What would you say if a group of primary school children achieved the unprecedented task of having their school research project accepted for publication in an internationally recognized peer-reviewed science journal?
“Unbelievable,” you would probably retort. But that’s what happened when a cadre of 25 eight to ten year-old British students participated in an innovative hands-on undertaking in science education headed by Nifty Fifty Speaker Beau Lotto, founder and director of Lottolab, a cutting-edge science laboratory and art studio based at University College London’s Institute of Ophthalmology in England.
The children’s research, which examined how bumblebees perceive color, was published in December 2010 in England’s Royal Society journal Biology Letters.
Beau, a noted neuroscientist and artist, is known not only for his daring, iconoclastic approaches to science learning through his endeavors at Lottolab, but also for his groundbreaking research in shedding light on the mysteries of the brain’s visual system – work that is helping to reshape a wide range of perspectives related to eyesight, from how we perceive color illusions to how we interact visually with
technology, art, music and education.
Twenty-five primary schoolchildren in Devon, England participated in the bumblebee science project funded by Beau at Devon’s Blackawton School. Dubbed the “Blackawton Bees” (or i, scientist) project, the ultimate success of the undertaking – culminating when the students’ work was published in the noted research journal — may have come as a surprise to many, but Beau says it all just shows what can happen when science education is made fun, hands-on and exciting for kids.
“When science is approached as play, or as an unpredictable adventure,” says Beau, “science education becomes a more enlightened and intuitive process of asking questions and devising games to address those questions.”
In the Blackawton Bees project, which investigated the way that bumblebees see colors and patterns, the children (under the guidance of Beau and the school’s head teacher Dave Strudwick) were given significant freedom and responsibility. “The students not only devised the experiments,” says Beau, “they also devised the questions; they reasoned an answer, and they did all the data analysis and then wrote up their findings to be considered for publication.”
The young scientists’ research results revealed that bees are able to learn and remember cues based on color and pattern in a spatially complex scene. “In other words, they discovered that bumblebees can use a combination of color and spatial relationships in deciding which color of flower to forage from,” says Beau. The field of insect color and pattern vision is generally poorly understood and the findings
reported by the school children represent a genuine advance in the field, he says.
The Blackawton Bees project is a perfect extension of the daring, provocative work Beau is conducting at his Lottolab Studio, an innovative research space which creates installations, musical performances and educational programs, and where he performs carefully controlled experiments on perception and behavior. Beau is also currently developing a ‘living lab’ at London’s Science Museum, funded by the Wellcome Trust, which enables the public, including school children, to participate, design and run real
science experiments on site.
“Through such projects,” he says, “we have learned that doing ‘real’ science in public spaces can stimulate tremendous interest in children and adults in understanding the processes by which we make sense of the world.”
What type of experiments would be useful to set up to understand various processes we use to make sense of our world?
Read more about Nifty Fifty Speaker Beau Lotto here
Watch a few videos about Beau Lotto and his research on visual perception and some cool optical illusions and how we perceive the world and some experiments from the Blackawton Bees project.