Riverside Insect Fair: Kids Love Coloring

The 3rd Annual Riverside Insect Fair was held last Saturday, April 29, 2017, 10am-4pm in downtown Riverside. This free community event is a collaboration between the Entomology Graduate Student Association at UC Riverside and the Riverside Metropolitan Museum.

This year I hosted my own educational booth at the event – an Invasive Insect Species Coloring Table! I created coloring pages featuring invasive and pestiferous insects, and my friend & colleague Tessa Shates contributed a few too! I’m quite pleased to say that coloring was a popular activity, and these coloring pages were a fun way to introduce children (and their parents!) to locally important invasive insects, and the field of invasion biology.

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All of the coloring pages that Tessa Shates and I created are available for personal and educational use for free here.

Active Teaching: Ecology in 5 weeks! (or, How to turn future Doctors of America to the dark side…)

Ecology & Conservation Biology discussion in action: groups of 4 students each worked together to solve iterative equations and make predictions about their populations.

Earlier this summer, I TA’ed Ecology & Conservation Biology bi-weekly discussions, an upper division course for Biology majors, in the accelerated summer session. Five week summer courses are great: intense, fast-paced, and immersive. I was excited to implement, for the first time, recently acquired active learning approaches in my efforts to engage a class of predominantly pre-medical students with the subjects I myself am passionate about. Teaching pre-medical undergraduates is a familiar challenge at UC Riverside – fellow ecologists, evolutionary biologists, geneticists & physiologists joke about turning students to the dark side, i.e. not pre-med. Here I describe the active learning strategies I used each week- (spoiler alert): scroll to the bottom for my biggest success!

Week 1: Remember & Recognize

After 4 lectures (reminder: 5 week classes are INTENSE!), students had learned how abiotic variation creates environmental diversity globally. So we headed to the UC Riverside Botanic Gardens to find plants representative of dominant biomes around the world. Students explored the gardens, photographed representative plants, and submitted their photos to the Riverside NatureSpotter app for local citizen science. Each observation is stored on iNaturalist.org, with a description indicating the plant’s native biome.


Week 2: Interpret & Solve

No ecology course is complete without math; Lotka-Volterra equations are integral to population ecology (pun!). In groups, each student assumed a group role from the POGIL (Process-Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning) model to calculate changes in population size through time, and to predict the outcome of competition between two species. Also, everyone was quite happy to stay indoors during the record-breaking heat wave!

Week 3: Defend & Infer

After completing roughly half of the course, students applied their ecological knowledge in a class-wide debate, arguing for and against a series of 8 Ecological Maxims, listed below. Each student came to class prepared to argue both sides for every maxim, and students were then randomly selected on the spot to present their arguments. This class-wide debate also served as an interactive review session for the next day’s midterm: students used course material and examples from lecture to support their arguments.

8 Ecological Maxims –

  1. You can never do just one thing
  2. Everything goes somewhere
  3. No population can increase in size forever
  4. There is no free lunch
  5. Evolution matters
  6. Time matters
  7. Space matters
  8. Life would be impossible without species interactions

Following the midterm, students paired up to apply their ecological knowledge to one of my favorite subjects: invasive species! Each pair made inferences about how & why some species become invasive, & whether more diverse habitats more or less susceptible to invasion.

Invasive species ecology figures from: Shea, K., Chesson, P. 2002. Community ecology theory as a framework for biological invasions. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 17, 170-176.

Week 4: Be an ecologist & Meet a conservation biologist!

As Pokémon Go took the world by storm, students practiced catching real-life critters for Team Citizen Science! Students set out pecan sandie cookie traps around UC Riverside campus for the School of Ants project. Most samples were dominated by invasive Argentine Ants, Linepithema humile, but most students also caught Pikachu! Win win!

Bagged samples of field-collected ants for the School of Ants citizen science project.

Bagged samples of field-collected ants for the School of Ants citizen science project.

