Teaching during the pandemic has been an interesting communication challenge for teachers. When we teach in the classroom, we don’t have the luxury of muting our students. That said, we use classroom sounds to gauge the progress of our lessons. Too much side chatter, I’m losing them. Too silent and no participation, I’ve lost them. With virtual teaching, we need to make an extra effort to call on students and use tools like Poll Everywhere to keep them engaged and get a read on their level of understanding. We can also look to the bees for advice. Even with their tiny brains, they are able to share information with their fellow bees. How do they do it?
When scout bees want to communicate the location of some pollen and nectar with their sisters, they don’t talk about it. They dance. The angle of their body relative to the hive ceiling indicates the direction and distance to the flowers. These “waggle dances” were observed by the first genuine scientist in history, Aristotle, back in 330 BC. For food sources closer to the hive, honey bees do a “round dance.” The scout runs in a small circle switching directions every so often. This does not provide the specific location of the food source, so worker bees head out in every direction. The bees are guided by the scent of the flower left on the dancing bee, as well as a scent that the bee used to mark the flower itself.
How can we relate dancing to teaching? Simple. If you are remote teaching, get out of your chair. Step back from the camera and move around. Act out stories and use gestures. In the classroom, be an active teacher. You might even make up a dance to help them remember key concepts. Science students can make up a dance to depict an erupting volcano, the life cycle of a butterfly, or the water cycle.
Honey bees use odor cues (pheromones) to communicate all sorts of information. The queen emits pheromones to prevent the female workers from being interested in mating and to get the male drones to mate with her. The queen also produces an odor to let the others know that she is alive and well. If a beekeeper introduces a new queen, it needs to be kept in a cage until the colony becomes familiar with her scent.
Bees also use pheromones as a defense mechanism. If a worker stings, she produces a scent that lets her sisters know what the threat was. Lastly, odor is also incorporated into the waggle dance. Scientists believe that scout bees carry the unique odor of the flowers they visited, and this is necessary in order for the waggle dance to be successful.
Teachers can communicate with smells as well. At my last school, the learning center instructor always had a diffuser going, filling her room with calming scents. This was key, since the students who visited her were taking tests and needed additional support to succeed. The scent told students that her room was a calm and safe place. Research shows that smell is probably more closely linked to memory and emotions than our other senses. Teachers can bring in scents to transport students to places they are reading about in history or English classes. But be careful which scents you use. Scientists found that students who smelled lavender performed worse in memory tests and had delayed reaction times on memory and attention-based tasks. On the other hand, students who smelled rosemary did much better than controls in memory, but their reaction times were still slower.
You don’t need a bee brain to be a good communicator. Just remember to move your feet and share some smells. Now as far as sharing smells remotely, that could be tricky.