From cockroaches to xylophones: WMU education students engage in unique hands-on learning

Contact: Chris Hybels

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University students discovered classroom pets are not limited to just guinea pigs. During Dr. Meredith Reinhart’s teaching elementary school science class, they were introduced to hissing cockroaches and horn worms.

“Today was more of an exploratory lesson and sharing my experiences working with living things in the classroom. I think sometimes new teachers jump into that without really doing the research,” explains Reinhart, assistant professor in the Department of Teaching, Learning and Educational Studies. “I thought it was important for them to understand there is a lot of things out there we can have in our classroom that don’t cost a lot of money but are still really cool for kids to explore, like insects.”

For new educators, insects are a great introduction to classroom pets because of their affordability and low maintenance. Insects are also educational and give children the chance to observe a creature go through physical changes. ­­­

“Children are looking at the entire lifecycle of a creature and so having the children actually seeing the stages a bug goes through I think is very helpful instead of just looking at in a picture book,” says Reinhart. 

Reactions during class were mixed among the students, but some enjoyed the experience of holding and interacting with the cockroaches and worms. 

“The horn worms are really cute; they are like easy to take care of and the kids will like holding them” says Emiliano Diaz-Martinez, an elementary education student.

“Unfortunately, insects get a bad rap and I think when teachers have experience with them and show their excitement for these types of creatures, it gets passed on to the younger generations maybe we won’t have people terrified of the little bugs like we did today,” adds Reinhart.

In keeping with these hands-on learning experiences, Reinhart’s students have also been fortunate enough to practice one of the Next Generation Science Standard’s (NGSS) crosscutting concepts: cause and effect. 

Students built water xylophones to explore how liquid within the beaker affected the vibrations that created the sound when struck with a mallet. Constructed electric circuits helped students find what assortment of items were able to conduct electricity and assembled dominoes run to see what figuration would be able to knock a ball into a bucket.   

“We do a lot of hands-on activities in here; I want students to really get a feel of what they’ll be doing in their own classrooms. As they are doing that, they put on their teacher hats and explore all the different things they need to think about as a teacher,” says  Reinhart.

According to the National Science Teaching Association, creators of NGSS, the crosscutting concepts have application across all domains of science. The concepts provide an organizational schema for interrelating knowledge from various science fields into a coherent and scientifically based view of the world.

about elementary education at wmu

The elementary education program is designed to prepare candidates to excel as teachers in today’s mosaic of schools and classrooms. Western graduates can be eligible for Michigan’s initial teaching certification for grades PK-3 and 3-6. Earning a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in elementary education allows novice educators to teach all subjects PK-6 in self-contained classrooms. For more information, visit the elementary education program page.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.