Working for HOPE

This post was originally published as a Series of tweets in a social media thread from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History as part of my ‘Twitter Takeover’ week in November 2020. It gives an insight into my work with schools in the learning team of the HOPE for the Future project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. You can also read more about this in my post Supporting Learning: HOPE for the future.

It’s time for another Twitter #takeover! This week, Learning Officer Rodger will be sharing about the work of the #HOPEForTheFuture Learning Team. Find out more about the HOPE project:

Together with the other HOPE Learning Officers, Kate and Susie, I visit local schools to provide insect Discovery Days, host school visits at the museum and create digital resources for children and young people to use at school or for home learning.

The HOPE Learning Officers

Thanks to generous support from the #HeritageLotteryFund, we can provide these visits and resources free of charge. We’ve worked with schools on using masks, social distancing, handwashing and sanitizing so everyone stays safe.

We don’t only teach children, though, we also learn from them. We love hearing about the ideas they have and questions they ask. Can you really age a ladybird by its spots? Do earwigs actually eat your brains? Find out this week!

During early autumn, spring and summer, we visit schools for Insect Discovery Days. Children learn about the vital role of insects in ecosystems, the importance of the HOPE collection, and investigate insects in their own school grounds.

As well as insects, we find a lot of other ‘minibeasts’ such as woodlice, spiders and centipedes when we visit schools. Specimens from the collection help children sort the insects from these other arthropods.

We often find that children use different words to describe the same animal, or the same word for two different ones. Which of these would you call a ‘Daddy long-legs’?

Which would you call a ‘Daddy Long-Legs’?

The Twitter poll that followed this image drew 123 votes, with the following results:

Left: 62%

Right: 7%

Neither: 30%

Both: 1%

Another aspect of my work I really enjoy is helping to connect children with researchers. I’m really looking forward to George McGavin’s upcoming talk ‘What have insects ever done for us?’

The talk I referred to was a live webinar, but you can watch a recording of George’s fascinating talk on YouTube here:

Another aspect of my job is teaching school visitors to the museum about insects. I’m hugely lucky to be able to draw on the vast Hope collection of over 3.5 million British insects and the expertise of the collections team.

Some of unique museum resources that we are able to use with schools include insect specimens collected by Charles Darwin. It was his observations of the natural world that led him to propose his theory of evolution.

Insect specimens collected by Charles Darwin

Another unique resource that we use is the collection of peppered moths, Biston betullaria, from Bernard Kettlewell’s study of natural selection. Many students who learn about this at school have never had the opportunity to see a peppered moth before.

Specimens from Kettlewell’s collection

We also teach how historical collections help us track present day changes in populations. Several insects became extinct in Britain in the last century and more are at risk, but there have also been successful reintroductions, such as the Large Blue Butterfly, Maculinea arion.

More now than ever, the learning team are producing digital resources which can be used at school, at home, or by community groups. You can explore these on the museum website (see the link above)

Wherever we are working, children always love finding ladybirds and learning about the different types of this beetle. At Thameside School in Abingdon for example, we found six different species in the school forest area.

A lot of folklore surrounds ladybirds. Many children tell us you can tell a ladybird’s age by counting its spots. This is a myth, but the markings can help us identify which species it is. We also learn about insect life cycles and what larvae look like. 

Everyone loves a ladybird!

Children often know rhymes about ladybirds, but the words can vary depending on where you live. What would you say is the next line to this rhyme? ‘Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home…’

This tweet prompted a range of comments, with the most common variation completing this rhyme with the line ‘… your house is on fire and your children are gone. I was also reminded by my colleague at the Bodleian, Rosie Sharkey, that it was this rhyme that originally prompted Iona and Peter Opie’s decades of research into children’s songs, rhymes, and games.

An insect that we always find when we visit schools is the earwig. Children are fascinated by these animals and sooner or later someone will always ask ‘Do they really go in your ears?’ or the even more worrying ‘…then burrow into your brain and lay eggs?!’

Do earwigs really go for our ears?

So can brain-burrowing earwigs really drive you insane? The short answer is no. We probably have Pliny the Elder to blame for this widespread misconception but thankfully there is no evidence that earwigs have an affinity for ears, nor that they do us any harm.

Earwigs are in the Order Dermaptera and have remarkable characteristics. They’re excellent at wiggling into small spaces, have a pair of forceps on their rear end and they can fly. They protect their delicate wings by some virtuoso origami folding when they aren’t in use.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s insight into the work of the Hope Learning Team. Do you know any interesting insect myths or folklore? We’d love to hear about them!

My Twitter week for the Museum May be over, but I,d love to hear your comments on anything mentioned here, or your own favourite insect myths and folklore. If you’re a teacher, you might like the practical application of entomology in my post Wasp in the classroom.

3 thoughts on “Working for HOPE”

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