Are Ants good organisms to teach K-12 students about invasive species?

Sara Zollota

Authors:  Sara Zollota, Patricia Perez, Jena Allen, Tori Argenti, and Marina Ascunce

Faculty Mentor:  Marina Ascunce

College:  College of Agricultural and Life Sciences


The purpose of this study is to evaluate the effectiveness of our outreach program “ImportANTs of Ants” in communicating scientific topics to children, sparking an interest in environmental protection and in sciences in general. As one of the worst invasive species of insects, the Red Imported Fire Ant (RIFA) specifically impacts Florida as well as a good portion of the Southeast USA and elsewhere. RIFA has caused the country, ecosystem and its citizens a great deal of damage though economic, health and environmental costs. Thus, the topics of the program include the dynamic interplay of the ecosystem with native and invasive species such as RIFA. Through the use of various active learning approaches including presentations, handouts, crafts and live colonies, we evaluate the effectiveness of the material, the content learned by the children and their overall attitudes towards the topics, and future interests in research and environmental preservation. Approximately 400 students’ from three different schools, spanning 4 grade levels knowledge before and after the program were assessed using short anonymous surveys. We are expecting the students to learn about native/invasive species, increase their interest in the environmental protection as well as motivate them towards careers in research and science.

Poster Pitch

Click the video below to view the student's poster pitch.


Click the image to enlarge.
18 Responses
  1. Marina Ascunce

    Thank you for visiting our poster. We are holding an open zoom virtual presentation from 3 to 4pm, and with a special Gator family and kids friendly talk from 3:45 to 4pm, please join us using the link below.

    Join Zoom Meeting

    Meeting ID: 584 594 161
    Password: iris2020

    If you are interested in our research topic on Ants and Microbes or would like a virtual educational visit, please email Dr. Ascunce ( and also visit our companion poster:
    (also available for zoom from 3 to 4pm).
    Dr. Ascunce

  2. Nicole Davi

    Hi! I thought your presentation was very interesting! I’m curious about what resources it took for you to conduct this research. Did you have additional staff or was it just the four of you at the schools? How much time did it take for you to do one session with the lesson and survey? Overall how much time did it take you to collect this data? Thanks!

    1. Sara Zollota

      Hi! thank you for the interest. The four of us conducted the whole outreach program and used various electronic resources for presentations such as powerpoint and prezi. We also used mason jars and wire mesh for out live ant farms and styrofoam balls, tooth picks and pipe cleaners for the ant craft. The sessions take about two hours to complete and sometimes a little longer if there is a particularly large group or lots of questions. We started data collection spring 2018 and our last school visit was fall 2019!

  3. Sara Sutton

    Hi Sara! If you hadn’t used ants for this project, what other organism might you have used? Thanks!

    1. Sara Zollota

      Hi! I think that any species that is heavily involved in the ecosystem and interacts with other species would be a good organism to consider in a program like this!

    1. Sara Zollota

      Hi Joana!
      We actually did not do any comparisons with the freedom middle school data because we are waiting to visit other middle schools in order to have an equivalent grade level for comparison.

  4. Jade Monteiro

    Hi Sara! Why did you guys choose to teach children in elementary and middle schools rather than those in high schools? Thanks!

  5. Ryan Husain

    What changes would you make in an outreach program that was more geared towards older students, such as those in high school or even university?

    1. Sara Zollota

      Hi Ryan,
      I think that if we were to visit a high school we would teak the material to be a little bit more in depth and comprehensive for the older and more educated crowd! I would still like to keep the live ant farms and the craft, both seemed to be a favorite among both teachers and students! For college aged students the material difficulty level would be similar to the high school level and explain more dynamic relationships that are involved in native-invasive species interactions.

  6. Caroline McMillan

    Hi! This is such a great idea, and this research is creative! How might you change the approach for a slightly older group in order to get them interested in science/ants?

    1. Sara Zollota

      I think that if we were to visit a high school we would teak the material to be a little bit more in depth and comprehensive for the older and more educated crowd! I think we would still keep the live ant farms and the craft, both seemed to be a favorite among both teachers and students!

  7. Sara, Patricia, and Tori Argenti:

    Sorry that I was not able to get to all the presentations on Thursday or your Zoom meeting. Sounds like all of you learned a lot through the process. I love the fact that you interacted with K-12 students. Very well done.

    Doc W