Ramona and the Fruit Flies: An Interdisciplinary Approach

Article excerpt

Why does Ramona's teacher ask her students to keep jars of fruit flies? Third graders are always curious about Mrs. Whaley's assignment after reading Ramona Quimby, Age Eight (Cleary 1981). April Lloyd, a third-grade teacher at Burnley Moran Elementary School in Charlottesville, Virginia, decided to use this curiosity to introduce her students to the process of metamorphosis in insects and to the scientific method of experimentation, observation, and data collection. She described and posted her project on the computer network. Mrs. Lloyd invited others to join her class in replicating the experiment described in Ramona Quimby, Age Eight by giving their students an opportunity to decide for themselves what can be learned from a jar of fruit flies.

The Fruit-Fly Experiment

Students gathered and cleaned glass jars. They used oatmeal as a growth medium, dying it blue for contrast just as Mrs. Whaley's class had done. They put fruit-fly eggs and the growth medium into the jars, sealed them, waited, and observed. Each student had a copy of the class spreadsheet with an individual's line highlighted. They filled in their observation of how many flies were in their jar each day for ten days. After each day's results were entered and displayed, they discussed what they were seeing. For example, some students never saw any live flies in their jars and so entered all zeros. Other students entered zeros as their populations died. The class tabulated the column day by day to see a "class population" and tabulated each row to get an average number of flies for each person. The spreadsheet was posted on the network so that it could be shared with other classes participating in the experiment.

FIGURE 1

Posted spreadsheet data

Subject: Re: Ramona & the fruit flies
Date: Mon, 25 Jan 93 01:08:35 GMT
Organization: Virginia's Public Education Network (Charlottesville)

The following is the spreadsheet data for our experiment:

                    DAILY NUMBER OF FLIES OBSERVED

DAY           3     4    5    6    7    8     9     10     AVERAGE

NAME

Sky           0     0    0    0    0    0     0      0       0
Garise        0     1    1    0    0    5     3      0       1.25
Marqete      15    13    6    3    3   15    15     16      10.75
Sasha        10    12   10    8    6    0     0      0       5.714
Kelli        15    15   10   10   10    9    10     10      11.125
Brittany      0     0    0    0    6    7     8      8       3.625
Brian         4     2    1    0    0    7     9     10       4.125
Josh          9     3    3    7    7   11    11     10       7.625
Luke         15    14    3    2    2    2     2      5       5.625
Karli         3     4    2    0    4    6    10      9       4.75
Shannon       7     7    9   12   15   20    20+    20+     11.666
Jessica      15    13   12    7   15   13    10      5       1.25
Lavyn         6     6    4    3    3   10    12     12       7
Lisa          2     2    3    2    4    9    12     13       5.875
Shemeka      19    19    4    2    4   14    42     42       7.0551
Clare         5     5    5    5    1   11    14     15       7.625
Clare P      10    12   12   10    2   28    28     25      15.875
Abby          4     6    4    4    0    0     0      1       2.375
Jessica       4     3    0    0    0    0     0      0       1.125
Kim           2     4    3    0    0    0     0      0       1.125
Robert        1     2    1    1    1    4     4      3       2.125

Total/day   146   146   96   66   77   77   171    190

Students continually discussed what was happening in their jars. Occasionally, something they observed puzzled them and they used the network to seek answers. For example, the dialogue shown in figure 2 occurred between a third grader and a scientist at the University of Virginia who agreed to serve as a resource person for the experiment. …