I began by saying: “Hello worker bees. Welcome to pollination training. My name is Melissa and I am the Queen Bee. Every training session we start by buzzing, so on the count of three, let’s buzz together.” I then led the four of us in a communal buzz. Miles is in 1st grade, and was very much down to buzz. Wyatt is in 3rd grade and is already too cool to buzz.
I asked them some questions, like, why do bees collect pollen? How do bees collect pollen? I was surprised that Miles already knew about the pollen baskets that some bees have on their legs.
Then I got to the heart of the matter—the order that we will choose to pollinate the flowers. I started by drawing three flowers on a whiteboard and asking them to figure out how many different paths there were. After I modeled a couple of paths, they were able to figure out that there were 6 different orders, or permutations. They were pretty engaged when using whiteboard markers to show me the different paths.
I asked them if bees would want to take the path with the longest distance or shortest distance. Again, Miles surprised me with a thoughtful answer: “They would want to take the shortest distance so they could have more energy to make honey next time.” This was a huge success—with very little prompting on my part, Miles produced a damn good definition of optimal foraging theory.
It was clear that they had the most fun when they were running around, pollinating the “flowers”, which they did by picking up the sticks (our flower stand-ins) and rubbing them on their legs (to get the pollen in the pollen baskets). Wyatt said that he wanted to take the path with the longest total distance, and Miles wanted to find a “medium” distance. I believe Wyatt was trying to be contrary, and Miles wanted to have a unique task. I’m perfectly happy with the kids experimenting with the kinds of paths they choose, but it was clear that Miles and Wyatt weren’t strategizing while they were pollinating. They just wanted to run as fast as possible.
- Greg suggested that instead of modeling paths and permutations on a whiteboard, the kids should figure it out themselves by pollinating a smaller number of flowers as many different ways as they can in a demo round
- I still don’t know how to get the kids to realize on their own, in their own language, that the more flowers we need to pollinate, the number of permutations increases exponentially.
- I didn’t get a chance to have Miles and Wyatt compare paths and make predictions, which is an important part of the interaction. This is mainly because after the “fun stuff” was over, it was basically impossible to get them to return to the “math stuff”
- They wanted to do the “pollinating” again and again. This was really because of the “racing” element and not the “paths” element, but repeat interaction is still a win!