My most recent posts have focused on the vertical transmission of Zika virus project. However, in addition to that project, I have been working on an extension-based research project in elementary schools in Marion County.
This week, I had the pleasure of visiting with a few hundred 4th and 5th graders from multiple elementary schools, and talking to them about my favorite insect: mosquitoes! During this curriculum, the students were given a short presentation about mosquitoes, their biology, their medical importance, and how we control them. More specifically, we discussed the container mosquito species Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus.
Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus are referred to as container mosquitoes because of where the immature stages of these species are usually found. These two species tend to lay their eggs in containers (natural or artificial) and these containers can often be found close to human dwellings. Examples of where you may find container mosquitoes developing are bird baths, corrugated water pipes, the bases of flower pots, or clogged rain gutters. Because the habitats of these two species are found in such close proximity to humans, who better to control these species than the people living in those homes? This is where the elementary mosquito education program comes in.
In Florida, 4th and 5th graders have science benchmarks that include learning about the life cycles of plants and animals, how those plants and animals impact the environment, and their adaptations. This aligns very nicely with learning about container mosquitoes, their biology, and their importance. After giving the students a short presentation with this information, they participated in an activity where they were asked to demonstrate their new knowledge about the mosquito life cycle. For this, they used M&Ms that had the different life stages of the mosquito printed on them and placed those M&Ms on the correct part of the mosquito life cycle on a worksheet. Not surprisingly, this was a huge hit amongst the 4th and 5th graders (they got to eat the candy after they had successfully completed the activity).
In addition to the activity, all of the students went home with a goodie bag that contained a comic book titled “Fight the Bite“, bracelets and writing utensils with the Fight the Bite slogan, a magnet with a reminder about eliminating water-holding containers once a week, and a folder with a take-home activity to reinforce the concepts learned during the lesson.
To evaluate what the students learned, we used surveys to assess their pre- and post-knowledge of the topics covered. In about a month and a half, they will take the same survey one more time to assess their retention of the information.
The ultimate goal of this program is to equip students with the knowledge necessary to combat container mosquitoes around their home and incorporate container-elimination, and therefore mosquito prevention, into their weekly routine. Additionally, if the parents talk to their kids about what they learned in school, they may also become aware of the importance of container-elimination and make it a priority in their household. Engaging the community in controlling container mosquitoes is something that I am a huge advocate for (see my TEDx talk). In times of active virus transmission by container mosquitoes, the community is one of the most effective tools we have if we can properly engage them.