Save the Bees!

Group members: Helen Bailey, Sophia Reinach, Rikhav Shah, and Maddie Pelz

Audience: Children, 2nd and 3rd grade

Goals: To teach kids about why bees are important to us, the different threats that bees face, and what they can do to support their survival.

Technique: Participatory game

Data set: USDA Honey Bee Colony Data (2015 & 2016)

Our group was worried about the statistics concerning the threats that bee colonies in the US are facing. Between 2015 and 2016, the number of colonies affected by mites, viruses, and pesticides has increased dramatically. Thinking about that, we imagined that we should do something to raise awareness in the new generations about the importance of the bees and with that invest in a future new perspective. That’s the reason that we chose to work with children.

Considering this audience and the goal, we imagined that it would be important to teach through a ludic environment and there is nothing better than a game to engage kids in a theme. Considering that the concepts that we were talking about have some complexity, we realized that we had to prepare a game for kids that would help them to understand them and for this reason we decided to work with kids from the 2nd and 3rd grade. To engage kids of this age, we imagined that a game in which they could have clear goals while running through a defined space could be a good strategy. For this reason, we prepared the game with the following structure:

And the instructions were:

“Back here are two parts of a flower – in this part [purple balls] there is nectar that bees collect to make food for their families and that you need to bring back to your hive on your way across to the other flowers and trees. Bees need nectar so don’t forget to bring this to your hive to help feed your bee family.

In this part [yellow balls] there is pollen, which gets attached to the bee while they’re visiting flowers. Pollen is what you need to bring across to the flowers and trees across the room. This is one of the ways that bees help us – by bringing pollen to fruit trees and flowers, they help all of our favorite fruits and vegetables grow.

Remember, you can’t bring the yellow and green pollen to the flowers and trees unless you first drop off a red or pink nectar to the hive.” 

This was the basic instruction. But to demonstrate the growing impact of pesticides, diseases and mites, we made it into two rounds.  

“First round:

In this round, there will be one person who will pretend to be a ‘pesticide,’ which is something that gets sprayed on plants and can hurt bees if they eat it. The person who is the pesticide will try to tag the bees between the first flower and the hive to keep them from delivering the nectar to the hive. If you’re a bee and you get tagged by the pesticide, you need to freeze where you’re standing and count to 10 before you can go back to helping gather pollen.

Second round:

The first round represented what it was like for bees last year, but this round is going to show what it’s like for bees today. Now there are even more pesticides, and other things that can harm bees like viruses and mites.

This time, there will be someone being a pesticide again, but there will also be someone who is a mite, and someone that is a virus. Those three people will be trying to tag the bees as they try to get the pollen and the nectar to the right places. If you’re a bee and you get tagged, you’ve been slowed down by the pesticides, mites, or virus, and you have to freeze and count to 10 before you can start helping carry pollen and nectar again. You’ll have the same amount of time for this round as you did for the first round, and we’ll compare how much pollen you were able to deliver to the flower.”

We decided to grow from one kid to three considering the proportional increase of this harms in the dataset from 2016 to 2017 (about 30%). And, considering that the game would be applied to 8 kids, we imagined that these quantities would also be adequate for the dynamic of the game.

To evaluate what the kids learned with the game and the effectiveness of it, we had two talks with them: one in the beginning and one at the end of the games. The questions were:


  • What do you know about bees?
  • Are bees scary or nice?
  • What are bees important for?
  • What do bees help us with?

During the game presentation:

Do you know that pesticides are?

Have you heard of a parasite?

What about a virus?


Which bucket has more balls?

Which game was easier?

What things did you learn about that are hurting the bees?

How can we help the bees?

Following the post-game discussion/debrief, we gave each student a seed packet containing seeds to grow flowers that support bee health to take home. We hoped that by giving them something to take home they could continue the conversation with their parents and be able to really do something to help support bees.


We applied the game with a group of 8 kids from 2nd and 3rd grade in an afterschool program at Somerville on May 15th, 2018.

The first time we ran the game with kids was really encouraging, and we got some great results. The kids had fun and learned a lot about bees even within a short game context. This can be seen in their answers to the pre- and post-game questions below. We also asked them if they had suggestions to improve the game and there were few ideas, but overall they liked the dynamic of the game, and even asked to play another round after we were done with the two structured rounds.

