Guan Ai has a group of very inquisitive and energetic fifth grade boys. Last semester, they took an interest in the bees which buzzed around the school yard and crawled around water droplets on the faucets. For several days in a row, one or more of these boys would rush into the RCEF office, exuberant, bearing the latest live specimens they had captured and put in “habitats” fashioned out of discarded bottles, tape and wooden chopsticks. “What kind of bee is this?” they wanted to know. “Is this a wasp or a bee? How can we keep it alive?” Seeing that their curiosity was not just a passing fad, we decided to take the students to learn from real beekeepers. Utilizing the recess time before dinner, we walked through the fields to a village about fifteen minutes away where an elderly couple raised bees in their backyard.
Faced with a group of nine boys tumbling over themselves, one question leading to two more, the beekeepers were undaunted. In fact, they turned out to be very kind and patient teachers. The boys asked about the bee hives in their yards and the “grandma” and “grandpa” beekeepers (as we called them) satisfied their every curiosity, even letting the boys touch bees wax and opening up the wooden boxes to let the students observe the insides of a hive from a safe distance. Each student (and their surviving bee specimens) even got a sweet taste of peach
blossom honey from the end of grandma’s chopstick. Over the course of a few such “mini field-trips,” students learned about how a bee colony functions, how bees collect nectar and pollen from different kinds of flowers, and how beekeepers collect the pollen, honey, and royal jelly to sell.
Afterward, the students voluntarily spent an hour or so every day for a couple weeks (eschewing nap time with their teachers’ permission) transferring the notes they’d taken into “bee journals” that they wrote and illustrated themselves. While their classmates slept through the afternoon heat, we gathered in the relative coolness of the library to
consult books that had pictures and information about bees or surf the internet on my laptop for more information. The boys worked in groups of three so that all could contribute to the writing and drawing. All the books are now in the school library on a shelf of student-made books for their classmates to browse. The boys proudly brought their finished books to show the beekeepers, who pronounced them very good and “mostly accurate.” The only point of dispute raised was whether queen bees can really lay 2000 eggs a day, a factoid we found on Wikipedia, but which the beekeeper thinks is much too high from his own observations.
This “bee project” was driven by the students’ own interest and initiative. Since no one on staff had experience with bees, we were fortunate to be able to interview the village beekeepers.
They were farmers who didn’t even have grandchildren living at home but they were wonderful with these fourth grade boys, providing a chance for them to learn about the subject firsthand instead of just consulting a textbook.
There are many opportunities like this to draw on the rich knowledge of community members to educate rural children. However, it requires that the school principal and teachers are willing to let children go outside the classroom on field trips or invite villagers into the school as guest speakers. Guan Ai has a history of this and RCEF is going deeper this year in making these
connections between community and school. This year, these same ebullient boys are in the young inventors’ extracurricular activity class and RCEF is continuing to develop curriculum that proves how effective it is to involve farmers and rural community members into children’s education.
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