealworm larvae into the adult beetle. This section also includes a postscript, “Making Connections among the Chapters." Creepy Crawlies concludes with four components titled “Questions/Answers," “Appendix," “Bibliography," and “Index."
As comprehensive as this may sound, the true value of Kneidel’s book is in the way she presents each organism and the wealth of information she shares with the reader. Everything seems doable, even if one has never considered field hunts and the capture, caring for, observing, and experimenting with living invertebrates in ways that allow one to learn a great deal about them. She begins with an introduction to the small animal and describes the materials necessary for housing and feeding before continuing with background information that is focused on collecting or purchasing living specimens, field hunts, and how to maintain these organisms in artificial environments. These topics are followed with observations children can make, activities that children can carry out when the organisms are in the classroom, and from three to eleven experiments. Each experiment is designed to begin with a question that can be answered by drawing a conclusion from the results. The question generally originates in the child’s observations of the organism and is used to construct a testable hypothesis and design the experimental method. As one example, the first experiment with the praying mantis is based on the question, “Will a mantis eat a dead insect?” The hypothesis is “We think our mantis will eat any bug, dead or alive.” In order to test the hypothesis, the students place “a live bug and a dead specimen of the same type in the terrarium” and wait to see which one is eaten. Kneidel suggests using a cricket rather than a moth because a moth can sit for hours without moving. The result is a statement of what the children observed. In the example provided, Kneidel suggests that the hypothesis was not confirmed as there was a problem with the method. Experiment 2 then became an experiment to test whether a mantis that had not eaten in two days would strike a dead cricket that was held by tweezers and jiggled. Continued hypothesis testing permits children to conclude that “mantises will ignore dead prey because they [the prey] are not moving."
Kneidel has a Ph. D. in biology, and this is evident in all that she writes. Many, if not all of the ideas, images, and recording sheets, originate in her personal and firsthand experiences with the “creepy crawlies” and with the children studying these little animals with her. She is an exceptional teacher and helps teachers and parents who read Creepy Crawlies and the Scientific Method to better appreciate invertebrates and to better understand how to bring children to a sense of wonder about organisms in detritus and underfoot that are often made to seem less interesting than mammals and other vertebrates.
Barbara McMillan is a teacher educator and a professor of science education in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg, MB.
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