Custom Class: post-landing-hero

A Better Bug Trap: Seventh Graders Battle Invasive Species

Utah has seen an influx of new residents in recent years—and not all of them have been welcomed with open arms.

Balsam woolly adelgids, fox squirrels, field bindweed, quagga mussels, and other invasive species have found comfortable homes in the state, and in some cases have made life difficult for native species by competing with them for limited resources. It’s a real problem, and it recently presented a perfect project-based learning opportunity for students in the seventh grade. Science teacher Lindsay Mackintosh challenged her students to use skills from across the curriculum to find a solution and put it into action—and maybe even impress scientists working in the field.

“The students designed and built traps to capture invasive insect species, and help ecosystems be more biodiverse by limiting their impact,” said Lindsay. “This required them to explore engineering concepts to research, build, and revise their traps.”

Engineering helps students become problem solvers and think critically..—Lindsay Mackintosh, seventh-grade science teacher

Engineering may appear to be an advanced topic for seventh graders, but these kids were up to the challenge. It all comes down to problem solving in a methodical way, while at the same time considering numerous possibilities. That’s why increasing engineering opportunities is expressly mentioned in the school’s strategic priorities.

“In making these traps they had to consider some constraints but also had freedom to be creative,” Lindsay said. “Engineering helps students become problem solvers and think critically.”

Research was the first order of business for the students, as all bugs can’t be caught the same way. “We had to do a lot of research so we could engineer the trap around the bug,” said seventh grader Atticus P., whose group chose the elm seed bug as their target. “We had to figure out, What does it eat? Where does it live?, and other things like that so we could catch it.”

The design and build process came next, with students doing multiple concept sketches and revisions before building their first prototype. There were lots of different factors to consider when coming up with designs. Students only had ten dollars total to spend on materials for their traps, and that wasn’t the only practical concern facing them.

A group of Rowland Hall middle schoolers collaborate on their invasive bug trap project.


“We had to think about where we would put it,” said seventh grader Ben D. “We had to think about how it would be sustainable so the wind or rain wouldn’t destroy it. We had to think about so many different things when creating a good and effective trap.”

Once the first prototypes were built most students found themselves going back to the drawing board. While that may have been frustrating for some, it was a valuable lesson that engineering is not a linear process. “Some groups had to make drastic changes when they saw their first prototype,” said Lindsay. “It was interesting to see them walk through this process and decide what changes they want to make.”

We took our mistakes, and we turned it into something better.—Harper J., class of 2029

“Our prototype was trash. It was really bad,” said seventh grader Harper J., who was in a group chasing down Japanese beetles. “We used Saran wrap to keep them from getting out, but it was too sticky, so we switched that out to mesh. We took our mistakes, and we turned it into something better.”

Students started their bug studies at the beginning of the school year, perfecting them by mid-November. Then it was time to present their inventions to scientists from the University of Utah who study invasive species. This is when they learned that you can have a great idea, but that might not matter if you don’t know how to communicate it. Presentation preparation built upon lessons the students had already learned as part of their writing curriculum, and seventh-grade English teacher Jill Gerber helped them apply those skills to the science realm.“We talk a lot about task, audience, and purpose in class,” said Jill. “That’s what they had to do here. Identify their key points and have a clear idea and message going into the presentations so their audience would come away understanding their content.”

This shift from focusing on their content to focusing on how the audience received it meant the students had to change the way they viewed the project. While they had a wealth of information about their bugs, the invasive species problem, and their design and construction process, all of that data could now be a hindrance to clearly and succinctly communicating their message.

“Our goal was to tell everyone how the trap worked, and what the purpose of the trap was, and how we would get the bugs to the trap,” said seventh grader Stella O. “We had to take a lot of information about the bugs out because the main purpose of the presentation was talking about the trap.”

In the end the presentations were successful, and the students not only got to show off their work, but also interact with working scientists. Additionally, they got a deeper understanding of how all learning is connected and, when used together, is greater than the sum of its parts: problem-solving skills learned in the science classroom can be applied to other subjects, and communication skills from English can be used to get messages across in any field. It’s a kind of understanding that’s already gone far beyond this fall project, continuing to benefit students in the second half of the year—and will undoubtedly continue to do so beyond seventh grade.

“Layering skills and concepts is something I know we all try to do,” said Lindsay. “That way we are giving students skills that are transferable and can be used across the curriculum and outside the classroom.”

It all adds up to creating people the world needs, whether they are building bug traps to combat invasive species or shaping solutions to the world’s hardest problems.

