One of the more difficult tasks in mosquito control is interacting with the public. Too often people get the idea that insects are creepy, useless things to be squashed or poisoned out of existence. Conversely, some get the idea that mosquito control workers are intent on poisoning the environment in an effort to get rid of a few mosquitoes. For the most part people only think about insects when they have a problem. Then, they don't want to know about it, they just want something done. So, how do YOU educate the public about insects and mosquito control? One of the easiest places to start are the public education programs.
We've all seen wonderful presentations at meetings starring costumed characters and touting multimedia presentations as the latest in educational aides (they had a nice setup at Utah that I'm still envying), but not many Mosquito Control Projects around here have the time and money to produce anything like that. I know that, in my district at least, the public education budget is minimal. So, multimedia just isn't going to happen. And we certainly don't have teams of experienced teachers to present our program. Still, we felt that there was a need for a public education program, so with this in mind we set out to create a flexible school program suitable for all 20 towns with which we work.
There is an almost unlimited supply of information available on insects, especially if you happen to have Internet access. However, for the presentation to be truly effective, it should fit in with the teacher's lesson plans. Therefore, before organizing a presentation, we try to get teacher input. This of course means that no two presentations are going to be identical. Also, we try to keep the presentation interactive. Rather than imparting knowledge, we want the students to discover on their own with appropriate guidance. Among the variables that must be dealt with are class size, grade level, and knowledge base. To manage this, we have created mini-lessons of about 15 minutes each, with time for questions, that can be used or omitted as we see fit. In order to keep prep time to a minimum, we have decided on an environmental approach, with an emphasis on wetland environments. Our teaching staff is small; I have a degree in entomology and Chris, one of our crew members, has a degree in wildlife biology. Chris provides support by carrying boxes, setting up equipment, acting as bushes, trees or insects as needed for visual aides, and helping pass things around the classroom. He also concludes our presentation by spending 10 minutes or so at the end of the session talking to the students about the other kinds of animals you can observe while walking in the woods. It makes a change from insects, and allows me time to put our equipment away without disrupting the class.
That's the background; now to the program. We have found that a two hour period works best, except with lst and 2nd graders where one hour is usually better. We leave the number of students and room accommodations up to the teacher. We use a slide projector (which we bring), an overhead projector (that the school supplies), and a blackboard. We start by introducing ourselves. I always introduce myself as an entomologist, so we can begin with the question - WHAT IS AN ENTOMOLOGIST? Usually someone knows that entomologists study insects, so the next step is to define an insect. After all, you can't study something if you don't know what it looks like. We use various tools to help students define an insect. For older students, or those with some entomology background, we make a list of body parts on the blackboard. For younger, or less well-informed students, we use puppets, models, small plastic insects (that they can keep), and build-a-bug. Build-a-bug is a model bug made of styrofoam bits that fasten together with velcro. It cost practically nothing to make and it allows students to identify various parts of an insect while they put it together.
The next step is to place the insects in an environment. Using 2x2 slides, we look at wetland and upland types and discuss what would live at each site and why. This is followed by a definition of the words environment and habitat. Next we show slides of different insects at different life stages and discuss metamorphosis. We have slides of the complete life cycle of a Culex mosquito, including blood feeding. The number of slides and level of information can be adjusted for each grade level. Because studying insects usually means catching them, we also have overheads and slides showing different trapping methods and ways of making traps and nets. We usually do a dipping and netting demo. We also bring a CDC light trap and explain how we survey mosquitoes for mosquito control. We have found 2x2 slides to be an invaluable tool, since they catch and keep the attention of the students. Slides are available from many different sources. The ESA has a variety of insect slides available for $2.00 each. You might even want to try your hand at taking your own slides. (I was lucky. My advisor at UMass taught aquatic entomology, so I have access to lots of slides.)From here the rest of the program depends on time and grade level. We have a poster on insects that lists good and bad characteristics of different insects, which we use to go over the good and the bad in insect/human interactions. With younger students we can go through the AMCA cartoon on mosquito control called Skeeter Mosquito. The emphasis here is on why we need to control mosquitoes and what the students and their parents can do to reduce mosquito populations in their own backyards. Because not everyone accepts pesticide applications as a means of mosquito control, we only talk about pesticides when questions arise concerning adulticiding or larviciding. If we have live mosquito larvae, we can run a larviciding demonstration using the Abbott Lab Bti test kits. We have a few pinned insect specimens that can be used to teach the students how to identify insects with a key. We also have slides depicting insect mimicry, that make for some interesting discussions. Throughout the presentation, we use a question/answer approach to get as much response from the students as we can. This can be a bit difficult if the students either don't answer or don't stop talking, but so far we've managed to keep things under some sort of control.
We try to make this a continuing lesson by giving teachers a packet of reference and teaching materials that includes web site URLs, information on common mosquito species, insect coloring pages, puzzles and games. We have videos available for teachers to borrow. We hand out insect posters (free from the Florida Entomological Society) to each school. We also have the teachers fill out a review sheet to be mailed back to the Project, and try to incorporate any suggestions into future programs. So far reviews have been good, and we have been asked back to one school for a second year. So, it is possible to have an effective education program on a shoestring budget, not that I wouldn't like a multimedia setup and a teaching staff. But until then, we'll just keep on making do.
Rosmaire Kelly, Entomologist
East Middlesex Mosquito Control Project
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