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South Coast Students Participate In Unique Science Program That Involves Eating Insects

There’s a unique science program that’s being taught to some middle school students on the South Coast that involves eating insects. It may sound nasty, but they’re doing it in the name of science.

Today's lesson in Delia Ayala’s sixth grade science class at Curren School in Oxnard is eating insects.

The kids are eating worms baked in brownies and snickerdoodle cookies, and they’re even eating whole toasted worms.

“At first it feels disgusting, but at the end, it tasted really good," says Natalia Soria, who is one of about 70 11- and 12-year-olds participating in this Edible Insect science course.

It’s part of the Junior Scientist program run by the Ventura County STEM Network that collaborates with Cal State Channel Islands to bring science, technology, engineering and math to students across the county.

“Middle school is a critical age. You turn kids off to science before middle school or at middle school, they don’t get turned back on again. And we need to encourage kids at this young age to stay interested in science,” says VC STEM Director and CSUCI chemistry professor Phil Hampton.

The idea for this Edible Insect course comes from CSUCI professor Ruben Alarcon who teaches sustainable agriculture.

“I’ve been interested in addressing questions on how to raise food in a hotter, drier world. So, with climate change, we are going to have big issues with providing enough water to water crops, to grow feed for our livestock and so I’ve been thinking about ways to get students to study alternative ways of producing food,” says Alarcon.

He says mealworms may be a viable future food source. So, the focus of this course is on the worm.

Sixth grader Jocelyn Hernandez makes a presentation about its lifecycle.

“First it’s an egg, then it’s a larvae, then it’s a pupa, then it’s an adult,” she says.

Hernandez says she’s learning interesting facts about worms.

“They’re separated into segments and those are where they breathe,” she says.

Brian Miller says he’s learning why it’s better to eat worms than beef.

“It has the same proteins as beef. How it would change our lives if we’ll eat a mealworm instead of a cow. Cows have methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas. And that means it causes climate change,” he says.

The students design and conduct experiments. One looks into the ideal temperature for the worms’ growth, which involves collecting data on their weight and length in various temperatures.

“They grow better in 80 degrees. They grow faster in warmer weather,” says Natalia Soria.

She says she enjoys the experience.

“You can actually touch the thing that you’re experimenting on. It makes you feel like you’re a scientist,” she says.

And that’s the point, says science teacher Delia Ayala.

“This is hands-on. They are learning. They are growing it. They are participating in everything. This is their opportunity to actually see it, feel it, taste it now. And that’s when science becomes exciting for the students. That’s the best part of science is that they are now the scientists,” she says.

So when it comes to tasting worms, the kids get excited.

“It tasted like seeds. It had a little crunch to it like a chip,” says Federico Tena.

Angelica Morales, a CSUCI biology student, who’s mentoring the kids says she’s seen them grow.

“They’ve really become invested over time. They were already excited but their investment in this project has grown. They’ve definitely become more passionate,” she says.

And that’s the case for Naomi Miranda, who says this project got her dreaming about becoming a scientist.

“I want to experiment on stuff like, I want to find cures to cancer,” she says.