Authentic Learning

A Better Bug Trap: Seventh Graders Battle Invasive Species

Utah has seen an influx of new residents in recent years—and not all of them have been welcomed with open arms.

Balsam woolly adelgids, fox squirrels, field bindweed, quagga mussels, and other invasive species have found comfortable homes in the state, and in some cases have made life difficult for native species by competing with them for limited resources. It’s a real problem, and it recently presented a perfect project-based learning opportunity for students in the seventh grade. Science teacher Lindsay Mackintosh challenged her students to use skills from across the curriculum to find a solution and put it into action—and maybe even impress scientists working in the field.

“The students designed and built traps to capture invasive insect species, and help ecosystems be more biodiverse by limiting their impact,” said Lindsay. “This required them to explore engineering concepts to research, build, and revise their traps.”

Engineering helps students become problem solvers and think critically..—Lindsay Mackintosh, seventh-grade science teacher

Engineering may appear to be an advanced topic for seventh graders, but these kids were up to the challenge. It all comes down to problem solving in a methodical way, while at the same time considering numerous possibilities. That’s why increasing engineering opportunities is expressly mentioned in the school’s strategic priorities.

“In making these traps they had to consider some constraints but also had freedom to be creative,” Lindsay said. “Engineering helps students become problem solvers and think critically.”

Research was the first order of business for the students, as all bugs can’t be caught the same way. “We had to do a lot of research so we could engineer the trap around the bug,” said seventh grader Atticus P., whose group chose the elm seed bug as their target. “We had to figure out, What does it eat? Where does it live?, and other things like that so we could catch it.”

The design and build process came next, with students doing multiple concept sketches and revisions before building their first prototype. There were lots of different factors to consider when coming up with designs. Students only had ten dollars total to spend on materials for their traps, and that wasn’t the only practical concern facing them.

A group of Rowland Hall middle schoolers collaborate on their invasive bug trap project.


“We had to think about where we would put it,” said seventh grader Ben D. “We had to think about how it would be sustainable so the wind or rain wouldn’t destroy it. We had to think about so many different things when creating a good and effective trap.”

Once the first prototypes were built most students found themselves going back to the drawing board. While that may have been frustrating for some, it was a valuable lesson that engineering is not a linear process. “Some groups had to make drastic changes when they saw their first prototype,” said Lindsay. “It was interesting to see them walk through this process and decide what changes they want to make.”

We took our mistakes, and we turned it into something better.—Harper J., class of 2029

“Our prototype was trash. It was really bad,” said seventh grader Harper J., who was in a group chasing down Japanese beetles. “We used Saran wrap to keep them from getting out, but it was too sticky, so we switched that out to mesh. We took our mistakes, and we turned it into something better.”

Students started their bug studies at the beginning of the school year, perfecting them by mid-November. Then it was time to present their inventions to scientists from the University of Utah who study invasive species. This is when they learned that you can have a great idea, but that might not matter if you don’t know how to communicate it. Presentation preparation built upon lessons the students had already learned as part of their writing curriculum, and seventh-grade English teacher Jill Gerber helped them apply those skills to the science realm.“We talk a lot about task, audience, and purpose in class,” said Jill. “That’s what they had to do here. Identify their key points and have a clear idea and message going into the presentations so their audience would come away understanding their content.”

This shift from focusing on their content to focusing on how the audience received it meant the students had to change the way they viewed the project. While they had a wealth of information about their bugs, the invasive species problem, and their design and construction process, all of that data could now be a hindrance to clearly and succinctly communicating their message.

“Our goal was to tell everyone how the trap worked, and what the purpose of the trap was, and how we would get the bugs to the trap,” said seventh grader Stella O. “We had to take a lot of information about the bugs out because the main purpose of the presentation was talking about the trap.”

In the end the presentations were successful, and the students not only got to show off their work, but also interact with working scientists. Additionally, they got a deeper understanding of how all learning is connected and, when used together, is greater than the sum of its parts: problem-solving skills learned in the science classroom can be applied to other subjects, and communication skills from English can be used to get messages across in any field. It’s a kind of understanding that’s already gone far beyond this fall project, continuing to benefit students in the second half of the year—and will undoubtedly continue to do so beyond seventh grade.

“Layering skills and concepts is something I know we all try to do,” said Lindsay. “That way we are giving students skills that are transferable and can be used across the curriculum and outside the classroom.”

It all adds up to creating people the world needs, whether they are building bug traps to combat invasive species or shaping solutions to the world’s hardest problems.

Authentic Learning

Explore Our Most Recent Stories

You Belong at Rowland Hall