Weird worm ignites care for creepy crawlies
An elusive worm lurking in the shadows of Dunedin's gardens has got locals discovering the diversity of what it means to 'do science', in a project exploring urban creepy crawlies.
Tamariki (children) from three Dunedin schools went beyond learning about the research and analysis aspects of science when they enthusiastically shared their bugs and insect project with the wider community at a popular public festival and Otago Access Radio.
The students were investigating ecology within their urban environments and creating habitats around the city for invertebrates in the project If we build it, will peripatus come?, which is based around the unique Dunedin velvet worm, also called ngaokeoke or peripatus.
Project co-ordinator and University of Otago scientist Dr Cynthia Winkworth says it was important to involve several scientists and experts to give the Year 3 to 6 children, from Abbotsford, Green Island and St Francis Xavier Schools, an understanding on how to share science with the community.
Experts from the Otago Museum, Catchments Otago, and Orokonui Ecosanctuary assisted the children with a range of work including insect surveys, how to build bug hotels, and spreading the word about the importance of insects in a healthy ecology.
The students looked for different types of creepy crawlies as part of the study.
Cynthia says teaching the children the importance of communicating about science, as well as doing it, is valuable.
The Otago Museum design team talked to the students about effective communication and ways to present their findings to people who might know less about the subject than the children do.
“It really highlighted to the children all these different job aspects and skills that are needed,” says Cynthia. It also showed that they have different interests in science. “Some did not want to get their hands dirty and loved recording all the data, while others loved doing illustrations and computer design.”
“The project showed to the children comprising very diverse backgrounds that they can play a part in science conversations.”
Key aspects of the project were to teach children about the ecology of their urban communities and understand that they share it with other creatures and the value bugs and insects have in ecology.
The students relished the opportunity to share their learnings with hundreds of children and adults at the Wild Dunedin festival where they hosted their exhibit, talked about their work, shared the flyer they had made and showed people how to make bug hotels.
“They were so enthusiastic about what they had learnt, they were shoving it in everyone’s face!” Cynthia says.
Another part of their communication plan was involving Otago Access Radio who interviewed the children and experts about the project for three half hour-long podcasts that have been broadcast to the community multiple times.
"I am making a flyer because people think that insects are yuck and scary but they are not. They are really interesting and good for our learning," one student tells the interviewer.
"I was really scared of spiders but now I am not scared of them anymore," another says. "People have to look for insects and have to keep them safe. If you see your friend who wants to kill them, then tell them not to."
A third student adds, "When people see my flyer I would like people to start making bug friendly hotels everywhere because we don't want bugs to be extinct.”
Some of the students have also taken their learnings home: “I’ve made some bug hotels around my garden because I have got my own patch. I have been making rock towns, bug hotels and making houses for this wee bug we have seen."
St Francis Xavier School Principal Carmel Jolly looking at a peripatus held by Cynthia Winkworth.
Cynthia says she loved the project because of the children’s enthusiasm, and the fact that this continued despite the team not actually finding a peripatus themselves, but instead observing them at Orokonui Ecosanctuary.
“The more you get people engaged in the natural world, the more interest and care they have for it naturally. It’s important to get more people interested in science and the urban natural world that they live in.”
Although finished, the project continues to have a lasting impact. All three schools are integrating it into their curriculum and sharing it with other classrooms. The resources are cheap to replicate and teachers are able to continue the work with future classes.
"It was really fantastic to see them run with the project," Cynthia says. "They are still sharing all about it with people - months after we’ve finished."
Photo credits: University of Otago Zoology (provided).
About the project
This project is run by Catchments Otago in partnership with Otago Museum, Orokonui Ecosanctuaryand Otago Access Radio with support from the Otago Participatory Science Platform.
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