In BeeSim, the students play the role of forager bees racing against the clock to collect nectar as efficiently as possible before the start of winter. In nature, forager bees cover a relatively large area, sometimes miles from the hive, in order to find good sources of nectar which will be used to make honey. Once a bee finds a flower with nectar, it carries some of it back to the hive in a special compartment within its stomach. Then, it performs a waggle dance which communicates the direction and distance from the hive to the flowers to other bees in the hive. We have seen that this sequence of events isn’t intuitive for young children. Rather, they assume that bees can search indefinitely for nectar, see all of the available sources quite easily, can carry as much nectar as they like back to the hive, and have no need to communicate the location of nectar to other bees. BeeSim was designed to help students understand the inherent difficulty in finding sources of nectar and the value of communicating the location of nectar so that collection can proceed efficiently despite the limited capacity of individual bees to carry nectar.
Because the original electronic puppets and computer simulations were built in modular pieces, a simple change to the puppets and the computer skin allows BioSim to be used for different scientific concepts. The second context for exploring complex systems will be the foraging ecology of army ants. Army ants are key predators on the forest floor of tropical forests around the world. Unlike the “waggle dance” used by honeybees to communicate the locations of food, individual army ants use trail pheromones to mark trails to which they want to recruit additional colony members. This behavior and its emergent properties are especially accessible through modeling. We will utilize our existing computer simulations and e-puppets in embodied play to model army ant foraging and to examine which skills developed through the use of BeeSign and BeeSim transfer to understanding complex systems and emergent properties in other contexts.