We received the following message from the coordinator of the program, which for us means a lot that we provided a good experience for them: “[The bee game] was terrific and the kids got so much out of it!


Appendix: Pre and Post Survey/Interviews:


1)What do you know about bees?

They sting people

My Grandpa keeps bees

There is a movie about bees

There are lots of different kinds:

          Yellow jackets

          Bubble bees


2)Are bees scary or nice?

They are both nice and not nice

They’re nice when you don’t bother them

They’re not nice when you go into their hive

          Grandpa has gone into the hive but he wears the clothes

After they sting you they die

They’re medium between nice and scary

They’re scary

Are wasps the same as bees?

Told us stories about them getting stung


3)What are bees important for?



Spreads pollen from one place to another

Helping us breathe because of trees


4)What do bees help us with?

Helps us survive

Carry the pollen away from people with allergies

Some bees will try to kill you

Game demonstration:

1)Do you know that pesticides are?

They’re weird people

They’re people who collect honey

Why would someone use pesticides? [good question!]

What bugs eat plants



          Cockroaches eat?!


2)Have you heard of a parasite?

It could look like a green slimy thing

Mite sounds like mce


3)What about a virus?

A person has it and becomes sick

It’s a cold kind of


1)Which bucket has more balls? (from the first round compared to the second)

The first bucket from when there was only one pesticide


2)Which game was easier?

Most said first game

Second one was harder bc there were more people tagging us


3)What things did you learn about that are hurting the bees?

Bees are going extinct

It’s hard for the bees to survive

The bees might go extinct

They are facing dangers

There is a spray paint thing which hurts them

Viruses can make both people and bees sick

Honey and pollinating

Bananas are a fruit I think


4)How can we help the bees?

Can give them more flowers

Take them up and kiss them

Don’t attack them

Don’t use pesticides

Put up signs where there are pesticides [another kid said ‘I don’t think they’ll know what that means’]

Suggestions for making the game more fun

Make everybody a pesticide

Make everyone both a bee and pesticide

Have someone be another character to help the bees to free them after they are tagged [good one that we had actually considered but we were afraid that would be too complicated especially with just 8 kids]

One bee will help the other bees

Building back Somerville’s urban forest – Impact

Our goal was to get people to reflect on what trees mean to them to personalize the issue that we are presenting. We wanted to encourage people to reach out to the Urban Forestry Department to request a tree in their neighborhood.

Our audience was Somerville residents, as well as others who work, shop, visit, use public services in the city. We were focusing on pedestrians, as they are better able to engage with participatory sculpture.  In order to capture a range of Union Square visitors and capitalize on foot traffic, we exhibited the tree during Porchfest.

Approximately 100 people stopped to read the facts or read the sign on the tree skeleton. Initially, we allowed pedestrians to ask us what we were doing, but after a while, we asked them if they wanted to participate when they stopped to read.

At the same time, approximately 30 people just read the facts and kept walking, engaging with the project at a lower level of reading. While they did not reach the stage of hearing about the Urban Forestry Department, we heard several who began a conversation about trees after walking by. Finally, 32 people filled out leaves and added them to the tree.

Among those who stopped and participated, we asked if they had heard about the Urban Forestry Department and if they knew about the call-line. Only five people had heard about the Urban Forestry Department, and no one knew about the call line.

We found that most people relied on us to invite them to participate and walk them through the activity. A couple people stopped to ask us what we were doing or if they could participate, but no one asked for a bookmark (even though that was included in the instructions on the poster and available with markers on the tree). This suggests that we would likely need to rethink the design of the invitation/instructions if we wanted this to be an unsupervised sculpture.

Team: Yihang Sui, Scott Gilman, Haley Claire, Jay Dev, and Marc Exposito.

Building back Somerville’s urban forest – Methodology

We decided to create a new project to engage members of the community in an urban issue, rather than iterating on a previous idea. We wanted to portray the importance of trees by telling a story of the absence of one; specifically, creating shade in a place without trees on a sunny day with help from the community.

For that, we decided to create the chalk outline of a shadow to show the full potential of tree shades, and provide further benefits of urban trees within the shadow. We brainstormed two local calls to action to get residents invested in their local trees- petition to create an adopt-a-tree program (which has proven effective in other places), and directing people to contact the city’s Urban Forestry Department. We settled on the second idea as it better flowed within the narrative arc.

