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Bees Help Native American Students Learn about Math, Science

Native American high school students get “up close and personal” with honey bees at the USDA Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson, Arizona, as part of their participation in the Native American Summer Institute, a long-running collaboration between the University of Arizona and the bee lab.  The curriculum helps the students learn math and science as they use two of the lab’s computer models to learn about honey bee colony health and develop plans to start a beekeeping business.

Native American high school students get “up close and personal” with honey bees at the USDA Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson, Arizona, as part of their participation in the Native American Summer Institute, a long-running collaboration between the University of Arizona and the bee lab. The curriculum helps the students learn math and science as they use two of the lab’s computer models to learn about honey bee colony health and develop plans to start a beekeeping business.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

There’s nothing like a little “hands-on” activity to help students learn. And what better way to encourage math and science education than to give students an opportunity for the ultimate “hands-on” experience: working with honey bees.

That’s what Native American high school students are doing at the USDA Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson, Arizona. At the lab, operated by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), researchers study honey bee nutrition and health to ensure that these insects can effectively pollinate billions of dollars’ worth of fruits and vegetables each year.

The students study at the Tucson lab through the Native American Summer Institute, which began in 1998 as collaboration between the University of Arizona and the ARS bee research center in Tucson.  The curriculum developed for the institute uses bees as a tool to help the students learn math and science. The students use two of the lab’s computer models, BEEPOP and BK-ECONOMICS, to learn about honey bee colony health and to develop plans to start a beekeeping business.

At the lab, the students put on bee veils and visit the apiary, seeing the bees up close and personal. They also learn about honey production, extract honey from the comb and bottle it. This year, there are 12 students participating in the program, which is already paying dividends, according to Gloria DeGrandi-Hoffman, the lab’s research leader.

“One of the instructors in the program this year actually started as a student in the program, worked here at the bee lab, went to the University of Arizona, and got his degree,” she said. “Then he came back to work at the institute to help the students.”

Since the institute started in 1998, hundreds of students have participated in the program.   Some of them became interns at the Lab, according to DeGrandi-Hoffman. “We had about a dozen students this year,” she said. “It’s a great program and we are proud to be part of it.”

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