Anyways, I was remembering this one lab activity we did (I taught 10th grade biology) about animal behavior. It seemed fairly elementary to me, and I don't think I would have used it with my students, except that all the other bio teachers were doing it, and I was expected to follow suit. We had the luxury at our school of having a lab tech woman who was hired just to help with the science labs. She would purchase materials, mix chemicals, and set up all our rooms for us. But she started becoming (more) disgruntled towards the middle of the year, and decided that she was being taken advantage of (and she was probably not wrong). So as one of her first acts of rebellion, she decided that she would not order the potato bugs* for our experiment. In previous years, she had purchased live ones from a biological supply company. But she decided that the teachers and the students were all much too lazy about the lab activities, and didn't invest enough of their own work into preparing for them. So, she told us, we had to get our students to dig them up from their backyards.
These are the little guys I'm talking about
Each teacher devised his or her own form of incentive for getting the kids to actually do that. In my case, I offered one bonus point for every five bugs they brought in, up to five points. Now that I'm an adult, it's easy to imagine all my students as "kids." Surely, kids have no problem going out into the backyard and digging for bugs, right? But it was difficult to convince them to actually attempt it. After thinking about it, I realized - I probably hadn't dug for bugs myself any later than eleven years old. My students were teenagers. They cared much more about their clothes staying clean, their reputation staying "cool," and had zero interest in going through the trouble for just 5 bonus points. A few of my more adventurous and fun-loving students (bless their hearts!) did attempt to find some bugs. But each day, when I asked if anyone had brought some in, the answer was the same, "I looked everywhere, and I couldn't find any!" Oh come on, I thought. They must not be trying very hard. When I was a kid, I used to find potato bugs all the time.
So after school one afternoon, I determined to find some on my own, and prove to my students what a little bit of patience and effort could produce. I went into the backyard of my cousins' house - where I was living at the time - and dug a random hole in a garden patch....and another...and another.... They were right! There really weren't any potato bugs! What the heck? And then I had a stroke of genius. Also living under the same roof as me were my cousin's seven children, age eleven and under (who are all homeschooled themselves). I kept a pet toad at the time (named Toadbert), and the kids sometimes fed him bugs they'd caught outside. Well heck, they were bug-catching experts! Maybe they'd be able to help.
So I approached them and explained how I needed the bugs for school. "Do you know where I can find potato bugs?" I asked pleadingly. They looked at each other, nodded vigorously, and said, "yeah! follow us!" as they ran out the door. They ran me through backyards, until we arrived at the bottom of a yard a few doors down, and they pointed down at a shady patch of dirt between the ferns. I worried about digging in random people's yards, but they told me their friends lived there, and assured me it would be okay to dig in their yard, and that they did it all the time. Good enough for me. So we all started digging - me with my little spade, and the kids using sticks or just their hands. And we found so many potato bugs!
I went to school with my bounty the next day, and proudly announced to each class what I had found. Those who had been unsuccessful themselves asked how I managed to find them. And I shared with them my secret, "If you want to know where any kid of bug is, just find a little kid, and ask him. Kids ALWAYS know."
*The bugs we used are not properly called potato bugs (that's a different creature entirely), but it seems that people around here tend to refer to them as such. They are really called by one of several other names: pill-bugs, sow bugs, roly-polies, or sometimes doodle bugs. A little bio fact: pill bugs are not insects at all. They are isopods, the only land-dwelling crustacean. And some are HUGE and disgusting. It's way too disgusting to post here, so if you want to see what I mean, click this link: Giant Isopod