Tuesday, March 08, 2011

8-10-year-olds write a real science article

I wrote a little while ago about the importance of giving school and college students "real" work to do.

What better a way to have kids learn about science than letting them be real scientists?

A delightful paper: "Blackawton Bees", published in the journal Biology Letters in December 2010,  is authored by an unusual string of scientists. They are 8-10-year-olds at Blackawton primary school in UK.

This group of kids not only conducted the experiments described in the paper, they also wrote the article in their own words (apparently all of it except the abstract).

The study shows the ability of bees to "solve" a puzzle in the process of searching for food (sugar water). The kids describe the experiment in their own endearing words:

This experiment is important, because, as far as we know, no one in history (including adults) has done this experiment before. It tells us that bees can learn to solve puzzles (and if we are lucky we will be able to get them to do Sudoku in a couple of years’ time). In this experiment, we trained bees to solve a particular puzzle. The puzzle was go to blue if surrounded by yellow, but yellow if surrounded by blue.

Here's part of their description of the methodology, discussing how the bees were marked:

We let the foragers into the arena and turned the lights off, which made the bees stop flying (because they do not want to fly into anything). We picked the bees up with bee tweezers and put them into a pot with a lid. We then put the tube with the bees in it into the school’s fridge (and made bee pie :-)). The bees fell asleep. Once they fell asleep, we took the bees out, one at a time, and painted little dots on them (yellow, blue, orange, blue-orange, blue-yellow,
etc.). We put them into the tube and warmed them up and then let them into the arena. No bees were harmed during this procedure.
The grown-ups involved in formulating this study and planning it were David Strudwick, a teacher, and Beau Lotto, a neuroscientist, whose son was in the class.

For more on the story of this amazing study, see:


ChadH said...

Very interesting. I guess it helps to have someone behind the class of kids (neuroscientist) that is interested in pushing kids to the next level. I wonder if it wasn't for having the scientists son in the class if he would have still been that interested in assisting with the experiment? I guess I'm somewhat cynical in that most people only want to help themselves or in this case his son. The problem then become how to get around that to get some "real" work out to the kids.

Bhaskar Krishnamachari said...

Clearly, there is no substitute for concerned parents or proactive teachers. At the very least, what is needed is for teachers to be willing to think outsIde the box of a standardized curriculum (say, to seek out the help of a real-world expert in putting together an interesting plan). I should have noted also that this project was done by the kids outside of school hours. Predictably, there was no room for something this interesting to be part of the regular classroom...

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