Bees making the grade

Steinbeis promotes project-oriented learning

For many people, “bee” is an emotionally charged word – either conjuring up images of an idyllic countryside, the sweetness of honey and the delicate scent of beeswax, or alluding to a source of fear and painful stings. After cows and pigs, bees are the third most important domesticated animals. Not because of their honey, but rather for their function as pollinators: apples, cherries, cucumbers and many other crops depend on pollinating insects. And even better, these social creatures offer a lot of insights into peaceful coexistence. The Friedrich Wöhler Grammar School (FWG) in Singen realized this early on and initiated a program with a local beekeeper. For five years now, school children have been taking care of their own bees as a part of this program, which is supported by Steinbeis.

The educators in Singen aren’t the only ones who have recognized the pedagogic potential of bee breeding. "School with Bees" was the name of a Germany-wide conference at which Bettina Laurer, project director of Bienen AG at the FWG, first came into contact with other bee breeding schools. All of the participants felt convinced that there was much to be learned with and from these insects, and that a bee-inspired code of conduct should be adopted as a rule rather than as an exception in schools. Why? As pets, bees can be monitored and observed easily for analysis. The entire bee colony structure can be examined without having to destroy it first. At the same time, honeybees have retained characteristics of wild animals – they wouldn’t be dependent on human intervention if not for varroa parasites. That’s what makes them an interesting source of educational activities involving cognitive, emotional and tactile skills.

Together with Bettina Laurer, Horst Scheu, principal of the FWG and director of The Steinbeis Transfer Center for Didactics of Technology and Interdisciplinary Natural Sciences, wanted to demonstrate the variety of uses for bees and bee products to school children. The same variety is found in the bee-related topics now being integrated into school lessons. Honey, propolis and royal jelly, for example, have great medical potential. Due to its antibiotic properties, propolis was used in microbiological testing in the FWG’s own school laboratory. By analyzing the pollen in honey under a microscope, school children are able to see the intense integration of the bee colony in its environment. The social aspects of bee colonies become clear when they take a look at the structure of a beehive through bee display cases. Even business principles can be integrated by way of school honey farms organized as student-run cooperatives.

Through its educational work, the project group at the FWG hopes to make a contribution by adding a splash of color to the landscape where the bees normally flourish. They plan to introduce nectar-producing flowers into predominantly green patches of land currently overrun by corn crops, which can cover up to 80% of usable land. This is crucial since these plants provide the basis of existence for all pollinating insects. It would be an opportunity for cooperative work with farmers and communes that would give school children a chance to see concrete results. Projects could range from planting ordinary cup plants as an energy-generating alternative to corn, to creating green buffer strips or wild flower patches in parks.

Steinbeis is a supporter of the core subject programs for natural sciences and technology at the Friedrich Wöhler Grammar School, home of extremely modern scientific workshop spaces, a natural sciences library and a school laboratory. The program gives school children the chance to learn in a hands-on, project-oriented way at school, while supplementing the school’s natural sciences and technology curriculum.

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