Montana Cafés Accessible in Rural Areas

Alex McMenamin
Montana State University Extended University
Montana Teen Science Café


In May of 2016, Alex McMenamin, a second  year doctoral student with Montana State University’s Molecular BioSciences Program presented his work on viruses and pathogens that have been associated with the decrease in honeybees populations around the world to the Montana Teen Science Café program hosted by the Montana State University Extended University.


“These viruses were only recently discovered, so we think it’s important to understand whether they’re having an impact on colony health,” said McMenamin. “Part of that is understanding the viruses themselves.”

This fall, Alex re-recorded his presentation to share with teens around the very large state (ranked 4th in size geographically), and created a hands-on activity that can be used with his presentation.

The Montana Teen Science Café hosted by MSU Extended University have been coming up with ways to be creative about how they can reach more teens. Alex video has been very helpful in attaining this goal. “It was really a great experience! And I’m thrilled that more people will be able to learn about this topic that is so globally important” Alex told the Teen Science Café Network. We have included a copy of the video below and the hands-on activity in this link: ColonyCollapse_IoE
You can read the news article from Montana State University’s News Service on Alex McMenamin’s work here.


Alex also wanted to share an article he co-authored this past summer titled “The Buzz About Honey Bee Viruses” which was an invited review for PLoS Pathogens for their “PLoS Pearls” series.


Hands on Activity


In this lesson, students will learn about bee colony collapse disorder (CCD) by watching a recorded talk by MSU graduate student Alex McMenamin and following along with a hands-on colony collapse activity. Students will use critical thinking skills to learn about the causes of colony collapse.


Honey bees are the primary pollinator of the United States’ food supply, and many Montana beekeepers transport their bees throughout the U.S. to pollinate crops such as almonds. Honey bees live in large family groups called colonies. When these colonies get sick, they can die, or “collapse.” Unfortunately, nearly 30% of colonies collapse each winter in the U.S.


Bees face many of the same stressors that humans do. Like people, sometimes these stressors become too much and this is often when there are multiple stressors present.

Different colonies can be faced with the same stressors but have different health outcomes. One may become sick, one may be perfectly healthy, and another may die. (This simulated in the hands-on activity. Even though each group moves the same blocks, some colonies (towers) collapse before others. Some reasons include:

  •  There is variation in how hard stressors might push on a colony. Each stressor lies on a spectrum from “not very bad” (like a common cold) to “lethal” (think being hit by a train).
  • The colonies have different genetics, which results in different responses to stressors
  • Randomness. This might be hard to understand, but for reasons we can’t explain, colonies can react differently to the same stressors, resulting in different health outcomes.


  • Jenga game (one per group of four). Educators may improvise with other stacking objects; we recommend practicing to determine the right number of objects. Ideally, some towers will collapse and others won’t.
  • MS PowerPoint and projector


Divide the class into groups (ideally 3-4 groups). Each group gets one Jenga tower. This represents your colony.
Watch the Teen Science Cafe talk by Alex McMenamin called “What Makes Bees Sick?” (

Throughout the talk, Alex will introduce various stressors, which are factors that can make a colony sick. As each new stressor is introduced, students move the designated number of blocks to the top of their tower. More blocks = more stress. For each stressor, students must remove blocks front he same side of the tower. When a tower falls, your colony has collapsed. Some colonies may collapse; some may not. Discuss what made each colony collapse.