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Biology professor presents paper on parasites to educators

A Biology professor at the University of Maine at Presque Isle recently presented a paper on parasites and how they can be useful to middle school teachers during a National Association of Biology teachers [NABT] meeting in Memphis, Tenn. 

Dr. Andrea Gorman Gelder noted in her paper “Parasites for the Classroom” that 5th to 8th grade teachers have a unique opportunity to incorporate common arthropod parasites into their curricula. According to Gorman, more than 50 percent of earth’s organisms have adopted a parasitic life style. She explained that well known arthropods like mosquitoes, lice, fleas and ticks serve as “vectors of diseases” and have had a profound effect on both public health and history. They have been responsible for disseminating such pestilence as malaria, plague, West Nile Virus and Lyme disease.

“Increasing temperatures caused by global warming and the accompanying effects on the environment may provide just the conditions needed for a resurgence of so called ‘tropical’ diseases in the US,” Gorman said. “During the revolutionary era, malaria and yellow fever were routinely encountered as far north as Boston and in the central part of the country to the Canadian border. As we currently exchange goods, services and vectors – the little critters that transmit the diseases – it becomes increasingly important that students are knowledgeable about parasitic diseases and the organisms that transmit them.”

By the time students reach the 5th grade, they are familiar with basic arthropod morphology and the insect life cycle. Fortunately 5th to 8th graders are also generally fascinated by topics that are gross. Gorman points out that the confluence of student knowledge and fascination provides a window of opportunity to exploit the situation and introduce parasites into the 5th through middle school curricula. This provides a means of addressing aspects of the state and national learning results from biology and ecology to health, history and communication.

Classroom topics regarding mosquitoes can range from their morphology, host detection and selection, general ecology, diseases they transmit, and means of protecting ourselves from them by reducing their numbers and attraction to us. Gorman used “I-goggles” during her presentation to demonstrate how mosquitoes view the world. She also provided teachers with a series of lesson plans (lists of materials, objectives and procedures), including background information and references (internet and text) regarding parasitic arthropods.