Purdue students dressed as giant butterflies and mosquitoes are flying into elementary classrooms to teach about entomology.
The group responsible is Purdue Science Theater Outreach, spearheaded by professor Tom Turpin. The idea for the group began last semester when he collaborated with education professor Marcia Gentry to instruct HONR 299, "Science, Education, and Theater: Inspiring Children and Their Teachers." As part of class assignments, students researched, directed and performed an original play, "The Insecta Class Yearbook," for fifth-graders. Following the class' success, Turpin decided to organize a formal Purdue group whose members will participate in the same activities.
Turpin said these performances serve multiple purposes. Teaching children helps Purdue students learn their content more efficiently and gets children talking about science at an early age. The plays also give students the chance to be exposed to college-age role models.
"(The kids) think, ‘Here's a young woman majoring in biochemistry. She's gonna be a doctor! Maybe I could do that too,'" Turpin said.
Although the group has only the one insect play right now, it hopes to branch into other areas such as chemistry and math. The educational performances are meant to be fast-paced and fun for the students, though Turpin is sometimes surprised at the jokes they find funny. One such joke was an insect who teases another that he won't find his way home because he's a boy, and boys don't stop to ask directions.
During the ensuing laughter, one boy turned to his friend and said "that's exactly what my mom says to my dad!"
One student who initially met with Turpin to plan for the group is Valerie Quinn, a sophomore in the College of Science. She said Purdue students have a lot to gain by participating, aside from the fun they will have. For resumes, it counts as a volunteer activity and is good experience for anyone in education, technology or acting. Quinn also said she enjoys how "energizing" the shows are.
"It's a cool experience when you see (the kids') faces, knowing you made an impact after the show," she said.
The group-to-be's charter is expecting approval by the end of this semester and will officially begin next school year. For now, anyone interested in becoming the next "Barfy Bee" or "Katrina Katydid" is encouraged to come to the information session.