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Kids putting backpacks on bees for science

Donna Coutts, May 27, 2021 6:45PM Kids News

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A bee wearing a micro-sensor as part of the “Bees with Backpacks” program. Picture: supplied media_cameraA bee wearing a micro-sensor as part of the “Bees with Backpacks” program. Picture: supplied


Reading level: green

Kids are putting backpacks on bees as part of groundbreaking* research aiming to understand and help protect these very important insects.

The research, managed by Swinburne University of Technology, involves Victorian high school students fitting hi-tech micro-sensors to bees. The sensors track where the bees travel, how long they spend there and what they do.

Called “Bees with Backpacks”, the project is funded by the Victorian Government and is delivered in collaboration* with the CSIRO, the Australian Government scientific research agency.

Bees are a vital part of nature. They also make agriculture possible by pollinating plants so we can harvest the fruit, vegetables and seeds humans and other animals eat. Making honey for us to put on our toast is just a sweet bonus!

media_cameraBeehives in an almond orchard at Mildura, Victoria. Picture: Almond Board of Australia

The program connects scientists, Swinburne educators and high school students. The students fit the sensors. CSIRO scientists then track the bees, following the path of a single bee or investigating the effects of stress factors for bees in their local area – such as disease, pesticides*, diet, air pollution, water contamination, extreme weather and more.

The students can use the information collected to create dashboards*, present data visually and make connections between different sets of data, sometimes even before the CSIRO and local beekeepers.

Bees with Backpacks (CSIRO)

At the end of the program the students come up with solutions using a design thinking process to compete in the Design Challenge, said Swinburne’s Kulari Lokuge Dona.

“Once we take the students through design thinking, that’s when the magic happens,” Dr Lokuge Dona said.

“Imagine some students decide, ‘I want to check the temperature,’ and then every time the temperature fluctuates* the honey production increases or decreases. Something like that is very important for beekeepers, for hive makers, for CSIRO researchers, to know. That sort of information is shared with everyone.”

Students can make a real contribution on a vital issue, and potentially use their designs to create a bee-friendly environment in their school or backyard. If the idea has commercial* potential, they are encouraged and supported to take it further as a start-up.

So far, there are schools in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs plus Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and the Yarra Ranges in regional Victoria involved in the program.


  • groundbreaking: doing new things
  • pesticides: chemicals to kill or control insects
  • dashboards: a way to display information visually so it is easier to understand
  • fluctuates: goes up and down
  • commercial: as part of a business designed to make money


How do bees make honey?

Plan to save Australian honeybees

Sniffer bees busy on Covid test training

Big buzz about Aussie bee drone invention


  1. Which insect is this story about?
  2. What is the name of the Australian Government science research agency?
  3. Which university is involved?
  4. What are the backpacks?
  5. List some things that could be stress factors in a bee’s environment.


1. Create a Map

Choose an outdoor place you know very well – it could be where you live, a playground at school, anywhere! Draw a map for this place. Where do you think bees would go around this place and what do you think they would do? Are there lots of places that the bees would not be able to go? Mark the places that you think bees would love and the places where they would not go.

Then, write down some ideas for changes that could make this place more bee friendly.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science

2. Extension
Why do you think your school should get involved in this project? Design a poster. The purpose of your poster is to convince your teachers that school should be part of ‘Bees with Backpacks’.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science

Aside from this, there is also this!
Brackets are a great literacy tool for adding aside comments, or comments that could be covered over and the sentence still makes sense. What’s inside the brackets is extra information.

They can be used for a variety of effects: to add more detail, to add humour, to connect with the reader etc.

My little brother, (the funniest kid I know) got himself into big trouble today.

Select 3 sentences from the article to add an aside comment to using brackets. Think about not only what you want to add to the sentence, but also what effect you are trying to create.

Extra Reading in science