8-10 Year Olds Research Published in Royal Society Journal

Posted on December 24, 2010  Comments (2)

Eight-year-old children publish bee study in Royal Society journal

Their paper, based on fieldwork carried out in a local churchyard, describes how bumblebees can learn which flowers to forage from with more flexibility than anyone had thought. It’s the culmination of a project [Blackawton Bees] called ‘i, scientist’, designed to get students to actually carry out scientific research themselves.

The class (including Lotto’s son, Misha) came up with their own questions, devised hypotheses, designed experiments, and analysed data. They wrote the paper themselves (except for the abstract), and they drew all the figures with colouring pencils.
It’s a refreshing approach to science education, in that it actually involves doing science.

The children designed a Plexiglas cube with two entrances and a four-panelled light box in the middle. Each panel had 16 coloured lights, illuminated in clear patterns of blue and yellow. Each light had a feeder that dispensed either delicious sugar water or repulsive salty water. Once the bees had learned to drink from the feeders, the kids turned the lights on.

Absolutely great stuff. This is how to engage kids in science. Engage their inquisitive minds. Let them get involved. Let them experiment.

Some of the children’s questions when looking at what to discover using experiments:

What if… we could find out how much effort the bees will go through in order to get a reward? For instance, they have to move something heavy out of the way to get a reward.

What if… we could discover if bees can learn to go to certain colours depending on how sweet they are?

What if… we could find out how many colours they could remember?

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And some of their comments:

“I want to be a scientist like you.”
“When can we do the bees again?”
“That was brilliant.”
“I don’t get it.”

The editors of several top journals, including Nature, Science, Current Biology and PLoS ONE loved the idea but passed on publishing the paper because it lacked references and was written in kid-speak. But Lotto was determined. “The aim was to not get it published simply as a kid’s project, but for its scientific contribution,” he says.
To that end, he asked four independent experts in vision to review the paper, and only one questioned its scientific merit. That helped to convince Chris Frith, an editor for Biology Letters. Frith agreed to publish the work after soliciting four more reviews (all positive) and the commentary from Maloney and Hempel.

2 Responses to “8-10 Year Olds Research Published in Royal Society Journal”

  1. Jamie
    January 19th, 2011 @ 2:10 pm

    These kids have a great teacher. I hope the students use this incredible accomplish­ment to build on their quest for knowledge. I’ve had some amazing teachers myself, and always took the time to thank them as an adult. It was always a shock to hear that they remembered me years later, since they have taught so many students. It’s good to know that great teachers are still in the field, despite the many challenges schools are facing.

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    January 16th, 2012 @ 5:57 am

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