The Secret Life of Bees
One summer when I was about 5 or 6 years old, I obsessively collected bees. My favorites were bumblebees – fat, fuzzy, and all around adorable. I kept them in glass canning jars – one bee per jar – that had been filled with red clover and had air holes punched through the lids. I loved looking at them, watching them suck nectar from the clover, and buzzing around the jar. Sometimes I had pangs of conscience, watching them in their little glass prisons, and always let them go after a day or two of captivity. There were some casualties along the way for which I felt guilty, but my fascination with them was too strong to give up the collecting.
Bees are remarkable creatures. There are roughly 20,000 different species of bees, and many live in colonies with a highly structured division of labor. Bees pollinate flowers and crops, provide honey and beeswax, and their larvae is an important food source for some indigenous people. Bees can fly about 15 miles per hour, with about 200 wing beats per second (is that a good math problem in the making, or what?). Bees use intricate dances as a means of communicating cardinal directions and food locations to their hive mates, using the sun’s position as a guide. Their communication methods are sophisticated enough to even accommodate for the changing direction of the sun, as the bees adjust the angles of their dances to accurately pinpoint the sun’s location in relation to the food source. In my experience, students are always amazed at how “smart” the bees are, and that they’re capable of conveying such detailed information to each other.
There are plenty of enticing lesson opportunities involving bees, and a lot of great cross-curricular resources in the Gateway to choose from. Lessons for younger students may focus on bees’ role in pollination and their importance to crops, while older students begin to learn about bees’ complex social structure and how different “jobs” help the hive to survive. Older students can examine bees’ communication methods and the problem of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a mysterious condition where bees desert their hive and die. CCD has grown at an alarming rate over the past few years, and presents a very real threat to national food supplies across the globe. Below are three resources on different aspects of bees for various grade levels – please take a few minutes to explore them. Registered users of the Gateway can also add comments and any adaptations they’ve made to each lesson or activity. In her column, my colleague Peggy discusses lots of ideas for incorporating lessons and activities about bees into the curriculum (please see her column, linked below). , We’ll also be posting tons more lessons and other resources throughout the week on our Twitter and Facebook pages, so be sure to check those pages out. Enjoy!
In this lesson, students will identify three types of honeybees and their responsibilities inside the hive. They will also learn about the important role that honeybees play in our lives, and discover how these creatures communicate with each other. One of the things that I like about this lesson is that it’s a nice, well-rounded introduction to bees for younger students. In addition to learning about the waggle dance, division of labor, and the role bees play in our food production, the lesson also addresses bee anatomy and offers a few hands-on activities. This lesson was produced by the Entomology Department at Iowa State University, whose web site offers lots of insect information and lesson plans.
Cause and Effect Relationships - Silence of the Bees
Subjects: Writing; Biology, Entomology
Students watch two video segments in order to take notes and answer questions about the disappearance of bees across the United States. Using this information, students write an essay that synthesizes the cause and effect relationship the disappearance of bees will cause. One of the reasons that I highlighted this resource is because, in addition to addressing the real-world problem of Colony Collapse Disorder, this lesson also has students practice effective note-taking, a skill they’ll increasingly need in the future. The lesson also offers tips for students who may need additional support. This resource is a product of Teachers’ Domain, a free digital media service for educators from WGBH, the flagship PBS station in Boston.
Predators and Pollinators: Smells of Danger
Subjects: Biology, Entomology
Pollinator declines are a serious cause for concern the world over, as Colony Collapse Disorder has affected honeybees, and many species of native bees such as bumblebees have also been shown to be in decline. This lesson plan presents an idea for an experimental module that can be conducted by high school students over several months. After completion of the module, students will be able to discuss why pollinators are important, and factors behind their recent decline. There are so many things that I like about this lesson, especially the opportunity for students to participate in real world research. While this lesson might not be possible for some classes, it still presents many ideas that can be adapted as separate lessons or learning modules. This lesson was produced by Nieh Lab at the University of California, San Diego, which is part of the Biological Sciences Department. While Nieh Lab’s primary research focus is bees, they also aim to promote an interest in all aspects of science and research.