Armin Moczek, a long-time friend and supporter of Afrisnet, is most well-known for his groundbreaking research in the origins of novelty and diversity in development and evolution utilizing Onthophagus taurus, a species of dung beetle, as a model system. His research group is focused on understanding how novel complex traits originate and diversify in development and evolution, and how this process is channeled by ecological conditions. But they also study the reverse – once in existence they ask how novel complex traits feed back on ecological and evolutionary processes, such as range expansions or adaptive radiations. You can read more about his fascinating research on his lab website.
However, today we would like to highlight another side to Moczek, namely his wonderful efforts towards Biology outreach for K-12 teachers and their students. In 2005 Moczek and Karen Jepson-Innes (now executive director of WonderLab Museum of Science, Health, & Technology) got together for the first time to think about ways to put together a workshop for area K-12 schoolteachers to help bring some complex ideas of Biology into reach. Their goal was to do this in a way that supported the Indiana Academic Standards for Science. At the first workshop in 2006, there were nearly 20 teachers in attendance learning various modules focused on insects. One module which utilized termites to study trail-following behavior, generated the most excitement among the teachers as they realized that it was a perfect way for their students to connect with the scientific method.
Fast forward to the present, and this past school year that same termite module was taught widely in regional and local schools approximately 50 times. There have been 20 workshops with over 400 teachers from both regionally and across the country, and the modules have expanded beyond insects to include other interesting materials such as mammal skulls and casts of fossils to engage with students’ curiosity to confront scientific evidence and evaluate conflicting observations. By connecting the learning of science (facts in a book) to the practice of science (hands on understanding of how these facts were discovered) – students are inspired to further explore science and the world around them. Workshop attendance is free and often comes with a stipend to help teachers to adopt the modules for their classrooms. The necessary materials are provided for free thanks to funds from the National Science Foundation and Indiana University’s Ostrom Grants Program.