Supplementary Online Material - The American Biology Teacher
Ant Research as a new Topic in School
The aims of the present study are to develop an ant research kit for lessons with the native ant species Temnothorax nylanderi and to investigate students' motivation, concepts, and knowledge before and after teaching units with these social insects in class.
The development of teaching material is based on research in the Group of Behavioral Ecology and Social Evolution (JGU Mainz, head: Prof. Susanne Foitzik). In addition to the laboratory equipment included in the research kit, specifically developed and tested instruction material for lower, intermediate and upper secondary school students is part of this work. Laboratory and instruction materials enable each student to collect and care for his own ant colony, observe different aspects of the ants' biology, conduct diverse experiments on his own, and return his colony to the forest at the end of ant research in class. The development, testing, and evaluation of the ant research kit have shown that students may develop different skills and competencies and practice diverse scientific methods such as collecting and observing ants.
In order to analyze student motivation, 140 students were divided into three treatment groups.Students participating in the first treatment were confronted with a video, while students of the second treatment conducted an experiment with living ants. Students of the third treatment were taught using both a video and living ants. Motivation of the three treatment groups was compared using a two-stage test design. Another 321 students of the grades 6, 7, 9, and 12 were surveyed concerning their ant knowledge and concepts. Finally, 459 students of all secondary school class levels participated in ant research for different periods of time. Their learning achievement was investigated using a pretest-posttest-design.
The results indicate that students have little experience with ants and other insects in science classes. Their concepts of ants are coined by depictions in the media. Attitudes toward the social insects do not improve significantly after ant research in class. The results also show that students participating in the living animal treatment are more motivated than students watching a video. During hands-on investigations with Temnothorax, students acquire basic ant knowledge, which they apply to transfer tasks as well. Students who have time to get to know their colony and ask questions at the beginning of ant research acquire significantly more knowledge than students who conduct investigations without this primary observation.
The present study indicates that the ant species T. nylanderi is a suitable model organism for lower, intermediate, and higher secondary school from both the teacher' s and the student' s point of view. The opportunity to care for insects inside the classroom and to conduct unique investigations corresponding to students' interests may strengthen the awareness for the social insects' needs and improve knowledge concerning these diverse animals. Therefore, the aim of the project to implement ant research as a new topic in school (A.N.T.S.) has been achieved.