By. Brad James, Devon Rowley, and Scott Offord, Beepods
Keeping honey bees at school is very possible. Kip Jacobs shares his story of how he worked with Beepods to install a beekeeping system at his school and, as a result, has increased opportunities for educating his students and the community.
See Kip in action in this YouTube video.
“It’s not all about the honey, it’s all about the bees,” says Kenneth “Kip” Jacobs, a science teacher at the University School of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This is the biggest realization the students have when working with honey bees on their campus. “What we’re doing with it is to teach about the wonderful life-cycle of bees and how important they are to the ecosystem.”
The University School of Milwaukee states on its website that its curriculum “combines innovative approaches and entrepreneurial thinking with varied learning experiences to guide students of all ages to problem-solve and discover pragmatic solutions to real-world problems.” This philosophy is prevalent in Kip’s gardening and beekeeping program. This approach to education using greenspace and innovative tools to teach has emerged as one of the best ways to engage and ingrain skills and applied knowledge to help students learn about the world around them and how they can make their mark.
Along with Kip, educators around the U.S. are adopting colonies of bees, using the Beepods Beekeeping System to inspire their students to look at the world from a different perspective. Kip explains that it creates a “campus consciousness.” Along with the bees comes responsibility that builds a broader understanding the ecosystem as a whole.
Kip started his gardening program back in 2007, and he soon decided that the garden and campus community would benefit from having bees on-site. According to Kip, the school administration knew what he was trying to do. His strategy was to start from the ground up – building interest with other staff members. “Safety has got to be the biggest thing,” Kip said about having bees on the premises. He made a point of talking to the school nurse regarding the health and safety of the students, asking, “How many kids at this school out of the population have had an anaphylactic reaction to a bee sting?” That number, as far as the nurse knew, was zero.
Once he had a good base of support, Kip took his case to the administration. His gardening program was already a success, and so he was able to make a strong case that having a bee colony would only improve upon what he had built. It would improve pollination in the gardens at the school and create excitement and engagement. “To build any program like this, you have to take risks.” With the support of colleagues and administrators, a Beepods Beekeeping System and honey bees made their home at the University School.
Once the bees were in place, many of Kip’s fellow teachers were interested in coming to check them out. Kip said the first question that he asks these teachers is, “Have you ever been around bees?” Most answer with a yes, and so the next thing he asks is, “Have you ever been stung by a bee?” Again, most people say that they have, and he follows that up with, “Are you sure it was a bee?”
This is an important question to ask. Both bees and wasps are capable of stinging, but bees leave their stingers behind (along with part of their digestive tract) when they sting, and do not survive long after. Because of this, bees only sting when there is no other option – or, as Kip puts it, bees “are hive protectors…they are not the ambushing kind.” Wasps, on the other hand, are more aggressive and are usually the culprits of “bee” stings. It is important to Kip that people be educated about this key difference between bees and wasps, since many people extend their fear of wasps onto bees.
After one year, Kip could see the improvement in the quantity and quality of vegetables yielded from the gardens. Having a bee colony on-site has been an invaluable resource for the school. Not only does the colony pollinate the plants in the school’s garden, but it also serves as a great hands-on teaching tool for the students.
There was a buzz around the school. Kip noted there are always challenges in dealing with people. “You’re dealing with something that’s not easy for all people to like.” Kip uses this challenge to his advantage by teaching “listening, talking, and understanding,” which he says are “great skills to learn.” These skills are critical when teaching about bees, because, as discussed earlier, many people have a misplaced fear of bees due to not fully understand bees’ behavior (or “bee-havior,” if you will) and how that behavior differs from that of wasps.
Kip chose to go with the Beepods system because he likes how he can “go bar-by-bar, not top down” like in some other hives. He says that it is easier to take inventory and evaluate the hive with this kind of setup. He also enjoys the instructional videos that Beepods puts out to educate both Beepods members and people who are interested in beekeeping.
When teaching about bees, Kip likes to have students write down ten questions that they have about bees. He says that he wants them to think about “what I know, what I don’t know, and what I want to know.” Many kids come in and are excited about the honey. He wants his students to consider what the goals and objectives of the hive are, and that keeping bees is “not all about honey – it’s about the bees.” What he really wants the kids to take away from his program, though, is why bees are such an essential part of our environment. “A third of our fruits and vegetables are pollinated by bees. Almonds are exclusively pollinated by bees.” He is teaching kids how bees fit into the whole scope of the ecosystem, and that “they have a responsibility to be on this planet.”
What Kip likes to see is the kids getting interested in bees. He says that every year, around two to four students get really excited and want to help take care of the hive. As they get older and learn more, these kids become mentors to the younger students who want to learn more about bees, and pass on their excitement. With the younger students, Kip can design entire units dedicated to bees – not only their life-cycle, but also their behaviors, what we can learn from them, and why we should protect them.
At Nicolet High School, just down the road, Andi Winkle teamed up with the art department to install a Beepods system and bees. Here, students are creating their own projects that show partnership between the science students maintaining the hive and the art students using products from the hive to create art. Although the goals and objectives at Nicolet High School vary from Kip’s, educators are finding innovative ways to use bees to generate engagement with students and to teach cross-curricular skills.
The combination of classroom time, technology, and active interaction with bees has created an exciting topic for students to sink their teeth into and explore. As Kip noted, the bees serve as a great hands-on teaching tool for the students, which is far more exciting than learning about bees from a lecture. Being able to interact with the bees helps students to better understand bees’ behavior and learn not to fear them, as many of us have been taught to do.
To enhance the teaching possibilities offered by your school garden, think about keeping bees and the advantages in education and greenspace improvement that would be at your fingertips. Here are a couple things to remember when considering this project.
- Perform your due diligence and become a champion for the bees.
- Find advocates and understand the concerns.
- Take a risk and talk to administrators.
- Build a buzz and partner with other educators.
And lastly, do what Kip does with his students. Write down ten things you think you know about bees, ten things you do not know about bees, and ten things you would like to know about bees and share it with us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Create a campus consciousness and you can teach your students and colleagues the importance of honey bees to the ecosystem and generate some buzz in your community. If you are considering this as a project, please contact Beepods or Carolina Biological with any questions you may have.
About the Authors
Brad James is the CEO of Beepods and a speaker/business coach on sustainability and entrepreneurship. Before Beepods, Brad worked with a variety of startups and non-profits to create opportunities both commercial and philanthropic to bring them into viability. Now he prides himself on being one of the few people who can pull off wearing a suit and tie in the bee yard. Beepods offers data-backed sustainable beekeeping solutions to everyone from backyard hobbyists to county parks systems, schools, and large businesses. Through installations and training, Beepods is creating a network of sustainable beekeepers to create a world where pollinators thrive.
Devon Rowley has a background in technical writing in biological sciences and works with Beepods in content creation and technical writing for the Beepods.com blog and training materials. When she joined Beepods, Devon did not have a lot of experience with bees, but had a fascination with them and their impact on the world around us. In her spare time, she enjoys reading and spending time with her beloved cats.
As an entrepreneur, Scott Offord enjoys identifying and reaching new business markets, growing online communities, and partnering with business start-ups. His growing interest in honey bees and beekeeping led him into the development of data collection and visualization tools that beekeepers and educators can use to better understand the mysterious disappearance of honey bee colonies. Scott spends as much time as possible with his wife, baby girl, and Great Dane.