We identified locations where more trees could be planted as well as collecting facts about the impacts of trees in the city, using the following data sources:

Identification of location in Somerville: Link
Pollutant removal: Link
Peak temperatures: Link
CO2 absorption: Link

We created the skeleton of a tree from a tomato cage and wooden dowels (to simulate leaves), which was “planted” in a bucket of dirt.

We had participants choose between several different prompts (listed below), which were written on leaves, and then attach them to the skeleton using ornament hooks:

1. Draw your favorite tree

2. If you could plant a tree anywhere, where would you plant it?

3. Tell us a story about your favorite tree


Also, attached to the skeleton was a small poster which prompted passersby to “Help us build back Somerville’s Urban Forest,” with instructions on what to do.

We also created bookmarks in the shape of trees with our tree facts on one side and the phone number and email of Somerville’s Urban Forestry Department on the other.

This bookmark has three goals: 1) Give instant reward to participants, 2) Engage participants into taking action, and 3) Spread the word (other people will wonder where that bookmark comes from)

Finally, when we arrived at our site, we used sidewalk chalk to draw a hypothetical shadow around the tree skeleton and added several key facts in different colors (with the key statistic written in a brighter color than the rest of the fact)


Team: Yihang Sui, Scott Gilman, Haley Claire, Jay Dev, and Marc Exposito.

Adventures of a Frequent Flyer – Impact

Trucking bees all over the country is a powerful image. Most people don’t realize what happens behind the scenes to produce the food they eat every day. During this class we have enjoyed exploring datasets and finding creative ways to turn csv’s into narratives that stick in people’s heads. We were drawn to study bees because of the strong narrative that has been in press in recent years that has made many people vaguely aware of the importance of bees in agriculture. We used the prior press coverage as our hook to draw in people to learn more specifics about how bees travel across the country every year to pollinate everyone’s favorite fruits.

There are significant network effects in fruit production because bee colonies need to remain healthy throughout their interstate journey. Dangers in one state directly influence crop yields in others, with strong effects cascading across the country from Florida to South Dakota. Massachusetts is one of many stops that bees make, so local citizens should recognize their important role in protecting bees locally to facilitate nationwide fruit production. Despite proposed legislation to protect pollinators, few people are aware of the gravity of the issue. In the previous sketches in the course, our group enjoyed creating interactive games because of how fun and memorable they can be. Combining these themes, we created Adventures of a Frequent Flyer to tell the story of migratory bees and rally support for societally beneficial legislation to protect pollinators both locally and nationally.

Our audience is visitors of a famers’ market. These are people who value fresh fruits and are interested to engage with the people who produce them. People are often less rushed in a farmers’ market than a supermarket, making them more likely to wander around and more receptive to learn about new things. While testing our prototype to the desired audience, we noticed a large number of people walking around the booths. We brought a large whiteboard to the market with a collection of fruit stickers taped on in a grid-like pattern, brightly decorated to attract attention. Visitors were first introduced to the context of the game. We explained how commercial beekeepers manage their bees and their importance to fruit production. We prompted the user to choose a favorite fruit, engaging them by personalizing the discussion. Users then traced a typical path that bees would be traveling to pollenate a series of crops, ultimately reaching their destination where their favorite fruit is grown. In addition to highlighting the often-complicated paths bees are traveling, along the way we highlighted the level of regulatory protection each state has related to protecting pollinators.

We found that the game caused users to empathize with bee keepers and personify the bees. One person exclaimed, “if I was a beekeeper, I would keep my colony safe!” After speaking with our group and completing the activity, 100% of the users we surveyed reported that they had learned something new about the issue and were amenable to support bee protection laws in the future. Our goal was to inform and empower people to make changes in their living and voting habits to support the bees that help produce the fruits in our grocery baskets. Many users started our activity saying, “I had no idea bees were moved around like this!” The same people would leave our farmers’ market stand saying, “this is really informational, I learned a lot here.” Supporting pollinators is a big challenge, but progress has to start somewhere. Engaging participatory games that reinforce a data-driven narrative felt like the right way to introduce the discussion!