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 Berkeley Pledge Special:

Showing Inner City Youth the Wonder of Bugs
Through an Innovative Pilot Program, Oakland Students Learn About Entomology While Honing Computer Skills

posted June 16, 1998

Vernard Lewis, a researcher at Cooperative Extension, likes to joke that he became an entomologist at age five and that “the only difference between then and now is 40 years.”

He hopes that a group of inner city high school students at McClymonds High School will learn to share his fascination with the crawly world of insects through a novel program called “Exploring Urban Biodiversity” – also known as “City Bugs.”

“We want to turn kids on to bugs, but if we can’t do that, at least we want to turn kids on to computers through bugs,” says Lewis. “I like challenges. When I heard about the idea for this program, I said ‘sign me up.’”

The pilot program – a collaboration between Oakland Unified School District and several UC Berkeley units, including Interactive University, Cooperative Extension and College of Natural Resources (CNR) Division of Insect Biology – uses the Internet to teach a group of sophomores at West Oakland High School about insects. It was designed to introduce students to biodiversity and inspire them to study natural sciences at the college level.

Since last summer, the McClymonds 10th-graders have been learning how to catch, identify and mount insects. The specimens are photographed and digitized for inclusion in the “City Bugs” Virtual Bug website, the project’s centerpiece.

Produced by students and staff, the website includes three components: an online field guide, including 4,300 entries for 740 insect groups (modeled on the book “California Insects” by CNR entomologist emeritus Jerry Powell); a “Virtual Bug Collection,” where students enter information about specimens they’ve collected; and portfolios of student achievement that highlight individual contributions to the website.

The urban teenagers learn more than entomological concepts. They are taught a number of skills, including graphic design, science methodology, web design, basic computer skills and collaboration.

“These skills are important, but we are also here to show them that UC Berkeley is an option and to show them that they have a place (at UC) no matter what their background,” said Eddie Dunbar, who manages the project’s day-to-day-operations and works for both Cooperative Extension and Interactive University.

Quiana Smith says she likes the class but prefers virtual bugs to the real thing. “The Interactive University is great. But bugs – ugh!,” says Smith, who lobbied Dunbar to let her collect butterflies, which were already claimed by another student.

“How about ladybugs?” asked Dunbar, “Ladybugs are pretty neat.” He went on to explain to her that ladybugs took their name from the Virgin Mary. “They were called Her Lady Bugs because the Blessed Mother liked them.”

The “City Bugs” website is

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