Action Research Presented at ASTE Conference: What Causes Entomophobia in Fourth Grade Girls?

 In pictures-of-practice

Angie Brown, now a NASA Endeavor Alumna from Cohort 1 at the Gibbon Elementary School in Nebraska, often wondered what made students, girls especially, scream, recoil in fear, or not participate during classroom activities that involved insects. Ms. Brown has never been afraid of these creatures herself, and actually has always found them quite fascinating!

“When I thought about it, I remembered my mother (and father) taking me out to the Platte River, or into our pasture and looking for all sorts of creatures, insects included”, Ms. Brown explained. “So, I wondered if maybe girls are conditioned by their mother’s behavior to be afraid of insects and other creatures.”

Ms. Brown decided to dedicate part of her NASA Endeavor Action Research Project to the fear of insects, entomophobia, in her 4th grade girls and see if it could be reversed in the classroom setting. Her interest in science inquiry and methodologies learned from her work in Endeavor courses set the stage.

She began her study by conducting a survey of all her students in both fourth grade science classes. Ms. Brown asked questions of her students such as: “How do you feel about insects?” or “How do you feel about turtles?”, and “How does your mother feel about insects?” She also asked how students’ fathers felt about insects. She found that in every case, the girls that indicated a dislike or fear of insects also had mothers who were afraid of these creatures.

Next, she collected data on three girls who indicated the greatest fear. Each of them was interviewed further about their fears. Their responses were recorded. Then, as part of the plan, the entire class learned about three different types of insects, including their eating habits and life cycles. The insects were at first introduced to the students in closed petri dishes, so that they could be viewed without direct contact. Later, when the last insect species was introduced, live Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, the students were allowed to handle them. Ms. Brown invited a female entomologist to speak to her students about various insect species in Nebraska. The guest scientists brought a variety of species for students to handle, including some non-insect species such as a Giant Millipede.

Throughout their focus study on insects, all of Ms. Brown’s students completed journals about their experiences during class. Each day they recorded what they did in class, and how they felt about it. As time went on, the three test subjects indicated that they were becoming less and less scared of insects and at the end of the study, the three female test subjects were interviewed about their experiences. Two out of the three indicated that they were no longer afraid of insects. They indicated what they did in class changed their mind about insects. The third indicated she changed her mind about her fear, but she did not believe it had anything to do with the class activities.

In January 2011, Ms. Brown presented her research with a poster presentation during the national Association for Science Teacher Education (ASTE) Conference. She fielded questions from college professors from all over the country. She reflects, “It was a great experience and a great opportunity for me to highlight my research.”

NASA Endeavor Fellows have the opportunity to perform action research on an aspect of their classroom practice to see if some of what they are introducing in the classroom is effective. By gathering some data and exploring each Fellow’s interest, some fascinating results can emerge.