School News
Students swarm to Insect Expo at McKenna Children’s Museum
By Paul Schattenberg, Texas A&M
Mar 18, 2019
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More than 1,000 Comal, New Braunfels ISD fourth-graders attend two-day educational event

New Braunfels, Texas -- Nearly 1,000 fourth-grade students from New Braunfels and Comal independent school districts recently attended the second annual 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 for the kids to participate in and learn about bugs and entomology.”

Booths and displays for the Insect Expo were set up inside and outside the McKenna Children’s Museum building. Students participated in interactive displays related to insect life cycles, pollinators, beneficial and non-beneficial insects, forensic entomology, “natural” recycling through bug decomposers, aquatic insects, entomophagy and more.

Activities included an insect petting zoo, cricket races, beekeeping and honey-tasting display area, and a forensic entomology activity where students played bug detectives. During the program, entomology-related topics were shown continually on two large projector screens. Other activities included arts and crafts such as building a bug, maggot art and monarch butterfly coloring.

Pattie Jenkins, fourth-grade teacher from Voss Farms Elementary in the New Braunfels ISD, who teaches math, science and social studies, said her students enjoyed the variety of displays and activities.

“The students were very excited to learn about insects and all they do for our environment,” Jenkins said. “This experience has given them an even greater respect for nature. And the fact there are so many hands-on activities makes it much more interesting for them.”

More than 90 volunteers from Master Gardener, Master Naturalist and other volunteer programs in Comal, Bexar, Guadalupe and Gonzales counties assisted AgriLife Extension personnel with the program.

Molly Keck, AgriLife Extension entomologist, Bexar County, said event coordinators made displays fun and engaging for the students so “we could keep their attention and they could enjoy the experience of learning.”

AgriLife Extension also collaborated with New Braunfels and Comal school districts to ensure presentations at the expo addressed Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS, and State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, test objectives.

“We made sure the displays touched on aspects of the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and math,” Keck said. “And we wanted to give the students a fun and memorable educational experience they would want to go tell their parents about.”

Keck said another aspect of planning the event was being mindful of the financial constraints on public education, so the event was presented at no cost to the students.

“The hands-on aspect of this event is the best part,” said Tina Kalebick, a fourth-grade teacher at County Line Elementary in New Braunfels. “Children learn so much more and retain it better when they are allowed to engage in hands-on and interactive activities.”

Don Tuff, an 18-year Comal County Master Gardener Association member and former entomology instructor at Texas State University, was among the volunteers.

“The kids really enjoy these displays and activities,” Tuff said. “Some of the ones they seem most drawn to are the maggot art display, the display showing the soldier flies, the cockroach races and NASCAR termite race, as well as the display about insect noses and pheromones and the forensic entomology display.”

Another event volunteer was Mark de Kiewiet, who has been with the Guadalupe County Master Naturalist association for three years.

“We’re teaching kids about bees and showing the kids that bees are not the enemy,” he said. “We want them to know bees are very important to agriculture and our food supply because they are pollinators. We’d also like to have them get a better overall understanding of bees and learn to respect them for all the beneficial things they do for us.”

Keck said she hoped the Bug Expo experience would help students with their learning.

“Our goal with this event is to get kids interested in insects and entomology, but also to teach them important lessons from seeing the insects up close, touching them, and knowing as much as they can about their biology, behavior and role in the ecosystem,” she said.