Youth get ‘buzz’ on bugs at Insect Expo in New Braunfels

Writer: Paul Schattenberg, 210-859-5752, paschattenberg@ag.tamu.edu

Contacts: Molly Keck, 210-631-0400, mekeck@ag.tamu.edu

Wizzie Brown, 512-854-9600, ebrown@ag.tamu.edu

NEW BRAUNFELSMore than 1,000 fourth-graders from New Braunfels and Comal independent school districts attended the recent two-day Insect Expo at the McKenna Children’s Museum in New Braunfels.

“This event was presented by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in collaboration with these school districts and volunteer organizations,” said Wizzie Brown, AgriLife Extension entomologist, Travis County. “We had more than 20 stations with fun and educational activities related to insects and entomology.”

More than 80 volunteers from Master Gardener and Master Naturalist programs in Comal, Bexar, Guadalupe, Hays and Travis counties assisted with the program.

“We have been planning this event for the past six months,” said Mary Helen Phillips, a nine-year Comal County Master Gardener who led efforts to have the event approved and funded. “I was a volunteer at last year’s insect expo in Austin and saw how well children responded to it, so I knew it was the kind of event we should have here in New Braunfels. The event here has been so well received, I’m going to propose to our Master Gardener committee that we do it again next year.”

Fourth-grade students got hands-on experience with insects at the recent Insect Expo in New Braunfels, including using them to create art. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

Booths and displays for the Insect Expo were set up inside and outside the museum building. AgriLife Extension personnel and volunteers introduced students to insect life cycles, pollinators, beneficial and non-beneficial insects, forensic entomology, “natural” recycling, beekeeping, camouflage insects, aquatic insects, entomophagy and more.

There was an insect “petting zoo” where students could touch insects, a cockroach race where they could cheer for their favorite bug and even a station where they could sample insect-based foods. Other activities included insect crime scene investigation, maggot art and a build-your-own insect crafting area.

“This is the way education should be,” said Tina Kalebick, a teacher at County Line Elementary in New Braunfels for the past 10 years. “Children learn so much more when they are engaged in hands-on activities. Here they get a chance to see, touch and taste. It’s a great way for them to apply what they have learned in class in a more real-world setting.”

Paxtyn Cochran, a fourth-grader at Seele Elementary School in New Braunfels and a Gruene Kountry 4-H member, was among the attendees.

“I love bugs,” Cochran said. “I’m not afraid of them or of touching them. One of my favorite things here was the insect petting zoo, where you could touch the insects and find out how they feel. Another of my favorite things has been learning about new and different bugs.”

AgriLife Extension collaborated with New Braunfels and Comal school districts to ensure presentations at the expo addressed Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills objectives, said Molly Keck, AgriLife Extension entomologist, Bexar County.

Among the displays was one devoted to monarch butterflies and their importance to the ecosystem. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

“We took efforts to develop displays and activities that were in keeping with state standards for fourth-graders in preparation for next year’s STAAR test in science,” Keck said. “We also wanted to make the displays fun and engaging for the students so we could keep their attention and they could enjoy the experience of learning.”

Robin Wright, K-12 science curriculum specialist for New Braunfels ISD, said the timing for fourth-graders to be introduced to the expo displays and activities was ideal.

“We begin the organisms and environment part of the state mandated science curriculum after spring break, which is when we focus on ecosystems and life sciences,” she said. “This is a perfect time for these students to see these exhibits and engage in inquiry-based science, which is what was being presented at each one of the stations at the expo.”

Wright also noted that with the financial constraints on public education, it was particularly helpful the event was provided at no cost to the students.

Don Tuff, one of the volunteer presenters, has been a member of the Comal County Master Gardener Association for 17 years and is considered by that association to be their “resident  insect expert.” Tuff taught entomology at Texas State University, formerly Southwest Texas State University, for 35 years.

“Here I’m showing the students all about natural decomposition the way it happens in a compost pile,” he said. “This gives them a practical demonstration of the importance of insects in the cycle of life.”

He said having the opportunity to teach children about entomology at an elementary school level was “a particularly rewarding experience.”

“At this age children are like sponges,” he said. “They don’t always seem like they’re paying attention, but they’re picking everything up. And having displays where they can interact and be involved helps them absorb the information.”

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