How do scientists know what they know? The knowledge-building practices in science include collecting and analyzing data, which is why the Next Generation Science Standards name this, and seven other practices, for engaging students in authentic science learning.
Bug collecting is commonplace in school gardens and is sure to hold students’ attention, but it also poses potential challenges like monitoring how living organisms are handled and when they should be removed from their habitat, if at all. Although scientists routinely collect specimen for investigation, gardens are ecosystems for teaching how to interact with nature in a respectful way.
In contrast to bug collecting, bug counting encourages students to observe an area of the garden over time and draw conclusions about how changes in the environment impact organisms. Collecting and analyzing data is a perfect science practice for capitalizing on students’ fascination with bugs!
Last week, in an EcoKids Club, some students were rehoming snails from a planting bed. Because snails eat the edible plants in the garden, the students decided to make an alternate habitat for them in an unoccupied worm condo. I taught students how to carefully count the snails before moving them. As they started collecting the snails, they found slugs, worms, pill bugs, and all sorts of other organisms.
Meanwhile, a first-grade student was trying to figure out how to be a scientist in the garden. I gave her a small dry-erase board and modeled how to record data. As she checked out what the older students were doing in the garden, she made a list. First, she drew a picture of each bug and recorded the number found. Then, she replaced each the picture with the name. She had to rely on her older classmates to identify and spell some of the bugs, developing her emergent literacy skills along with her data skills. The interaction between the bug collectors and the bug counter led to in- depth conversations about what makes a bug an insect or an invertebrate.
What started as a simple snail habitat turned into a complex invertebrate sanctuary, housing non-insect and inset bugs together. Collecting and analyzing data contributed to deeper connections between organisms and their habitat, while engaging students in authentic scientific collaboration. Next time your students want to hunt for bugs, challenge them to invent novel ways for keeping track of what they find.