Good vs. Bad Bugs in the Alaskan Garden

A Lesson Plan for Gardening in the Classroom in Alaska, By Shawna Sastamoinen, an Alaskan Master Gardener

Subject Area: Science 
Grade Level: 3rd 
Ideal Season: Fall or Late Spring 
Time to complete lesson: About 3 to 4 hours. Additional time will be needed to complete the Curricular Connections/Extension Activities. 
Suggested Materials: Specific materials from the Cooperative Extension website are suggested for use in each section where they apply. See bibliography for more pictures and ideas. 

Goal and Outcomes: After completing this lesson, students should be able to identify good and bad bugs in interior Alaska.

Activity 1:  Classroom Discussion (1.5
For the classroom discussion, the teacher should ask the class each of the following questions and make lists of the answers given by the students. They should then discuss which answers are correct through explanation of the information given here.


What are bugs?

Bugs are a type of animal that have no bones inside their
bodies.  Instead, they have a support
system on the outside of their bodies, called the exoskeleton.  What people usually think of as bugs includes
both insects and spiders.  Insects have a
lot of variation, both in how they look and what they do.  There are over 1 million known species of
insects, and there may be as many as 10 million worldwide!  Even though most people only think of bugs as
being bad, of the huge number that we know of, less than 1% are thought of as pests.  (GLE[3], SA1.2)


What do bugs do?

Good things: Some pollinate plants, eat other bugs, or help
to break down dead plants into new dirt. 
We need bugs!  Many of the good
things that bugs accomplish are easy for them to do, but difficult and costly
for us to replicate. 
Aphids are seen here on a dahlia bud. Photo by Heidi Rader.

Bad things: Some eat crops and other desired plants, damage
buildings, or transmit diseases.  The few
bad bugs tend to give all bugs a bad reputation, because the bad things that
bugs do get more attention than the good. 
It is much easier to remember when a bug stung you than to remember when
you saw a bug pollinating plants.

Some bugs do both good and bad things:  Sometimes the good and bad things are the
same to the bugs, such as when ants break down dead trees in the forest or when
they break down the wood used to build your house.  To the ants, there is no difference, it is
all just dead wood!  Other times the good
and bad things are separate, such as how yellowjackets are good because they
pollinate plants but are bad because they sting us.  Sometimes the good and bad things occur in
different stages of a bug’s life, such as how caterpillars eat and damage
plants, but when they become butterflies, they help to pollinate plants.  (GLE[3], SA1.2)


Where do bugs live?

Monarch Butterflies leking in Fairbanks, Alaska. Photo by Heidi Rader.

Some bugs live in the ground, others live on the stems and
leaves of grass and other plants.  Some
live up in trees.  Some even live on and
in the water.  In some cases, where they
live depends on how old they are.  In any
case, where they live determines what they eat, and what they eat often
determines whether we think of them as “good’ or “bad.’   (See below for resources with pictures and
examples).  Although there are many more
bugs living in hot, tropical places, there are plenty in Alaska, too!


Which bugs do we usually think of as good or bad or both good and bad?

Some examples of good bugs, bad bugs, and good/bad bugs can
be found in the following table, along with examples of things they do that are
good or bad.

“Good’ bugs:


“Bad’ bugs:

“Good/Bad’ bugs:

  Lady Bugs
  Aphids  
  Yellowjackets/Wasps 
          Eat aphids
          Eat &
damage plants
  Dragonflies
 Spruce Budworm
  Caterpillar/Butterfly 
          Eat mosquitoes
          Damage & Kill Spruce trees
           Eat plants/Pollinate
  Honeybees
  Leafminers
  Carpenter Ants 
         Pollinate &
make honey
          Eat &
damage plants
          Break down
dead trees/
  Spiders     
          Eat other bugs


Activity 2: Looking for bugs & evidence of bugs (up to 2 hours)

Students should be paired up to go outside to look for bugs
and their evidence.  The teacher might
have had the children develop a chart first, with fields for locations of bugs
such as ground/plants/trees, and fields for evidence only, or the bugs
themselves, too.  When they find evidence
of bugs (plants that have been damaged, spiderwebs, etc.), they should write
down both the evidence and their guess as to which bug made it, as well as
whether they think it is a good or bad bug or a good/bad bug.
When they find a bug, they should try to identify it, and whether
they think it is good or bad or good/bad. 
(GLE[3], SA1.1 & SC2.1)
After the students have found their bugs and evidence of
bugs, the class should return to the classroom to discuss what they found.  A list of the types of bugs and evidence of
bugs that were found should be created, and the class should discuss which bugs
they think are good and which they think are bad, and why. (GLE[3], SA1.2 &


Curricular Connections/ Extension Activities

The students should compile the data that the class
collected during the Looking for bugs and evidence of bugs activity to make bar
graphs that display the kinds of bugs that were found in different ways and the
settings or environments in which they were found.  Options for the graphs include the number of
each type of bug found, the number of bugs with wings and without, the number
of bugs found by each pair of students, and the number of good, bad, and
good/bad bugs. (GLE[3], S&P-1)
Students should be given several different plants, bugs, and
animals from which they must create food chains that include at least one bug
in them.  Examples include Plant àAphid
and Mosquito àDragonfly
(GLE[3], SC3.2).  Students can study the
life cycle of certain bugs.  Draw a
varied ecosystem (woods, water, meadow, garden, tundra) and indicate where
certain bugs live.
English/Language Arts/Art
Have each student choose a bug that interests him/her.  They should draw a picture of it (or several
pictures do indicate changes in the life cycle).  They should label their bug, and after
research, describe the type of bug, what it does to or for plants, what it
eats, who or what eats it. Then, have the students write a brief fiction or
non-fiction short story about the bug. (GLE[3], 1.1.3)



Gardening: The Alaska Master Gardener Manual
, University of Alaska
Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service, 2011. Order it for $40.
Stinging Insects                       

About Heidi Rader

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