National UF butterfly science curriculum engages kids as scientists

October 1st, 2009

Photo available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Youth around the country will become bona fide butterfly researchers as part of a new science curriculum developed by University of Florida faculty and staff.

The curriculum, Project Butterfly WINGS, was developed by the Florida Museum of Natural History and UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, and has been reviewed and recommended by the National 4-H Council. It also is one of 11 afterschool curricula recommended by the 4-H Afterschool Taskforce and is available to all educators, afterschool programs and 4-H clubs nationwide.

Project Butterfly WINGS, which stands for Winning Investigative Network for Great Science, began as a National Science Foundation-funded project to interest girls in science.

“WINGS is designed to promote science interest and engagement,” said Betty Dunckel, director of the Florida Museum Center for Informal Science Education and principal investigator for the butterfly curriculum project. “As youth explore the outdoors, they learn not only about butterflies but also about the complex interrelationships among animals and plants, and they develop their science inquiry skills.”

Children from 9 to 13 will gather and enter data into an interactive Web site, which researchers will use to further scientific knowledge and spot trends among butterfly species. The guide leads participants on an exploration of butterfly identification, life cycles and habitats.

Project Butterfly WINGS also is only the second curriculum selected as part of 4-H’s Science, Engineering and Technology Initiative for improving the science literacy and aptitude of America’s youth. According to the U.S. Department of Education, less than 20 percent of U.S. high school seniors are proficient in science, math and other skills considered necessary for the 21st century work force. The 4-H initiative seeks to address this challenge by introducing at least 1 million new youth to science-based curricula like Project Butterfly WINGS and preparing them to excel in science, engineering and technology by 2013.

“When youth participate in 4-H activities, they just don’t read or watch a topic,” said Marilyn Norman, UF’s associate dean for Florida 4-H. “They are engaged in in-depth investigations with materials, objects and ideas drawing meaning and understanding from those experiences. Hands-on learning involves the child in a total learning experience, which enhances the child’s ability to think critically.”

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“Citizen scientists form a large network of observers, and help discover patterns in nature and answer questions that professional scientists do not have the time or resources to study,” said Jaret Daniels, an assistant curator at the Florida Museum McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity who helped develop the WINGS program.

“This information can help us determine if certain butterflies are still common to an area, if their ranges are gradually changing, if butterflies are seen earlier or later each year than previously recorded and how many different species occur in an area,” Daniels said. “We saw an opportunity with Project Butterfly WINGS to get more people outside and enjoying nature while helping Lepidopterists answer these questions through new and permanent transects for butterfly counting.”

The curriculum teaches how to choose an appropriate outdoor area for butterfly counting and how to conduct a transect walk. Participants then log onto the project Web site, www.flmnh.ufl.edu/wings, to enter their observations in the WINGS database. There is also space to enter transect information so future 4-H’ers can return to the same path and record new data.

Florida 4-H, which is celebrating its 100-year anniversary, partners with community organizations such as the YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, public schools and faith-based organizations to offer quality afterschool learning opportunities.

Groups interested in Project Butterfly WINGS may purchase the guides online at www.4-Hmall.org.

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Sources: Betty Dunckel, 352-273-2088, bdunckel@flmnh.ufl.edu
Marilyn Norman, 352-846-0996, fourh@ifas.ufl.edu
Writer: Kelly Donovan, kdonovan@flmnh.ufl.edu 
Media contact: Paul Ramey, 352-273-2054, pramey@flmnh.ufl.edu