Bees with backpacks teaching students the value of data

A new program is teaching high-school students how to utilise data and clever technology to solve complex, real-world problems.

A partnership between the Geelong Tech School, CSIRO’s Data61 and the City of Greater Geelong has made the program possible.

The Bees with Backpacks program takes students on a four-week journey of discovery to understand why Geelong’s bee population is in decline.

To solve the mystery, students create virtual ‘bee-friendly’ environments while learning more about bee anatomy, microchip technology, raw data collection and data analysis.

CSIRO’s Data61 developed the technology to track behavioural patterns of bees via a microchip – or ‘backpack’ – which causes no distress to the insect.

Local data has been made available by the City of Greater Geelong’s Smart City Office. Students utilise the trees dataset, via Geelong Data Exchange, to analyse the relationship between bee populations and tree species.

The multi-disciplinary nature of the Bees with Backpacks program also provides an opportunity for students to experience subjects not previously considered across science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM).

A year 9/10 geography class at Sacred Heart College Geelong is currently undertaking the course. Students are engaged from the outset because at the core of the program is a real-life environmental challenge which will have serious consequences if not solved.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Geelong Tech School transferred the modules online to enable students to continue the program from home, without the need for special equipment. Once on-site learning resumes, students will be able to complete the hands-on technology component at Geelong Tech School.

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Minister for Education James Merlino

The Bees with Backpacks program is not only creating a vivid and rewarding educational experience for students, it is also tackling a crucial real-world problem and linking local students with international research.

Victoria’s 10 new Tech Schools give students access to cutting edge equipment and a chance to link with leading experts on real world challenges.

I’d like to thank the City of Greater Geelong and CSIRO for their partnership in the development of the program. It’s a great example of how industry, research and education can come together to generate a unique experience for students.

This is another great example of how our schools have adapted to meet the challenges of remote and flexible learning during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Peter Marendy, Team Leader Microsystems, CSIRO’s Data61:

The Bees with Backpacks program allows us to demonstrate to students the real-world applications of data and sensors, and how they can be used to understand issues like biodiversity – including how bees behave and factors causing their decline.

Bees are vital to our economy and agricultural communities. One third of the food we consume each day relies on bees and their pollination services. We are proud to be able to offer CSIRO research to help students learn more about the application of data and the Internet of Things to understand how these animals are connected to the health of our ecosystems.

Greater Geelong Mayor Stephanie Asher:

We’re pleased to partner with Geelong Tech School, CSIRO and local schools in this innovative project and to play a key role in discovering new information that will benefit both the Geelong community and studies across the world. Bees are so critical to our survival and the more we understand about what’s happening the better.

This research also promotes the exploration of new technologies and encourages hands-on learning for students in the important areas of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

Collaborations like these support Council’s vision for Greater Geelong to be internationally recognised as a ‘Clever and Creative’ city-region by 2047 with forward-thinking, enterprising and adaptive actions that prioritise our people and environment.