I attended elementary school in the early 80s, and I have been wracking my brain trying to remember learning anything about insects during those years. If I did, I sure don’t remember it now.
Earlier this week when I started thinking about reading and bugs and books and teaching, only the most basic insect ideas came to mind. My brain was bringing up only boring, factual kinds of things, like insects’ exoskeleton, their head/thorax/abdomen body structure, and the six-leg requirement. But as I thought more deeply, it occurred to me that factual lessons about insects (or about anything else, for that matter!) aren’t going to cut it for today’s elementary and secondary students. They’re growing up in a far more complex environment than the one I grew up in.
When I started kindergarten in 1979, a Japanese telecom company began offering analog cell-phone service. That same year, Usenet, a predecessor of the World Wide Web, was born. The compact disc was invented. The Atari 400, an early computer gaming platform, was made available to consumers. (Side note: I’m old!) Fast-forward to today. We carry portable, handheld computers in our pockets. (These computers also function as phones–a fact my teenagers conveniently forget whenever I need to talk to them.) My kids play video games on a system that wirelessly connects to the Internet and responds to voice commands. Old CDs are reused in children’s crafts. The world has changed dramatically since I was a kid, and it continues to evolve at breakneck speed.
Many positive outcomes can be directly traced to the new Common Core Standards. I applaud its implementation because of this: it forced us to start paying closer attention to the educational needs of the students growing up now. Because of these highly demanding standards, we all started thinking and talking and doing something about what it takes to compete, survive, and ideally thrive in a time of historic technological and social change.
When the students of today become the adults of tomorrow, they’ll need critical-thinking skills to solve problems brought about by climate change. They could develop solutions to solve the mysteries of phenomena such as honeybee colony collapse disorder. They might also be forced to come up with creative food sources (mealworms for dinner, anyone?).
Fortunately for teachers and students alike, authors and illustrators continue to write and publish books that spark engagement and pique curiosity. When combined with careful and focused lesson planning, these titles can provide students with quality learning experiences that will stick with them. Some of the best bug books out there include The Beetle Book, written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins, which can be used to get students thinking about the “jobs” beetles do in different ecosystems, not to mention its abilities to inspire close-up observation and a great deal of scrutiny in telling and writing description! Then there’s The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees: A Scientific Mystery by Sandra Markle, or The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe (from the Scientists in the Field Series) by Loree Griffin Burns and Ellen Harasimowicz, either of which (or both of which) can be paired with other books (or each other), like What Is Pollination? by Bobbie Kalman or What If There Were No Bees?: A Book about the Grassland Ecosystem by Suzanne Slade to introduce a science unit on cause and effect.
The Core Standards definitely require teachers to up their game, but that’s nothing to get antsy about. With the help of quality nonfiction titles like these, it’s hard to go wrong.
Posted by Karen Rapier, an elementary education major at Utah Valley University in Orem, UT