Lesson Plans

Back to lesson plans archive
June 17, 2013

Periodical Cicadas Are Back!

By Jennifer Cutraro and Katherine Schulten. Cross posted from New York Times, The Learning Network

Overview

In this lesson, students learn about the Magicicada periodical cicadas, which will emerge in the Northeastern United States this year after 17 years underground. They can then choose to either participate in a “citizen science” project that involves tracking ground temperatures to watch the insects emerge, or create multimedia exhibits to help others learn about cicadas, both periodical and annual.

Materials

Computers with Internet access, projection equipment.

Warm-Up

Without telling students what they are about to listen to, play an audio clip from magicicada.org of the Magicicada septendecim, the species of 17-year cicadas that scientists say are most likely to emerge in and around New York, New Jersey and Connecticut this year:

As they listen, have students jot down the words or images that come to mind. How would they describe what they heard? What do they think produced this sound? Why?

Take a few minutes to solicit responses from the class and summarize them.  Did anyone guess that the sound came from an insect (or, rather, from many insects calling at once)? What other suggestions did students have, and why?

Next, explain that the sound is actually the chorus of thousands, if not millions, of periodical cicadas, insects that spend more than a decade underground before emerging to mate for a few weeks during the spring. A population of these cicadas, called Magicicada Brood II, will emerge in parts of the Eastern United States later this spring. Then, have students use this map to see if your region will be visited by these bugs.

Finally, tell students they will now read about the last time these cicadas emerged, in 1996, as well as about a current citizen science project that invites anyone interested to collect temperature data about the cicadas that will emerge across the Eastern United States this year.

Related

In a blog post from March, “Tracking Cicadas, With Helpers,” Elizabeth Jensen reports on an effort to invite Radiolab listeners to monitor soil temperatures across the Eastern United States during the mass emergence of periodic cicadas this year:

The 17-year Magicicada Brood II cicadas are coming, and WNYC and its nationally distributed “Radiolab” program will be there to welcome them — after a mad sprint to persuade hundreds of listeners in the next two weeks to build temperature sensors and stick them in the ground, from Virginia to Connecticut.

The sensors, meant to predict the start of the cicadas’ en masse emergence, measure soil temperature at a depth of eight inches. Cicadas emerge in the days after it hits 64 degrees, expected between mid-April and late-May, said John Keefe, senior editor of data news for WNYC, who, with colleagues, initially built an $80 sensor with parts from Radio Shack. An early prototype of the cicada tracker WNYC is using.John Keefe/WNYC An early prototype of the cicada tracker WNYC is using.

Questions

For discussion and reading comprehension:

  1. What kind of information is the Cicada Tracker project hoping to collect? From whom? Why? What is the overall goal of the project?
  2. How warm does the ground need to be for the cicadas to emerge?
  3. According to John Keefe, senior editor for data news at WNYC, “If we can get many, many people building little hard things to put in the ground, that’s just one step removed from monitoring noise, pollution, benzene in the air — take your pick,” he said. In your own words, what does he mean? Why might it be important to enlist large numbers of people to collect this kind of data?
  4. What questions about cicadas do you have after reading this article? Brainstorm a list. Where might you go to find answers?

Activity

Below, we offer two options for an activity.

Students in a Brood II region might choose to actually create cicada trackers and participate in the Radiolab event. Alternatively, students might instead create interactive, multimedia exhibits about cicadas for their school, a library or some other community area.

For both projects, however, we recommend having students first answer the basic cicada questions posed below as part of Activity 2.

1. Build a Cicada Tracker and Send in Your Data

Students in a Brood II region can participate in the Radiolab-sponsored Cicada Tracker event. In groups, students either buy a sensor, or build one of their own using the these directions, then place it in the ground at school.

When the soil has reached 64 degrees Fahrenheit, report your results.

Then, when you observe the cicadas themselves, report what you see to magicicada.org, which asks you to report your location (via GPS coordinates, or simple street address), and what you observed: was it a nymph or adult, how many insects did you see, etc.

2. Create a Multimedia Cicada Exhibit


Video of Magicicada nymphs once they have emerged from the ground, from CicadaMania.com.

