One of the great challenges of helping students envision creativity in science is teaching science in ways that are more like, well, science. So much of science education is prepackaged in ways that are designed to make the questions clear and the results predictable—conditions actual scientists rarely experience. And besides, where’s the fun in giving pre-determined answers to pre-determined questions? Where’s the scientific adventure?
Enter the Lost Ladybug Project (LLP)! The Lost Ladybug project began when the Cornell Institute for Biological Teaching and associated researchers developed a project to involve young children in surveying ladybugs. Why? For reasons no one can yet explain, ladybug populations are changing. North American ladybugs that once were common are becoming rare, and species from other parts of the world are booming. Scientists are not sure how these changes are occurring or how they may impact other insect populations. To understand what is happening, it is important to gather ladybugs from across the country—exactly the role of the Lost Ladybug project. This is no make-work project for kids, but the opportunity to participate real “crowd-sourced” science. In fact, one of the first major discoveries associated with the project came in 2006 two elementary-aged students found a rare nine-spotted ladybug (Coccinella novemnotata) near their home in Virginia. It was the first of that species spotted in the eastern United States in 14 years!
To participate in the Lost Ladybug Project, there are three steps, “Find ‘em, photograph ‘em, and send ‘em.” Using the projects clear “How-do” directions, students search for ladybugs, photograph them, and then upload the digital photographs to the project’s website. Even sending information that no ladybugs were found in a particular area is helpful to the project.
The Lost Ladybug Project is an interesting way to help students practice systematic data gathering while participating in a large-scale scientific effort. It also provides fodder for further questioning. While gathering data about ladybugs, students are bound to encounter other local insects. What kinds of questions could they ask about those species? The Lost Ladybug Project is a great place for scientific curiosity to take hold—perhaps in your home or classroom. If you go collecting—or invent an insect project of your own, we’d love to hear about it!