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December 29, 2005

Learning from the Simulated Fruit Fly


The Virtual Courseware Project creates interactive, online simulations for the life and earth sciences on their sciencecourseware.org site, including Drosophila. Taking its name from the fruit fly used in genetics research, Drosophila uses the classic fruit fly example to teach basic genetic concepts. Using an inquiry-based approach, students begin by ordering flies with certain attributes, such as gender, eye color and wing angle. Then, in the "lab bench" screen below, students mate male and female flies with certain attributes and observe which characteristics get passed along to their offspring. Then, they report their findings. These steps are designed to also teach the scientific method, which include making observations, formulating hypothesis, creating experiments, analyzing results, and writing up findings. Finally, students also get assessed on their learning.

A comment submitted by a teacher using Drospohila explained how this module was helpful in conjunction with experiments using real fruit flies. Working with both the real and the virtual may be the ideal. On one hand, the minor inconsistencies that result from real-life experiments can be an important part of the learning process, and virtual experiments don't allow for such inconsistencies. On the other hand, simulations offer the ability to repeat experiments many times to ensure understanding for class discussions or exams. In the real world, repeating experiments is often time or cost prohibitive.

I appreciate the structured learning aspects of these lessons, especially the assessment feature. Too often, learning modules leave out the any assessment. Even ungraded assessment allows students to an opportunity to make sure they understand concepts or prepare questions for class. The site also includes how their materials meet the standard requirements for each state in the US. The creators of Drosophila have taken steps to create a deep learning experience which re-enforce scientific methods using digital technology that paper-based science textbooks cannot replicate.

Posted by ray cha at December 29, 2005 1:20 PM