Kinders Count…Bees!

As I begin to write this post, I am filled again with the excitement I felt while attending the School Gardeners’ Southwest Desert Almanac conference in Arizona last week. A small but mighty group convened for 2.5 days at the Desert Botanical Garden and Manzo Elementary School in Tucson to share ideas and inspiration as part of the first National Science Foundation-funded effort of this kind.

As a participant, I was invited to lead a lesson demonstration. To complement the themes of the conference–designing for science teaching, place-based pedagogy, traditional ecological knowledge, and culturally responsive teaching–I shared the lesson that kindergarten teachers, researchers, and I developed over five years of implementing pollinator study at Pueblo Vista Magnet School.

A little over a decade ago, there wasn’t much buzz about bees. Then, in 2006, unprecedented honey bee losses spurred scientific interest in insect pollination. During the Obama administration, pollinator health became a national priority, in part, because of the enormous impact pollinators have on agriculture. The US Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that nearly 250,000 flowering plants rely on pollinators, including many commercially produced edible crops. Now, “save the bee” facts and figures are ubiquitous; even morning cereal boxes espouse a pro-pollinator stance. 

Image result for cheerios box disappearing bee"

To engage kindergarteners in local, place-based investigation of bees, we ground the investigation in a real-life phenomenon: What kind of bees are in our school garden? Students first learn a little about different kinds of bees (including native bees) and their habitats. We focus on bee anatomy (e.g., what makes a bee a bee?) so that students are able to identify a bee and distinguish it from other flying insects. Students observe real (no longer living) bees close up (under a microscope) and sketch their body parts.

How can you differentiate a bee from a fly?
A bee has six legs, five yes, four wings, three body parts, two antennae and one stinger.

To prepare to observe real (live) bees in the garden, we pose the question, What kinds of flower attract bees? We model the practice of observing bee flower visits using a puppet named Buzzy and a fake flower in the classroom. We carefully scaffold students’ ability to notice when a bee lands on a flower in a specific location, count, and record that as data.

Finally, students are ready to count their bees outside. We’ve found that the best way to facilitate attention to accurate data collection with children this young is to guide them in small groups to practice. We use independent garden stations, procedures for which are taught throughout the school year, so that the teacher can monitor the bee counting station until students no longer need guidance. Independent stations include: bee sketching, beekeeper dramatic play, pollinator tic-tac-toe, sweeping, and digging, among others.

As a culminating experience, students present their learning at the school wide Pollinator Showcase, which invites community members to hear from the youngest bee experts in town. Over the years, beekeepers, flower ecologists, and farmers alike have all been impressed with the knowledge that students share, reinforcing our notion that kinders count…bees!

Special thanks to the kindergarten teachers at Pueblo Vista Environmental Science/Dual Immersion Magnet School in Napa for continuing to improve your practice. Shout out to Miss R. for her expert design of the garden stations. 😉

To read more about pollinator study, read Planning for Pollinators, Embracing a Place-Based Approach, and On Monarchs and Milkweed.

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