By Brier Cook
They say that learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.
Dr. Myron Smith, professor in Carleton’s Department of Biology, is no stranger to helping students apply theory and academic content to real-world encounters.
Smith and his team do a part of their research in the Biology Teaching and Research Garden on campus where they complete experiments and explore small-scale agriculture. While Smith’s research specialty is microbial genetics, his background in sustainable food production has prompted him to teach his students about different types of sustainable systems.
“These are systems we need to really be thinking about,” said Smith. “Trying new things out and implementing change in that area is really big. There’s a whole horizon of potential to take agricultural systems into new areas and innovate.”
And then there’s the bees. Honey bees are some of the most important pollinators of food crops in the world. Around one-third of all food humans consume relies on pollination from bees.
Smith has been beekeeping and using bees as part of live demonstrations for nearly eight years in his ecology, biotechnology, and entomology courses, as well as in the greater community.
“There are a lot of parallels between bees and humans,” said Smith. “They’re very enjoyable to work with.”
Smith explained that working with organisms was something that excited him about the field of biology originally. He wants to help foster that love for nurturing other species in others while teaching students that there’s room for innovation in the sector.
“Unless you've had that experience with, say, working with chickens or working with goats or something similar, you don't really know how therapeutic it is, and whether that's the thing that makes you feel like you belong,” said Smith. “It makes for a feeling of usefulness and can really improve your mental well-being.”
Smith described that sustainable food production is also a viable career path. He hopes Carleton students continue to seek opportunities in the field.
Bringing Experiential Learning to Ottawa’s Elementary Schools
The Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) contacted Smith to talk about pollination to elementary school students back in April.
Tara Potter, a learning technologies consultant with the OCSB, saw the opportunity to incorporate Smith’s subject matter expertise into the board-wide session on pollinators. She emphasized that her team chose this unit because it modelled what it means to be a good steward of the environment for students.
Three thousand students in 113 elementary classrooms attended a virtual session on pollinators with Smith. Many students and teachers alike expressed that it was the highlight of their Earth month festivities.
“It was a really neat idea to interest kids using a game platform and to learn about real food production, beautiful plants, gardens, and useful outcomes in the real world,” said Smith.
The OCSB used Minecraft for Education to build pollinator gardens as a planning tool for physical gardens that students later planted with their classes. Potter said it was a great digital learning tool to use, as kids already know and love the Minecraft platform. She explained that virtual platforms have permitted students to be able to leverage technology at a young age while keeping them engaged in the virtual classroom.
“Connecting learning to real life things that are outside of the classroom sticks for students,” Potter said. “We’ve learned that those kinds of experiences are the things that are going to keep students in school. It teaches them to be active participants in their own communities as well.”
“Oftentimes, my students will mention that they loved to garden when they were younger. Or they learned about bees and animals from a book that they read as a kid,” said Smith. “So these things are really important.”
You can help Carleton students explore sustainable food production, medicinal plants, concepts in urban farming and other topics in applied life science and ecology by donating to the Support the Bees Fund today.
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