Why are these elementary school students spending a Saturday morning at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa? In lab coats, no less?
“I gonna study bugs and be, like, a scientist,” said 7-year-old William Keane.
“We’re learning about insects,” said Stella Botha, 9.
They were among 50 or so kids participating in an outreach event called Gene-ius Day, organized and created by Ania Wieczorek director of UH Mānoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources’ Biotechnology Outreach Program. Gene-ius Day started as a school field trip program five years ago, and was so popular, Wieczorek added Saturday sessions about a year ago.
More than 5,000 students have taken part in the program’s engaging, hands-on activities on topics such as human and plant genetic traits, forensic science, agriculture and DNA research.
“Essentially what we’re doing is trying to inspire them, make them as excited as we are about science,” said MJ Gauthier, Gene-ius Day co-coordinator and PhD candidate.
A Gene-ius Day class in November was all about insects—the kids even built their own bug.
“Just things that they wouldn’t normally get to do or see in their daily life or maybe in their regular classroom,” said Gauthier.
Some of the student responses to the crawly critters were predictable—“they look weird” said one student.
However, most were more excited than disgusted. Gauthier kept her enthusiastic students engaged and they were eager to share their newfound knowledge.
“I learned about different parts of all animals like the thorax,” said Botha.
Luke Meyer, 8, said that he ”learned that scientists group insects by how they are alike, or in common.”
“I learned that bugs usually have spiracles and other kinds of senses,” said Keane.
It’s not only the kids that enjoy the lessons, parents appreciate the classes too. “It’s been a great way for them to learn about science,” said William’s mother Tina Keane. “He’s having a blast, and it’s something we can do together on the weekend”
The Saturday Gene-ius day classes fill up early, which gives organizers hope that they are accomplishing their mission—getting kids excited about science.
“So that they want to come back to UH, they want to continue in science, and just keep learning,” said Gauthier.