After trying on the role of ecologist for a day, several real-life ecologists & conservation biologists visited class for a personalized Career Day. Each shared their job description, career back-story, lots of advice, encouragement, & hard-won wisdom.

Career Day Panelists:

Steven Su: Scientific Programs Director at West Valley Mosquito & Vector Control District, tsu@wvmvcd.org

Molly Peters: Biologist at Edith Read & Associates supporting Southern California Edison, molly.peters@sce.com

Grace Hartt: Seasonal Assistant at Orange County Mosquito & Vector Control District, grace.hartt03@gmail.com

Aaron Echols: Field Ecologist at Inland Empire Resource Conservation District, aechols@iercd.org

Korie Merrill: Supervisory Biologist at Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands, koriecm@gmail.com

Nicole Stutzman: Land Steward at Riverside Lands Conservancy, nicole@riversidelandconservancy.org

Week 5: Critique & Create

In that last home stretch just before summer-time freedom, students presented their final projects –

  1. An independent critique of a media story related to ecology and/or conservation biology;
  2. A group website of their own design, presenting a management plan of their own creation for a southern California endangered or invasive species.

Brown-headed Cowbird  California Condor  Humpback Whale

San Joaquin Kit Fox  Zebra Mussel  Green Sea Turtle

These are amazing – in just 1 month, students applied their classroom knowledge to a real-world problem, integrating textbook concepts with independent research – then presented cohesive, carefully constructed management plans, in visually pleasing websites! Watching my students present their work filled me with pride in them; learning that most actually enjoyed the process of creating their websites and recommended I implement this assignment into future classes… left me feeling pride in myself. I had achieved something remarkable – I created an opportunity for learning to become fun and to feel useful. And hey, let’s hope I may have even turned a few to dark side!

Writing along the Scientific Method (A message to aspiring scientists!)

Scientists write. A lot.

That’s the message that my colleague Amelia Lindsey and I shared yesterday with UC Riverside undergraduates nearly finished with their English course requirements.

We visited students in Liz Gumm‘s Applied Intermediate Composition course on the penultimate class of the quarter with a (hopefully) exciting and (definitely) enthusiastic lesson: “The writing never stops! You will continue to communicate with others, and it is important to do it well!”

Intrigued? I hope so! Check out our visual aids here.

Riverside Insect Fair: Insects are food, science, art and FUN!

The Second Annual Riverside Insect Fair was this past Saturday, April 30, 2016! This event, co-organized by the UC Riverside Entomology Graduate Student Association and the Riverside Metropolitan Museum, brought together scientists, artists, chefs, educators, conservationists to inspire the local community with the diverse and wondrous world of insects! Early morning rain subsided just before the Insect Fair got started, and the day was a wonderful success!

The Insect Fair had it all: vendors selling insect pets like millipedes and tarantulas, a tie-dye station with ground-up cochineal scale insects used to create pink dye, educational and informational booths from UC Riverside Entomology graduate students  with live & preserved insects & awesome displays of close-up pictures, a Bug Chef demonstrating techniques and recipes for fine insect cuisine, zookeepers from the San Diego Zoo and their animal friends, a fantastic line-up of family-friendly educational presentations, the always-popular Riverside Metropolitan Museum Nature Lab, the Northwest Mosquito and Vector Control District brought their hoverboat, the California Department of Food & Agriculture shared how to protect our city’s iconic citrus trees from invasive pests, and the UC Riverside Entomology Outreach Program brought lots of friendly insects to pet and hold!

The expansive world of insects and entomology was on full display all day, take a look at the highlights here:


Insects as food

Insects as art

Insects as fashion

Insects in science

Insects in nature

Insects as pets

Insects on household pets

Insects around our homes

Invasive insects


What a great day! A huge thank you to everyone who made the Riverside Insect Fair possible through donations, participation, and volunteered time! The second Riverside Insect Fair was a huge success, and I can’t wait to do it again next year! See you there!