Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Bees are dying, why should we care? Learning in a multi-aged learning community in New Zealand. Tara O'Neill

Bees are dying, why should we care?  This was the question posed in the Early Years Learning Community last term.  This community from Te Karaka Area School has 60 students ranging from Year 1 to Year 5.  We are 97% Maori.  Three teachers were involved one afternoon a week for one term.   We all learnt together as a group. No separation of ages. The topic became integrated throughout the day in reading, writing and math as the rest of our teaching team picked up on the student’s enthusiasm.  Bee Fever spread like wild fire!

Firstly we engaged with the topic – Bees.  Many of the students were interested straight away as bees fascinated them.  For others their interest took longer. 
Then we started to explore.  There were four stations.  Common known information was made available to the students.  This was done in an investigatory way.   1.  A critical honey tasting experiment.  2.  Labeling parts of a bee   3.  Watching a New Zealand Documentary called The Plight of the Bee.  Discussing ideas.
4.  Dissecting flowers to find the pollen.  

A Bee a Questioner sheet went on the wall and students could write their questions up at any time during the day.

Our investigation led us to find out why the bee was in danger.  Firstly we skyped “The Bee Lady” from Auckland, and the students had a very engaged time asking her questions.  Secondly we invited a local Bee Keeper.  He told us a lot about what was involved with bee keeping. 

One of the hooks, which got the students interested, was the thought of having our own Bee Hive.  Would it bee possible? 

We hoped so.  Maybe having a beehive will help save the bees?

The next stage of our inquiry was a team effort to investigate and learn more about bees but most importantly to engage with real life communities and activities, each student passionate about their choice of project.

There were 14 to choose from, here are some of them:

Bee a Carpenter – they ordered and made some bee frames and organized for every one in the class to have a go.
Bee an Author – they made a book about bees to share with the local pre-school.
Bee a Chemist – they found out how to make Lip Balm, including a local business lady from Manatuke Herbs coming in and showing them some of her secrets. 
Bee a Fundraiser - this group were in charge of raising enough money for some Bee Suits.  They choose to do a sausage sizzle.
Bee an Athlete – this group invented three bee games for the class to play outside.  Bee, Bee, Wasp was one of the favourites. 
Bee a Bee Feeder – this group researched what plants bees like and planted some in a bathtub.
Bee an Artist - they made paper mache beehives.
Bee a Photographer – they took the photos to record our journey.
Bee a Media Officer – they wrote the letters to do with setting up a beehive, talk to the media.
These groups were a big hit and the engagement and enthusiasm went through the roof.  It was really important to trust the learners to learn.  Not to over manage but to allow the journey to unfold.

We now have bee frames ready, yellow bee suits and wax sheets waiting for the arrival of our first beehive.   We plan to have our own label “Sticky Fingers” which we will sell honey and lip balm and other products under.  More importantly, we hope to be part of the solution to help safe bees into the future.

So, Bees are dying, do we care?   The overwhelming answer is Yes.  We realize that bees are part of our environment, a part we can’t do without.  Bees are totally amazing and it is up to us to save them. 

Here are some ideas that helped our learning.

Ako -  tuakana/teina – Younger and older learning together.  From Ka Hikitia “Ako is a dynamic form of learning where the educator and the student learn from each other and in an interactive way.  Ako is grounded in the principle of reciprocity and recognizes that the student and whanau cannot be separated”.
Click here for link .    Our students thrive learning in this environment.  Learning and teaching at the same time.  Teachers learning from students and vice versa.  Students sharing with parents. 

Some principles found in   Key Competencies for the Future, by Rosemary Hipkins, Rachel Bolstad, Sally Boyd, and Sue McDowall, describe what we did well.  This is a practical new book outlining how to bring the future into our present. It suggests the following next steps build capabilities to work with diverse others and ideas.

1.    Teachers helped students access the existing established knowledge as and when it was needed to help solve their shared problem.  The students didn’t have to spend long amounts of time finding already existing knowledge, they could spend time on thinking about the why.  Why should we care?  How will not having bees impact our future?  How does this relate to my whanau, my iwi and my community?
2.    Students were grouped for diversity.  Our learning community includes 5 year olds to 11 year olds and adults learning together.

3.    We provided opportunities for collective knowledge building.  We let our ideas emerge as a group.  They belonged to the group.

4.    We supported students to build knowledge and capabilities, through participating and contributing, relating to others, and managing themselves in a real community.  The Bee community is a vital group of people who have views on the environment and business.  Our continued involvement with this community will go into the future.

5.    There was space for a variety of viewpoints to be heard.  Most of our community are not aware of any problems bees have and many thought working with bees very dangerous.   How we discussed these views allowed students to see difference and similarity.  Our visitors also had very specific views on bees and the environment.  Some students were fortunate to hear Professor Garin Smith visiting from America who was very involved with bees and the military.  That made us think!
6.    We provided opportunities for students to work with others.  Including Bee professionals, parents, teachers and books.
7.    Provided opportunities for diverse ideas to emerge and collide.  The idea that if bees are directly involved with pollination of 70 out of 100 human food crops and they die how will we survive on 30 crops? The idea of timing, how we feel like we are okay at the moment.  The Varroa Mite, Colony Collapse Disorder.  Big problems, which collide with our everyday life.
8.    There will be opportunities to revisit ideas in the future.  In September our new bees will arrive.   The students will have turns to put on the yellow bee suits and have a go at being Bee Keepers.  We will continue to develop deeper thinking into the many issues bees bring to our daily lives.

As I watch our learners now, I see the progress they have made in being self -managing learners with an ability to learn and teach alongside others, to co-create information and to be passionate advocates for the environment.   This type of learning is dynamic, exciting and meaningful for both the teacher and the student.  I hope this provides a picture of what learning can look like in a multi-age learning community in New Zealand.

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