Students Get Scientific with Bess Beetles

Seventh grade science students recently immersed themselves in a multi-day lab using Bess beetles, which provided them the opportunity to model the scientific process, observe the behavior of a common insect, examine the relationship between strength and body size and explore similarities and differences between humans and other living organisms.
Bess beetles are important in recycling wood and considered beneficial insects. They are easy to take care of in the classroom and quite docile. The beetles used in this experiment spent some time acclimating to the back-to-school season with SK students in Ms. Moore’s class last week, before their 7th grade peers began this lab.
In their science classrooms, students collaborated in teams of two or three to work through the lab process.
First, they selected their beetles and examined them closely, making careful observations about their beetles as well as inferences supported by their observations. Students carefully examined the beetle’s pincer, leg hair and antennae to get a better understanding of the relationship between the structure of an organism and its function. To ensure consistent data, groups also used this time to mark their beetles with nail polish so they could easily identify and retrieve them after returning them to their holding tank.
Next, students shared an applied example of the difference between brute and relative strength as they set up and orchestrated an experiment to determine how much mass their beetles could pull in comparison to their own body mass. This experiment involved carefully measuring the mass of their beetles, looping a harness of dental floss around the thorax, tying the other end of the floss to an empty petri dish and varying the amount of weight in the dish as they timed their beetles’ travel along a finite distance.
Seventh grade teacher and Science Department Co-Chair Angela Miklavcic Brandon noted that this particular beetle lab traditionally takes place at the 9th grade level in Biology class, and she jumped at the chance to share it with her 7th grade students when she heard that her Upper School counterparts were replacing it with another lab in their curriculum.
In watching the students engaged in this lab, the level of scientific curiosity and enjoyment was clear. Many students named their beetles and cheered on the insects as they towed their loads. This was a wonderful example of hands-on learning at the school.

Click here for a photo gallery of this lab.
Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.