Friday, May 25, 2018

When a Child Kills a Bee


I was excited.  I had just learned several new activities in my School Garden Mentor course the previous evening and I wanted to try them out with my second graders.  I explained we would be playing 2 games outside and half-way-through, we would switch games.  Group A would do the egg carton activity first and group B the ant-eye view.

I started off explaining the egg carton activity where I had written two words on the bottom.  (Lesson plan here.)  I started with the trickiest: living and non-living.  We had touched on that concept months earlier when the students built a habitat for their beetle and they had to include sun, water, rocks, etc, with "air" implied.  Once they understood better, we discussed how those words related to each other.  Were they the same?  No?  What were they?  "Opposites", a student answered.  I also added you could call them antonyms.  

We looked at the words smooth and fuzzy and discussed what those adjectives meant.  They had given several examples of large objects for the previous word pair.  I demonstrated how they would look for objects to put in the egg carton that would actually fit in the egg carton.  They could pick leaves and flowers from the garden, but if it was a big leaf, maybe just take a piece.  We reviewed the other words (hard/soft, light/dark, moist/dry, scented/unscented), with me prompting them to give me the opposite of the first word I read.  I also demonstrated a Venn diagram with two hoops the kids would be free to use outside.

For the ant activity, we went over ant behaviors on a clip board.  They would work in partners (for both games), where the other partner would place the string on the ground and they both would follow the "trail".  They could do this multiple times and switch off placing the string each time.  The focus of the lesson was to get them better at observation.  They excitedly told me of many actual ants they saw during both activities, walking, climbing, and carrying things.

We reviewed expectations for the hall (walking quietly) and outside (stay in the fence area) and made our way outside.  I had kids compare data with each other and we switched activities halfway through.  The activities were very quick, and I wrapped it up quickly so we could go inside and share our findings.  Most students worked well together.  One I worked with alone.  Two others I gave special assignments to.  A student who regularly misuses materials I put in charge of carrying the big crate.  Then a student purposely stepped on a bee...

I got the line together, prompting and waiting for quiet before we went in.  I told them we'd go right to the rug to share.  The student who stepped on the bee I had talked to outside about being kind to animals and he wanted to share it with the class.  

We got to the rug and started by sharing about our cartons.  The kids had many observations and stories about what they had seen just then or at home.  My student who had killed the bee wanted to share, so I let him tell his story.  We talked about how we can better understand something we might be afraid of.  Kids suggested asking an adult or looking in a book.  The student suggested catching the insect and observing it.  I told them they were all good choices.

I was upset when this student killed the bee.  But I also knew it was out of fear and ignorance, and rather be angry with him, it could be a teachable moment.  To the untrained eye, every bee is a wasp and every three-leafed plant poison ivy.  It's up to environmental educators, teachers, and others "in the know" to educate others.  

For our third grade field trip two weeks  ago, I sent home safety tips about ticks and poison ivy (wear long pants and check your child at home) out of an abundance of caution.  One parent kept her child home.  No one who attended the field trip got hurt, bitten, or poison ivy.  (One child had a slight heat rash.)  That parent had every right to keep her child home, but I'm sorry she missed the experience.  You won't reach every person every time.  

The bee that had perished had been a leaf-cutter bee.  I told them it cut leaves with its mandibles (it had a tongue for nectar), but didn't eat the leaf.  We brain-stormed what that leaf might be for.  I reminded them of the carder bee that lines its nest with plant fibers.  The leaf-cutter uses leaves to build its nest for its eggs.

That morning, we had done observational contour drawings of our hands.  Last week, we had designed playing cards featuring bees.  I told them we'd be putting a sign in the garden to tell them all about bees, featuring their artwork.  Their hands could change people's views.  They could protect animals.

I'm hoping this lesson taught them not only to become better scientific observers, but also to ask questions about what they don't understand.  We live in a society that is increasingly diverse.  I struggle myself not with accepting diversity, but with understanding people better from his/her/their  point of view.  I ask questions to see if I've got it right.  I don't always do, but I am open to learning.

Five years ago, when my daughter was six years old, we went to a protest to protect the bees.  She explained "communication" to me: "It's like when a bee goes 'buzz' and another bee goes 'buzz' 'cuz they want to race up the mountain or something."  A hive of people marched, supporting real food and protecting the environment and the bees. One 9 year old boy was hoarse keeping up the chant and holding up his huge sign, keeping the adults going.  The work continues...

Learning to Kill

Surprised cry as she steps
across the deck, I rushing
to soothe and seek the cause.

Both barefoot, I find
no pebble, no splinter, but 
bending down, a bee
bent like a staple, severed
abdomen pulsing in her arch.

I worry allergies and shock
to a two-year old easily pacified.
But when I show her the bee
and explain what he did,
her happy-go-lucky ways go

With the toy she was chasing,
she pummels the dying creature,
fist tight with wrath.
“Okay, it’s dead,” I assure her, or
myself, or perhaps mostly,
the bee.

