Getting kids interested in science today can be no easy trick, but Craig Wilson, senior research associate in the Center for Mathematics and Science Education (CMSE) at Texas A&M University , has always believed bugs might be the answer -- lots of bugs. So he's spreading bugs around the state and plans to go national next month.

This year Wilson, with help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)/Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and its Southern Plains Area (SPA) Research Center, has shipped almost 17,000 corn earworms to students in grades K-12 in 12 states at no cost to youngsters as part of the Future Scientists Program, so they can learn about the wonders of science.

At most of the schools, students show their work and discuss their individual research projects that involve studying various aspects of the corn earworm as it transforms from its larvae stage into a moth.
Some of the topics covered include the enemies of moths, such as bats, of which there are plenty of colonies in Central Texas, Wilson says.

"The whole idea of this is to get kids interested in the life sciences and enthuse them about the many fields of science," Wilson explains. "The kids talk about their projects and get very excited about what they've learned.

"One of our goals is to show them that scientists are really not nerdy guys who wear pocket protectors while pouring chemicals into test tubes. Hopefully, many of these kids will be inspired enough to pursue a career as a scientist."

This is the fifth year Wilson has conducted the bugs-to-schools program, and the response, he says, has been overwhelmingly positive.

"I really believe the parents and the teachers seem to enjoy it just as much as the students," he notes.

It's been such a success story that Wilson has taken his show on the road. On May 15, he'll conduct a similar bug program for more than 1,500 fifth-graders in the Weslaco ISD in South Texas, and in June he'll travel to California to give a program in schools there (this one on salinity in soils) and another in Arizona to talk about watershed issues such as how rainfall -- too little or too much -- can impact people there.

"I really enjoy doing this, but the important thing is, it seems to work," Wilson says of the program that has involved more than 22,000 students and 276 teachers nationwide since its inception in 2003. It has involved students from the North Slope of Alaska to Florida and Rhode Island.

"By studying a simple bug -- in this case a corn earworm -- you can open up the eyes of these young students and show them how much fun the wonders of science can really be," he says.

Click here to see video of Wilson explaining the project, as well as highlights of the most recent student presentation day, held May 6 at the USDA/ARS/SPA Research Center on the Texas A&M campus.

For additional information on the Future Scientists Program, visit http://www.hsi.usda.gov/CornEarWorm/.

Click here to read a previous feature on the award-winning program.


Contact: Craig Wilson, (979) 458-4451 or cwilson@science.tamu.edu or Keith Randall, (979) 845-4644 or keith-randall@tamu.edu

Randall Keith

  • Dr. Craig Wilson

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