By Chris Freeman, Kellam High School, Virginia Beach City Public Schools


Kellam High School’s beekeeping project was previously profiled in a student authored article from May 2016’s GreenNotes.


In 2015, The Council of Educational Facility Planners International recognized Kellam High School as one of the top five new schools worldwide for innovative planning and architectural design. I teach AP Environmental Science and Oceanography at this wonderful school, and back before the school was built, my students worked with architects and engineers to help design some of the sustainable components of the building. I still get tingles thinking about being so involved in such an innovative design experience. However, it is now 2017, and with the start of this new school year I am most excited about stepping out of this extraordinary school building to design authentic field research opportunities for students in the outdoors.


With the help of Frank Walker, president of the Norfolk Beekeepers Association, we have created an on-site apiary at Kellam High School for hands-on learning and bee research. The goal of this apiary and this enriching partnership with the Norfolk Beekeepers Association is to create a hands-on educational experience and resources for students to learn about beekeeping, ecosystem management, biodiversity, crop pollination, farming, and honey production. This beekeeping program is called Pollen-Nation, and over the last three years we have worked to develop a queen bee rearing program. Students are involved in hands-on bioengineering with this queen rearing program, and the queen bees that students make are sold to local beekeepers through the Norfolk Beekeepers Association. This program helps local beekeepers recover from annual bee loss, and 100% of the proceeds go to a scholarship fund for Kellam students, so students can see the economic benefit of this STEM-based vocational experience.


This year, students will be conducting their own authentic research on our bees throughout the school year and developing their own investigative projects. They will do this with the help of remote hive monitoring equipment we purchased from a United Kingdom company, Arnia. We are now collecting data electronically on one of our Kellam beehives. Students access the account for our beehive data through Once students log on the site, they can look at a live feed of data from our hive that is updated every minute. With the click of a button, students can create graphs and examine change in hive weight, internal brood temperature, humidity, and even bee noise levels! The program allows students to overlay graphs for comparison, and students can export data to Excel for further graphic manipulation.


We have deciduous forests on both sides of our school’s 108 acres, and one section of forest abuts our apiary. Our bees help pollinate and forage the abundant maple and tulip poplar blooms. I wanted to help students look at the relationship between our forest growth rate and the amount of nectar bees bring into the hive. With our new hive monitoring equipment, we can collect hive weight data and monitor change by the minute, but we needed to identify a way to study the surrounding trees.


To open up opportunities for some students to examine how our school’s forests are growing, we needed to think about dendrochronology. Dendrochronology is the study of tree rings. By dating and studying a tree’s growth rings we can learn about the localized climatic and environmental conditions that contributed to the tree’s growth. To study trees in this way, we purchased increment borers, a specialized tool that can extract core samples from trees. The samples, once processed, can be analyzed by students to reveal information about the tree’s growth without harming the overall health of the tree. With the aid of our increment borers, students will have opportunities to expand their research by monitoring hive weight changes during different tree bloom dates and then core the trees to see if there is a correlation between a tree’s growth rate and its nectar yields.


source: Chris Freeman, Virginia Beach City Public Schools


Similarly, my oceanography classes will be getting out and conducting a long-term investigation studying plankton. The idea is to help students get outside and think like scientists. My big driving question is: how does seasonal temperature variability affect the amount and type of plankton in the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean? This question will be broken down by student groups who will be defining an issue of focus that they want to investigate under that larger topic. Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • “How might climate change affect the seasonal variety of plankton in the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay?”
  • “What season has the highest amount of plankton biodiversity?”
  • “What local variety of plankton is most tolerant of the cold?”
  • “How does the seasonal temperature change affect species evenness of plankton?”
  • “How does seasonal temperature change affect species richness of plankton?”
  • “How do seasonal temperature and turbidity changes correlate to abundance of plankton?


There is an abundance of regionally relevant questions that students can consider under the blanket of this driving question.


Students will process and analyze organisms collected from our plankton pulls and compare their findings to the data we collect on temperature, salinity, and turbidity. Hopefully, over time, trends will emerge from the relevant data and students will chart out their findings, compare results to related scientific research on plankton, and justify the local importance of their findings as it relates to the health of the Chesapeake Bay.


Our amazing school is a great place to teach and learn. However, during this school year, it is the outdoor lab and field experiments that have this teacher excited to head back to school. The 5 C’s (Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Cooperation, and Communication), the right tools, and our local environment will be the catalyst driving these students outside to brave the elements, battling ticks and mosquitoes, all while seeking to discover the untold stories of the world around us. I look forward to the start of this new school year, to the adventures that await, and to the opportunity of learning beside these young inquisitive minds.


Chris Freeman teaches AP Environmental Science and received a 2016 Presidential Award for Innovation in Environmental Education.

School phone: 757-648-5100