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The Not-So-Secret Life of Bees: Bustling Hive in Library Fascinates Students

Friday, December 4, 2015

“Mrs. Falvey, are there bees flying around the library?!”

This was the urgent question on many students’ lips when they learned that Heathwood Hall is hosting a teaching hive from The Bee Cause.  And while it is true that on any given day there are thousands of bees in Heathwood’s library, visitors would probably never notice them unless they know where to look: tucked into the back wall in their special glass-fronted hive, and usually covered by a beautiful “bee blanket” made by art teacher Kelley Cooper (bees like the dark—it makes them feel safe).

The hive is part of a special outreach initiative by the Bee Cause Project, whose mission is to “stimulate curiosity in young people about the importance of honey bees in our lives and the need to understand and embrace them and to care about their well-being through the installation of bee hives in 1,000 schools.” Heathwood Hall is the first school in Columbia to host a hive.

Since its installation last spring, Heathwood’s hive has certainly stimulated curiosity about bees. Watching the bees as they go about their business of hive construction, honey making, and caring for their queen is mesmerizing. As Lower School librarian Jennifer Falvey puts it, “They are mesmerizing to watch. And students are also amazed to find out that the spoonful of honey on their oatmeal is the work of thousands of bees.”

Students have also been surprised to learn that bees pollenate as much as 80% of our food. “Sometimes students will say, ‘I don’t like bees!’” Falvey reports, “and I’ll say, ‘Well, do you like peaches? Then you like bees!’ Making that connection is a tangible way for students to see science in action and explore the interdependence we have with the natural world.”  Even the recent floods have had a noticeable impact on the hive, helping students understand the impact a disaster can have on the natural world, as the bees have struggled to find enough food in the flood-damaged fields around Heathwood.

The idea of bringing a hive to Heathwood came from EC4s teacher Molly Roddey, who had initially planned to install a hive in her classroom but realized the bees would be more accessible to the whole Heathwood community if they were housed in the library. “We are trying to inspire dispositions of just innate curiosity,” says Roddey. “We want students to be curious about things that will impact them forever, so the hive is just a good hands-on experience.”

One way students are gaining that interactive experience is by tracking the health and well-being of the colony’s queen bee.  Classes visiting the library like to look for the queen and record their observations in the “bee log.” The students know this is an important task, Falvey says, because “without the queen, the colony would leave.”

Last spring the colony—well, half of it—did just that. When the population of the hive reached about 10,000 bees, the queen signaled for an exodus.  She took half of the hive with her to start a new colony, and a new queen was born in the library hive.  While students were sorry to see the old queen go, they had fun watching for the new queen and seeing the growth of the next generation of bees. 

Like their now-departed hive-mates, the bees in the Heathwood colony can come and go from the hive through a tube that allows them egress to the outdoors, where they collect the nectar that is turned into honey upon their return. It takes nectar from about 3,000 flowers to make just one teaspoon of honey—which is just one of quite a few facts about bees that many Heathwood students can now share, along with such facts as that most of the time when a person gets stung, it is by a ground wasp such as a yellow-jacket, rather than a bee.

Becoming experts on bees is just one example of Heathwood Hall’s approach to inquiry-based learning.  “Visitors are often surprised to find a bee hive in the library,” Falvey says, “but it is a great microcosm of the way we approach learning here at Heathwood, combining student-driven inquiry, real-world research, and stewardship of the Earth.”

And maybe, if we play our cards right, we’ll have our own supply of fresh honey!

 

You can learn more about the Bee Cause, a project of the Savannah Bee Company, at http://www.thebeecause.org/.

You can read a May, 2015 article in The State about Heathwood’s hive athttp://www.thestate.com/news/local/article21128919.html