Meet the Winners of ESA’s SciComm Award

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A grade-school curriculum using arthropods as a channel for social-emotional learning and a weekly, interactive entomology webcast earned honors in the Entomological Society of America’s first annual award recognizing excellence in science communication. Both will be honored during Entomology 2021, ESA’s Annual Meeting, taking place in-person and online, October 31 – November 3, in Denver, Colorado.

Here at Entomology Today, we’re no strangers to the art of science communication. We strive to convey stories about entomology in a way that engages both scientists and non-expert audiences alike, and we’re big fans of entomologists who can do the same.

So, today we’re excited to share some perspectives and insights from the winners of the Entomological Society of America’s first annual Science Communication Award, who will be honored during Entomology 2021, ESA’s Annual Meeting, taking place in-person and online, October 31 – November 3, in Denver, Colorado.

The Science Communication Award is the successor to ESA’s “YouTube Your Entomology” Contest, which marked its 12th and final year in 2020. As communication platforms available to scientists and the public diversified in the past decade, ESA has expanded its emphasis on the value of science communication through a variety of programs and initiatives, with this new award being just the latest. The objective of the Science Communication Award is to “honor impactful and innovative communication projects or programs that engage diverse public audiences with entomology-related scientific information,” and eligible formats range from articles and videos to education programs, social media, or exhibitions.

Recently, Entomology Today spoke with the entomologists behind the first-place and runner-up projects to get their expert insights on making an impact in science communication. The Q&A’s below have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

First Place

DIFFERENT: Social-Emotional Learning Using Arthropods
Kristie Reddick and Jessica Honaker (“The Bug Chicks”)

The Bug Chicks

Kristie Reddick (left) and Jessica Honaker (right)—aka “The Bug Chicks”—host the video series that forms the core lessons in the “DIFFERENT: Social-Emotional Learning Using Arthropods” curriculum. (Screenshot)

For more than a decade, entomologists Kristie Reddick and Jessica Honaker—aka “The Bug Chicks”—have brought the world of entomology to schools, museums, festivals, and more. Their latest effort is an educational curriculum designed for grades 4 through 12 that combines science lessons with social emotional learning (SEL), in which Reddick and Honaker “teach the scientific concepts of entomology while guiding teachers and students through the novel experience of asking, ‘What can we learn about ourselves and others from bugs?’”

DIFFERENT consists of 10 videos that introduce biological concepts accompanied by self-reflection questions, facilitated group discussion, and a final multimedia project in which students apply lessons learned toward actions they can take in their schools, families, and communities. Says one teacher who has used the curriculum with her students:

“They [students] seem to be comfortable discussing tough SEL topics when it is through the lens of the insect. For example, one of the lessons is ‘What’s In a Name?’ This lesson talks about how we (accurately or not) perceive names and how that can make us feel. One of the example insects is the death feigning beetle. As expected, my students stop at the first word/name ‘death’ and immediately think that it is a dangerous bug. They are shocked that Kristie and Jess are actually touching it! But then we get to that second word/name and what it means. You can hear the echoes of ohs and oops throughout the classroom. Then Kristie and Jess share its other name—the blueberry beetle—and we discuss how this bug with its two names can give us very different feelings. We easily transition into talking about our own names, meanings or history behind them, and if we’ve ever had someone assume something based on our name. The conversation starts from the beetle, but kids start to open up very quickly about their own experiences and feelings.”

Entomology Today: What inspired you to launch this project?

Kristie Reddick and Jessica Honaker, aka "The Bug Chicks"

Kristie Reddick and Jessica Honaker, aka “The Bug Chicks”

Reddick and Honaker: The DIFFERENT: social emotional learning using arthropods program is the culmination of 14 years of work in classrooms, bringing live arthropods and helping students learn about them while confronting their fears. Social emotional learning has always been a part of our work—we just didn’t know it had a fancy name until recently! After three years of workshopping it with teachers at the National Science Teachers Association conferences, we took a leap and created the program as it exists now, complete with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) alignments, technology project, and robust SEL connections. It’s a huge accomplishment and we’re so pleased that people all over the world are using it!