Students can work in pairs or small groups to develop an interactive, multimedia exhibit about periodic cicadas for a park, museum or other interpretive center.  The exhibit is meant to inform the public about cicadas, both periodical and annual.  Encourage students to draw on visitors’ knowledge of these insects. In many parts of the country, for example, annual cicadas make up part of the nightly insect chorus that buzzes and drones in many backyards, parks and fields.

Begin by having students brainstorm about the information the would like their exhibits to include. They might start with answers to the questions they brainstormed after reading the blog post, above. Other questions for them to consider might include:

  • What is a cicada? How would you differentiate between annual and periodical cicadas?
  • Are they dangerous to people, pets or plants?
  • What is a periodical cicada brood? What does the term “17 Year Magicicada Brood II” mean?
  • How is the life cycle of a periodical cicada different from the life cycle of annual cicadas? How is it similar?
  • What do scientists know about how cicada nymphs keep track of time underground? Describe how experiments with trees in greenhouses under shortened daylight cycles are helping scientists understand how cicadas keep track of time.
  • What are the nymphs doing during that time underground?
  • What is the history of periodical cicada emergence in your region, if any? Whom could you interview about what it was like to be part of periodical cicada emergence in the past?
  • How far back in local history can you find documentation of cicada emergence? How did your local newspaper cover it?
  • What can you learn about the emergence of cicadas in the past from The New York Times? Click on this link, which will take you to results of a Times-wide search for the term “cicadas” through which you can find reporting from previous years when this brood, and other broods, emerged. What have scientists learned about cicadas over the years? How did people in 1894 use the cicadas they found, according to this article from that year?

Next, have students brainstorm ways to make their exhibits interactive. How will they use elements such as touchscreens, video and other media? What kinds of visuals will they search for, and how will they use them? How might they build in ways to engage small children?  How could visitors interact with maps and use other data to determine if they live in a region inhabited by periodical cicada? How could they use databases of periodical cicada records? Might they even go so far as to make a cicada recipe, like the one suggested at the end of this 1996 article about the last emergence of this type?

To keep visitors engaged after their visit, students could also plan citizen science projects related to cicadas, inspired by Radiolab’s Cicada Tracker project.  Students might, for example, plan mapping projects that draw on volunteer spotters, create calendars of the first emergence dates in different regions, contribute data to an already-existing mapping project, or track temperature data in the manner of the Cicada Tracker project.

To wrap up, have students share their exhibit plans. In future classes, they might work to make the exhibits a reality.

Going Further

In a recent piece in the Sunday Review about citizen science, “Why I Count Glass Eels,” Akiko Busch writes:

Each spring, starting April 1, high school kids, college interns, retirees and pretty much anyone else with the time and inclination to put on waders can step into a frigid stream, check the net that’s been installed there to catch the eels, and work with scientists and educators to help gather data.

We volunteers are continuing the traditions of generations of amateur naturalists who have observed and documented the events of the natural world. But several factors distinguish today’s citizen scientists from their predecessors.

The first is a growing sense of urgency. Whether they are worried about climate change, population growth or habitat loss, many ordinary people are motivated by a powerful need to engage with events of the natural world. Add to that a host of new technologies including GPS, digital photography, interactive Web sites and mobile phone apps that allow for the efficient collection and dissemination of data. Finally, at a time when the scientific community is ever more financially stretched, using volunteers to help collect data is good sense.

What citizen-science projects can you find to participate in your region? As this writer argues, participating is an experience that has tangible results for science, helps teach larger lessons, and “engages the human imagination.” Consider finding a project your whole science class might do together — and write in and tell us about it if you do.

  • Tags:

  • Common Core Standards

    Tooltip of standarts

    Relevant National Standards:
      Common Core ELA Anchor Standards, 6-12:
      Reading
    • Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
    • Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
    • Speaking and Listening
    • Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
    • Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
    • Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.
    • Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
    • Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.
    • Language
    • Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
    • Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts
    • Listening and Speaking
    • Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes
    • Media
    • Understands the characteristics and components of the media

    Related Stories

    Tooltip of related stories

    More Articles

    Tooltip of more video block

    RSS Content

    Tooltip of RSS content 3