Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Scout Bees

Confession: The title is misleading because this post has absolutely nothing to do with scout bees. I was just looking for something snappy.

This evening, I was invited to talk to the local STEM scouts about bees/beekeeping. (Hey, Bee Scouts would have been a totally "punny," title, too, but since the STEM scouts are co-ed, my literal brain just couldn't process that). It was a blast! If you're a beekeeper and ever have a chance to talk about bees with kids, I highly recommend jumping at the chance. Kids are so much fun, and they have the best questions. Besides, if you can get a kid interested in bees or the environment, you'll have improved the world because they will become adults who plant flowers and help things grow.

Anyhow, they asked questions a mile a minute, which was awesome because it meant that they were engaged and thinking, and in the end, exploratory learning tends to be much more effective than having an agenda pushed on you. The only downside of the interruptions was that I went way over my allotted time and had to rush through most of the activities I had planned. However, the kids still got a chance to learn some basic beekeeping vocab, handle actual comb, learn about the life cycle of bees/processes in the hive, do two activities that demonstrate the importance of all pollinators (not just bees), learn about harvesting honey & wax, and taste some honey. Whew! That was a lot!

Inspecting some brood comb
Judging from my audience's enthusiasm about the honey, that was probably their favorite part of the night. BTW, if I may toot my own horn a bit, I gave them borage honey, neem honey, and my own honey to compare flavors. The universal favorite was my honey -- at least nobody dared disagree, hee hee. ;-) Seriously, though, people laugh when I tell them that even though my DH has brought me gourmet honey from all over the world including from hoity-toity Fortnum & Mason, mine is still the best. Now I can tell them that 12 out of 12 10-year olds back me up. LOL! Probably the sweetest part of the evening (no pun intended) was when a little girl asked me if I sold honey, and how much did it cost because she had $5. Too precious!

Anyway, as much as I love talking about how cool honey bees are, the real message I want to get across is how important bees and other pollinators are, so running over time was useful in the sense that it has got me thinking about how to make it better for kids. Adults tend to save their questions until the end, which keeps things running smoothly. I'll have to figure out how to control the wildy wonderful chaos that children wreak on my agenda, which will probably mean paring the honey bee info down so that there is more time for the main message of "Protect our pollinators!"

Aren't they the cutest?

In any case, I have an advantage pulling together informational talks since my background is in instructional design (basically I design training for organizations). My personal approach to training  tends to be highly interactive because to me nothing is worse than a page turner or a straight-up lecture with some head honking "wah wah wah" like in the Peanuts cartoons. Instead, I encourage activities that get people (young or old) thinking about the information being presented. In a lecture, that might translate into a lot of dialogue or posing questions so the audience can figure things out for themselves. I'm keen on activities, too, and I thought I'd share a couple that I used tonight in case you wanted to incorporate them into your own presentations.
[Author's note: Please, don't judge the looks of my materials too harshly. For the past month, I've been really pressed between work, vacation (oh the irony!), bees, garden, house, sickness, helping my kids with their projects, etc. that I didn't have as much time as I'd like to work on "packaging" my presentation materials. Also, my printer conked out on me at the last minute. I mean, I felt like the activities were solid, but visually, my materials looked pretty rough. Fortunately, good activities trump ugly boards. Next time, though, they'll look better.]
The first activity was pretty simple. For 30 seconds, the kids shouted out their favorite plant foods as I wrote them down. (Ideally, I would've like 90 seconds, but we were out of time, and desperate times call for desperate measures.) Afterwards, we went through the list, and I crossed off every single one that needed a pollinator (any pollinator, not just honey bees). As you can see, there wasn't much left. If you look at the photo, alfalfa is a different color because I added it after we finished crossing-out everything else. I wanted to point out that alfalfa is big business as a bee-pollinated crop that is used to feed dairy cows. No alfalfa = no dairy. Those whip-smart kids quickly made the jump on their own to realizing that no milk meant no ice cream, no yogurt, no chocolate bars, no cheesy pizza... Hopefully, this will provide them with personal motivation for keeping pollinators healthy.

Here's our 30-second list of favorite foods

We also quickly studied and discussed a food web showing the connections between various pollinators, types of plants, and animals. (Push pins & and string show connections between the photos.) One bright girl said, "All those animals need plants and fruit, and without pollinators there aren't any!" At that moment, I knew it was time to pull the pollinator push pin/strings out and let them see how all the other strings started coming off, too.

Food web. For simplicity, I put a bunch of insect pollinators under one pin at the bottom of the chart.
Bird and bat pollinators have been left out because the chart would have become too crazy.

I used a lot of animals as representatives of groups. E.g., Coyotes represent all the apex carnivores like wolves, foxes, mountain lions, etc. Squirrels represent all the rodents. Etc.

We did some other stuff, too, but those were my two favorite activities. If you do general talks like this, do you have a favorite activity or presentation method that you'd like to share?


  1. Some good ideas there thanks Julie. At some point I am giving a talk to my wife's rainbows and brownies group (young girl guides 5-10). I have only ever given talks to adults so needed some activities. Plagiarising as we speak :)

    1. LOL! PIcasso said, "Good artists borrow. Great artists steal." Plagiarize away, my friend, and have fun with those Brownies!

  2. Thanks for sharing these ideas. Now I can be a "great artist". ;-) Sounds like you had a lot of fun with this. It's so cool of you to get young minds going and get some great questions!

    1. Yes, you're a great artist! I need my own show. Instead of Painting with Bob Ross, I'll call it Designing Training with Julie. We'll put "a happy little activity" right in the middle. ;-) LOL!

  3. You're adorable. Nicely done, looks like the kids had a great time.

  4. Thanks! It was definitely a good time. :-)


Thank you for your comment! I can't wait to hear what you think!