How the cicada invasion is giving area students a once-in-17-years science lesson

Credit: Journal News

Credit: Journal News

Fourth-graders at elementary in Fairfield Twp. overcome fears to learn more about insects.

T he latest science project for Fairfield North Elementary School is now burrowing up from underground on the school’s campus.

The first wave of cicadas are leaving their recently shed exoskeletons under the trees of the school’s grounds in Fairfield Twp. and excited school children are prospecting for them as part of their studies.

“We can’t pass this (cicada emergence) up because it’s not going to happen again for another 17 years,” said Nancy Murtaugh, fourth grade science and math teacher at Fairfield North.

Her students “are loving it,” but it wasn’t love at first sight.

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“At first they were a little frightened of them but as they have become aware of the facts we have been researching and now the more they know, the less afraid they are of them,” said Murtaugh as she took a pause from leading her class’ daily trek to some of the trees near the school.

The fourth-graders are also helping younger students deal with any anxiety they have about the large, red-eye invaders by presenting their findings to them.

“We’re watching their different formations and studying their life cycle by going outside every day. We get out of school next week but we’re hoping to see as much as we can before school is out,” she said.

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In the coming days the 17-year Brood X cicadas will envelope Greater Cincinnati. There will be billions of them, with populations as high as several hundred thousand per acre in wooded areas, according to entomologists at ScherZinger Pest Control.

Through May the brood will start to emerge in parts of Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, New Jersey and Maryland. After molting and drying their wings, they mate, lay eggs and die all in a few weeks.

Teachers across the region are using the rare natural event in a wide variety of ways to add to their usual instructional lessons. Beyond the obvious natural biology studies there are opportunities to teach math through measurements, calendar lessons and even geography as students learn where the different broods are in America and what states are affected and when a brood emerges.

Murtaugh said the learning will continue during the early part of summer break as her students will also keep journals on their observations of the insects.

Addison Herth knelt at the base of a tree and exclaimed “here’s a hole!” sending her classmates scurrying around her to see where a young cicada dug its way to the surface.

“So basically the cicadas come out of the hole and go up on the tree and molt their skin off,” she said.