Fascinating but often feared, bees have become an important part of fifth grade science over the past four years. Throughout the year, the familiar insects are the subject of study for each of the three sections of Grade 5 science and through the curriculum, students gain both scientific knowledge as well as experience at beekeeping by working with Brookwood’s hives.
“I was always fascinated by bees and wondered if building and maintaining hives would fit the goals of a robust STEM curriculum,” says Dr. Henry Oettinger, Grade 5 science teacher. “Now in our fourth year, I am happy to report it has become a key unit in fifth grade science, and we harvested our first significant batch of Brookwood Bee Honey in the summer of 2015!
According to Henry, Brookwood’s Beekeeping Unit is designed to utilize a single, practical, and effective biological niche (the hive) to connect students to the world around them. The bee study he has designed seeks to accomplish the following:
- Get students outdoors
- Expand respect for nature
- Wonder at honey making process
- Overcome fear of insects
- Appreciate the role of biological habitats
- Understand how bees help world agriculture
- Become aware of colony collapse disorder and learn ways we can help restore the bee population
- In conjunction with Chef Chris, prepare recipes using honey
- Share our knowledge and excitement about bees with the community
While these goals remain the same for each of the three sections, some of the content changes from one term to the next due to the change in seasons. “In the fall students harvest honey, during the winter they build hive boxes, and in the spring they install new queens, for example.” Learning about apiary fundamentals is key.
Students learn about the types of bees, hive organization, how bees forage, how bees make honey, as well as practical skills such as smoking the hive, inspecting the frames, finding the queen, gathering honey, and so on.
Overcoming a fear of the insects is a natural challenge for some students, but Henry says most of them are curious and a bit excited. “Occasionally some are afraid, but they learn that when properly protected with a bee suit, there is little or no chance they will be stung!”
And the honey! Henry says it is “by far the best part” of the coursework and is frequently accompanied by “can we taste some?” The Brookwood bees produced 36 jars of honey this year, and it will be used primarily by Chef Chris for a “day of honey-specific recipes for the whole school to enjoy.”
He adds that this delicious side benefit should continue in the years to come. “As long as our bees remain healthy, we should get a harvest each spring and late summer,” Henry says.