OUTREACH

Our outreach initiative aims to create K12 resources in support of Indiana Science Teaching Standards, enhance diversity in STEM fields, and train the next generation of scientists in the development of impactful outreach efforts. Please checks the links below to learn more about these efforts.

K-12 SCIENCE OUTREACH

We use the exuberance of insect biology in general and that of our study organisms in particular to provide science education opportunities for students and teachers from Kindergarten through high school. We have developed a series of teaching modules that match both core and process objectives of the Indiana Science Teaching (IST) Standards. In recent years we have expanded this repertoire to also include teaching units focused on evolution, and the integration of development with evolution. Many of these modules can be adapted to a wide range of grade levels.

All modules involve hands on teaching exercises through which students practice the scientific method, develop critical thinking skills, and above all have fun exploring biology. Summarize of the most successful modules are provided below.

In this effort we collaborate closely with WonderLab, a local children’s museum for Science and Technology, where we present many of these teaching modules in yearly workshops for local and regional K-12 educators. Funding for these workshops is provided by private foundations as well as the National Science Foundation. Participation is free. If you would like to learn more contact Armin Moczek.

Introducing the scientific method (all grades)

This is perhaps our most popular teaching unit. It can stand alone or be combined with additional modules below, because it also demonstrates important biological phenomena (such as communication and cooperation). We typically have students work in small groups, and without much intro ask them to draw a circle using a ball pen. We then provide each group with a termite which, once released into the circle will find the line and then follow it around faithfully. This behavior is highly reliable, and at the same time it is intriguing. It does not take much to channel this into an exercise where we focus on two questions (How is the termite following the line and why?), then generate hypotheses, experiments with predictions, and actually test them in class. It has now become the standard module by which the scientific method is introduced in science classes at Bloomington High Schools.

Hidden universes: What does it mean to be an insect? (K-1)

This modules explores the diversity of insects, how insects are related to other groups of arthropods (e.g. spiders, millipedes) and the major groups within the insects. We sort and identify real specimen (dead and alive) and explore concepts such as adaptation and convergent evolution. This module is especially appropriate to reinforce IST Standards for kindergarten and 1st grade.

Aliens among us: Insect life cycles and development (K-2)

We explore the diversity of insect life cycles, from simple (say milkweed bugs) to complex (say monarch butterfly) to completely mind-blowing (say lacewing). We sort life stages (pictures as well as live specimen), explore the mystery of metamorphosis, and work our way through actual experiments scientists have done to learn how metamorphosis is regulated. This module is especially useful for 2nd grade, where IST Standards emphasize the teaching of life cycles.

How to avoid to be eaten – smart predators and toxic prey (Grades 4-5)

This module focuses on predation and what organisms do to defend themselves, such as escape behaviors, camouflage, chemical defense, and mimicry. We then examine the effectiveness of such behaviors in an experiment: students are the predators and 8 species of differently colored fruit loops are the prey. One species is chemically defended (= treated with tabasco). Can the predators learn to avoid it? Are similar yet tasty colors protected through mimicry? We design the experiment, generate the predictions, and then test them in class. This is a lot of fun! This module is especially appropriate for 4th grade where evolutionary adaptation to diverse conditions is central to the life science learning objectives.

Function and evolution of mammal skulls and teeth (Grade 6-12)

This is another highly popular module. We usually begin by first generating some discussion on what animals eat and what types of teeth and skulls different diets might favor. Then, with students working in small groups, we provide each group with 6-8 skulls representing major feeding types and explore how based on tooth arrangement and skull morphology we can distinguish carnivores, omnivores, herbivores, but also determine whether animals live on land or in the water, may be day or night active, or rely predominantly on smell, vision, or hearing. In the second part of the unit we then introduce additional sets of skulls that illustrate higher order concepts such as artificial selection and domestication, convergent evolution, and our own evolutionary history as hominids. We provide all skulls necessary for this unit, most of which are real (i.e. not casts) and there is something very special (and kids respond to this immediately) to hold a real skull in one’s hand knowing that this was once very central to an animal’s life.

Reconstructing 6 Million years of human evolution using diverse data sets (Grade 8-12)

Our most recently developed module, this unit puts students in a position to examine, analyze, and integrate diverse data sets to reconstruct key events that characterize Human evolution over the past 6 Million years. We utilize fossils, climate records, artifacts etc. to determine where key events occurred geographically, under what circumstances they occurred, and in what order. But just as important is this unit’s ability to convey to students an understanding of how come we know this, to probe the strengths of the data, to recognize conflicting interpretations, and to determine what evidence is missing. This highly popular module was recently featured in a workshop at the annual conference of the National Association of Biology Teachers conference and we are currently working toward making it available nationwide.