How have you measured its success?

As scientists, being able to measure its efficacy is very important to us. From the very beginning, we’ve seen positive impacts in students that we’ve taught. Those kinds of experiences, as an educator, tell you that you’re on the right track with your teaching. But it’s hard to put those kinds of experiences into measurable terms. So, for the DIFFERENT program itself, we have an assessment that the students go through after they’ve finished all the program elements. There are several “I used to think … Now I think …” questions (a thinking routine from Harvard), and these are the ones where you can really see a positive mindset shift in these students. And it’s measurable! For our pilot program, we used coding to group each answer into five different categories (from negative to positive), and from there we were able to see in real terms the kind of changes that occur in students.

We recently published a paper in Frontiers in Education with two other ESA members, Erin Ingram, Ph.D., and Gwen Pearson, Ph.D., that shows that the program has measurable positive impacts on student mindsets toward arthropods and themselves.

What are your guiding principles or philosophies for your science communication efforts overall?

We use arthropods to help people challenge their perceptions and treat themselves, others, and the natural world with empathy and respect. We want to inspire people to feel that they are capable of anything and to have an open mind when faced with something that is different from them. Learn about the things you’re afraid of and you can turn fear into fascination!

What’s your advice for fellow scientists looking to build their public-engagement skills?

Do it. We recognize that it can be scary to engage with the public. Just like any muscle, if you use it, if you practice, it will get easier. Also, find the voice that is unique to you. Only you have your perspective, and someone out there needs to hear it.

Our rule for engagement is enthusiasm, fairness, and kindness. We’re excited to see you out there!


The BugScope: A Weekly Insect-Themed Live Broadcast
Isa S. Betancourt

Every Thursday afternoon, entomologist Isa Betancourt takes web viewers on a trip through the eyepiece of her microscope and into the world of insects and arthropods, all in a live, interactive, conversational format. The BugScope began in 2017, with Betancourt broadcasting from the aisles of the entomology collection at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, where she works as a curatorial assistant. Episodes run about 40 minutes each on average, and they’re hosted on an online platform (currently, previously Periscope) that allows for viewers to converse, react, and ask questions.

The show format varies but most often features a particular insect or spider species viewed through the microscope. Betancourt has also welcomed numerous fellow entomologists as guests on the BugScope to share their research and expertise. As one long-time viewer puts it:

“It’s wonderful to see through her broadcasts how many different people from different backgrounds are fascinated by the world of invertebrates and producing research in it. The BugScope really helps share this work with a wider audience than it would get just in entomological publications and conferences, and … she has brought to my attention so much interesting research I’d not otherwise have encountered. … Isa’s BugScope is one of the most entertaining and informative forms of communication about entomology out there for reaching the non-professional audience.”

Entomology Today: What inspired you to launch this project?

Isa S. Betancourt

Isa S. Betancourt

Betancourt: The project was inspired by a desire to test out new ways to connect audiences with entomology and research collections.

At the time, I was working behind the scenes with the 4 million specimens in the Entomology Collection at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philadelphia. For research collections to be protected for long-term preservation, access is restricted and the specimens must be out of the light. So, I often wondered about how to make collections and entomology in general more accessible to the public.

I had been sharing my experiences in the collection through Instagram and Twitter but felt that I wasn’t reaching new audiences. Then, my cousin introduced me to Periscope in 2016. The discoverability on the platform was awesome, livestreaming on social media platforms was totally new, and I didn’t see anyone else broadcasting about entomology, let alone natural sciences, so I stepped up to the plate to give this new technology a go!

