The honey bee story
Bees feed on nectar and pollen from flowers. Vision is important to bees because they need to find the flowers while flying in the sky. While bees can find flowers by smell and taste, that only works when they are close enough to the plants. Vision is better for seeing flowers from a distance away.
Honey bees can see in colour. But here’s an interesting fun fact about the bee’s vision. Bees can see in the ultraviolet (UV) spectrum of light, which humans cannot. You’ve probably heard of UV light even though you cannot see it. Remember all the sunscreen lotion you apply on your skin for protection against the sun’s UV light?
In the UV spectrum, flowers have patterns which are invisible to the human eye. It has been shown through UV photography that some of these patterns might show landing zones to the bees. These landing zones tell the bees where the centre of the flower and nectar is. Because of the bee’s special vision, it can see the flowers and know where to land even from far away.
At the top is a photo of flowers taken in normal light. At the bottom is a photo of the same flowers taken in UV light showing the landing zones which the bee can see. (Image of Potentilla anserina L. flowers © Bjørn Rørslett)
What happens after a bee finds a good source of nectar? It quickly returns to the hive to recruit other worker bees to the area. One way that the bee communicates the location of a food source is through the use of dances. Bees will dance differently depending upon the direction and distance of the food from the hive. The waggle dance, for example, indicates that food is farther away, while the round dance indicates that food is nearby.
Not all learner bees need to be in contact with the dancing bee. In fact, most other surrounding bees might only receive the message through sound vibrations that the dancing bee makes. These sounds are picked up by the legs and antennae of the learner bees. We can call this the sound learning.
Learning through sound is important since in the darkness of the bee hive, the learner bees which are farther away might not be able to see the dance. However, some of these bees might later move closer to touch and follow the dance of the leader bee.
The leader bee also transfers smells of the nectar to other bees. This has been shown to be important to help the follower bees more accurately know which flowers to go to.
The bees use many different ways of learning to accurately pinpoint the location of the food source. This is very important especially when the flowers are far away. Even a mistake in miscommunication of a slight degree will result in the bees flying off to a wrong location!
Lessons about learning from the honey bee
We can learn a few important points from the lesson of the honey bee:
- All bees can learn through sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.
- Not all bees need to learn in the same way. For example, some bees follow the dance of the leader bee, other bees just listen.
- Different ways of learning may be better in different situations or for different purposes. For example, seeing the flowers is more effective when flying high above at a distance away.
What about people? How can this lesson about the bee relate back to us? Like the bee, we believe that:
- Every person can learn through sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. And we can read too!
- Different people have different preferred learning styles. Some might prefer visual input (seeing) while others prefer auditory (sounds), or action (touch) learning.
- Different ways of learning may be better in different situations or for different purposes. In fact, multimodal learning using more than one preference might help us understand things better.
Understanding more about how we learn can help us achieve deep learning. We can try to use our preferred learning styles when learning new or difficult information. However, when the information is familiar or easy, we could be encouraged to try using a less preferred learning style in order to stretch and improve ourselves.
More about Character English education
See a bee’s-eye overview of samples from our Character English education resources here. We will be zooming in to explore more of individual lessons and materials in upcoming blog posts. Please check our blog archive page, or better still follow us on Facebook, for regular updates.
In the next post, we will explain more about how we teach the Character English education programme. Click here to read more.