I lift her in flight
to the bathroom, a wet cloth and tweezers.
The abdomen falls away easily
but the stinger persists.

She doesn’t trust my explanation, 
so I demonstrate, pulling
a hair from the mole on my arm.
Assured, in seconds
the stinger is out.

I bathe my daughter
in kind words, warm water 
soothing the pierced skin,
hide my discomfort
my daughter has learned 

to kill. 

I wrote this about my daughter's first experience with a bee.  Then we learned to catch them with containers to watch before we release them .  Once, she found a bumble bee exhausted on the ground and picked it up with her hands.  It pinched her with its mandibles.  She didn't blame the bee.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Everything Connected

How are we connected?  There are food chains and webs. There are food choices that drive what we and others will grow and raise, affecting what species exist because we will eat them and which won't because they are considered pests or their food or habitat has been polluted or taken away.  

There is a creek that runs between the elementary school I teach at to a park on the town border and beyond.  Over the last three years, my third grade students and fifth grade students have monitored the creek for water quality and biodiversity.  At our end, there is sediment and run off, tolerant black fly larva and leeches, and an occasional snapping turtle that tries to lay eggs in the school yard.  Around the creek are black locust trees, sassafras, sweet pepper bush, oak and maple, luna and cecropia moth, fireflies, and ants making their way through this shady area.

This year, fourth graders did a site assessment for an animal habitat design, measuring their imagined perimeter with their feet heel to toe.  Some made a diamond shape, imagining a baseball field.  Some others wanted carrots and sunflowers.   I explained back in our classroom that we already had those in our sunny school garden and wide-open field, and this was a shady habitat to bring in animals.  We talked about the deer who crossed the creek at night.  I showed them spicebush and the spicebush caterpillar.  We went over a master plant list that included the spicebush, high bush blueberry, hay scented ferns, solomon seal, red columbine, and wooly blue violet.  We imagined moths and butterflies and maybe some toads.  They took their sloppy copies and moved on the color-coded grids and watercolors.

And then they built it...  By next year, we will know if the three grants I'm applying for will allow us to build this for real.

Meanwhile, we imagine and dream.

But today, we travelled.  Three third grade classes and a special needs class of third and fourth graders walked along the creek, lead by Sandra from the Barrington Land Conservation Trust, down the path through the woods cleared by ASRI, across the shopping plaza, across four lanes of traffic with the help of Officer Peter, down a street, through more woods, and out into a field and small pond at the other end of the creek.  Along the two miles, we saw the signs third graders designed last year hanging around the culverts and street-accessible areas of the creek.  Was I imagining it, or was there far less trash going through the shopping plaza now?

Now we were at the park.  A painted turtle sunned itself on a rock.  I got a quick picture before the kids scared it off.

"We survived!" a lot of them shouted. What an adventure hiking two miles through suburbia with our sneakers and long pants, our backpacks with lunches and bottled water!  We laid out tarps and started our picnic, several kids selecting a large rock to dine on and a few electing to sit in the grass. 

Then the eighth graders from another school joined us with their science teacher to teach us about water quality and creek animals.  They would be running two of our six 15 minute stations for the next hour and a half.  We cleaned up our lunches, got in our groups, and began.  

At the creek, kids measured oxygen in water and looked at the critters brought in with nets and seines by the eighth graders in tall boots.  


I blew the whistle and it was time to rotate. 

Here the third graders, guided by the eighth graders, assess water quality through the presence of species with different pollution tolerances.

Whistle blows, and we're looking for evidence of animals: tracks, scat or frass, food remains, burrows, nests, and galls (plant swellings caused by insects laying eggs inside stems or leaves).  They found a squirrel nest, several holes in the trees, eaten acorns, a pizza crust.  We discussed what animals may have made which homes or left behind certain foods, including us.  I described frass (insect droppings) as looking like sawdust (which is true of beetles), corrected them on the "scat" which turned out to be a banana peel or clumped up grass clippings.  We also saw many ants, one of which was carrying a caterpillar, and another a spider!


A firefly lands on our clip boards.
Ants are everywhere!

Acorn shell.  Could there be squirrels?

Black feather.  Crow?
We watched this Braconid wasp preen itself on someone's hat.  Tiny wasps like this are often parasitoids, laying eggs on caterpillars that then hatch and eat the caterpillar alive.  This one I believe is Earinus limitaris.  Wasps like this keep pest populations in check, attacking tomato hornworm and tent caterpillars.

Don't forget to look up!

Look at holes, but don't put anything inside them!

Whistle blows!  Clip a picture to your shirt and join the food web!

Whistle blows again!  Take turns being a mosquito, a frog, and a heron in a fast-paced food-chain tag game!

And again!  Guess the parents of familiar and bizarre baby animals, from tadpole to damselfly nymph!

Return to the school, with lighter packs and minds full of wonder.  How many connections were made today?