I wanted to

  • give people the chance to see an entomological research collection.
  • create a platform that’s like a hub where other entomologists are welcome to hop on and share their work with the public.
  • let people meet the unpolished me (a not-perfect, real person who makes mistakes and loves entomology and science).
  • allow people into my world, where the norm is that insects are awesome and I’m ready to tell them why.
  • create an opportunity for viewers to ask questions and get answers live or during the next broadcast.

I basically wanted to create something casual but informative and explorative that I’d enjoy participating in. This sort of thing didn’t already exist to my knowledge, so I made it!

Additionally, in 2016 and into 2017, when the BugScope was born, there was a rise of misinformation on the internet. I thought the least I can do is fill a wedge of the internet with true entomological information and critical thinking!

How have you measured its success?

Success is difficult to measure in this case where there are no signups. It’s much like tabling at a festival with a non-captive audience. My goal was to reach a broad audience and create a casual online space to share and discuss entomology.

Signs of success came in the form of increased interaction and community growth . For example, I started to get messages from viewers letting me know that they thought twice when they saw an insect in the house and, instead of squishing it, they carried it outside. One time there was a viewer who expressed in the chat that they were afraid of moths. Since the broadcasts are live, we were able to get to the bottom of why and help them find an appreciation for moths. Another viewer shared artwork that his daughters drew that was inspired by a broadcast on how to draw a spider!

Success appeared in number form as well. The BugScope has experienced a steady and sustained increase in viewership, chat engagement, community building, and follower count. For example, between 2017 and 2021, the B ug Scope gained 13,200 followers organically, and it went from only about 200 live views per broadcast in the first half of 2017 to over 1,200 on average in 2019 and 2020.

What are your guiding principles or philosophies for your science communication efforts overall?

My science communication decisions are based on making entomology more accessible! The BugScope live broadcast ticked off many boxes. Sharing content online breaks physical barriers. The online media format allows me to show people behind-the-scenes content and to share interviews and hold Q&A with experts and other guests that viewers might not otherwise be able to access. Through video media, I can magnify insects for better viewing. The live format allows me to answer questions and cater to viewers’ interests on the spot. The broadcasts are also saved and available for replay.

I visualize a person’s knowledge base as a dock or platform. The edge of their knowledge is where the platform ends. To expand knowledge, we must start from where the learner’s platform ends and build out from there. When I offer information beyond the edge of a learner’s knowledge platform, it may be helpful for the learner to see where this branch of the platform is going, but it’s important to meet a learner where they are at and build out from there. The live feedback that is a part of live broadcasting helps us find the edge of that platform and build from it in real time. I am able to connect with viewers in a customized manner.

It is difficult going live and talking about science and facts. Science is slow and there are more questions than answers. Sometimes a simple answer to what an insect eats, how long it lives, or where it is found has a complex or unknown answer. In a world where people tend to want a simple and clear answer to all sorts of questions, part of my goal is also to share with the audience that “I don’t know” or “We don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable and accurate answer to many questions. It’s important to be able to accept the discomfort of not knowing everything. It is a testament to the beautiful detail and wonder- filled world we live in.

Another guiding principle is that it’s important to have a learning space where everyone is comfortable! This is so important for supporting creativity and curiosity. Community members can ask any question about insects, spiders, entomology, and collections. It doesn’t matter how simple the question is. I understand that everybody comes from different walks of life. Each person has different sets of exposure to various subjects and experiences, and their own areas of expertise, values, and motivations. I do my best given the tools of the platform to maintain a supportive and judgment- free environment in the broadcast space I host. Disrespect, misinformation, and trolling are not tolerated.

What’s your advice for fellow scientists looking to build their public-engagement skills?

The biggest step is starting and putting yourself out there! Try out different approaches and outlets. The sooner you start, the sooner you will connect with your unique style and find what works for you. Don’t worry if no one shows up at first. The big thing is that you are showing up by starting. As you get going and if you are in rapport with your target audience, your audience will grow as you grow as a communicator, and that journey is special.

Entomology to the Masses: Meet the Winners of ESA’s Inaugural Science Communication Award


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