SPECIAL EDUCATION

Modules such as the Function and evolution of mammal skulls and teeth module described above have proven extremely useful for students with physical and cognitive handicaps (see http://rockhillsclass.weebly.com for images of a class visit): skulls do not need to be seen; instead their weight, texture, shape, etc. can be felt. Skulls are complicated and challenging but hold still and can be examined over and over again. Lastly, by including casts of primate and human skulls even students with severe disabilities begin to form connections between the anatomy they feel or see, and the one they possess themselves. In March 2013 we received an Ostrom Foundation Grant to further develop this module for traditional and special needs classes, to generate a loanable collection for regional schools, and to adapt this module to a variety of special-needs class room settings. In addition we have begun to develop two alternative modules, focused on (a) human skeletal anatomy and (b) marine shells, both of which like the skulls tell complex developmental, ecological, and evolutionary stories that can be experienced in a variety of ways.

OUTREACH IN THE COMMUNITY

We provide educational resources in insect biology, evolutionary developmental biology, and human evolution to the greater community year around. We give public lectures, present at local school fairs, assist in extracurricular science education efforts, and generate educational materials such as insect- or skull collections for local and regional schools. Our laboratory is available for visits by classes or youth groups, and we routinely visit diverse groups from boy scouts to retirement homes.

Please contact us at armin@indiana.edu to learn more!

TRAINING THE NEXT GENERATION OF PIs IN SCIENCE OUTREACH

A growing number of graduate and postdoctoral researchers affiliated with our group have begun to contribute time and effort to classroom visits to teach modules directly, or to assist teachers in presenting the modules themselves for the first time. It became clear in the process that involving students and postdocs not only provides critical class room support, but even more so generates effective training for the next generation of principal investigators in the development and execution of effective outreach. Thus far >20 graduate students have been trained in best practices in science outreach, as have 7 postdoctoral researchers, 5 of whom have moved on to faculty positions of their own and begun to model their own outreach efforts based on their experiences at Indiana University.

ENHANCING DIVERSITY IN STEM

I co-direct three minority-STEM-summer programs. All programs build on each other and recruit academically high performing minority students from across Indiana and neighboring states. The (i) Jim Holland Summer Enrichment Program (SEP) recruits up to 60 8-9th grade students every summer to spend one week on campus for a broad introduction to the life sciences, specifically targeting an age group in which interest in STEM related careers among underrepresented minorities (URMs) suffers some of its greatest attrition. This program is followed by the (ii) Jim Holland Summer Science Research Program (SSRP), which returns the top 25 of these (or equivalently qualified) students the following year for a week-long personalized internship in a research lab. In this program, students design and execute a small, but at least in part, independent research project, the findings of which are presented at a public poster conference during the opening day of that year’s SEP program so to advertise our follow-up program to the youngest students and their families. While participating in the SSRP, students form important connections between the teaching of science (i.e. the content material they are exposed to in class) and the practice of science (i.e. how such content is generated in the first place), and – most importantly – their own abilities as active science practitioners. In 2015 we launched a critical third program, the (iii) Jim Holland Research Initiative in STEM Education (RISE): this program returns the top 10 students the following year, now as rising seniors, for a final, 2 week introduction to diverse disciplines, from virology, plant genetics, and mathematics to atmospheric sciences, hydrology, and ecology. This third program establishes a critical bridge to college for our best Jim Holland students, reinforces their exposure to STEM as a career option, and helps build their STEM identities.

DOES IT WORK? All programs have been highly successful: for example (i) of 161 students participating in the SSRP program so far 141 have graduated (the remainder are still in school) and all 141 are now attending college (141/141 since 2008; 100%), the majority of whom major in STEM (97/141; 69%); (ii) the inaugural 2015 class of ten RISE fellows collectively earned $783,855 in support funds once they applied for college admissions; (iii) 12/59 students old enough to have graduated from college are now attending medical/dental/veterinary school or graduate school.

If you would like to learn more about these programs, and how to apply, please start here.

OUR TEAM

We are a diverse group of scientists interested in understanding the origins of novel, complex traits in development and evolution.

LATEST PUBLICATIONS

Read more about the various projects underway in the lab, and our work towards understanding innovation in the natural world.

GET INVOLVED

Find how to apply to join the lab, participate in our outreach programs, or contribute towards our research goals.