Learning about the Importance of Honey Bees and Beekeeping to

Learning about the Importance of Honey Bees and Beekeeping to our Food Supply and to
the Environmental Sustainability of Our Planet Earth (Think Globally): A
Transdisciplinary Integrated Curriculum Unit Focused on Enhancing the Local Honey Bee
Populations in both Rural and Urban Environments (Act Locally)
Target Audience/Learners: High School/Undergraduate Level Students
Understanding that bees are critical to our food supply and to the environmental sustainability of
our planet earth is a cornerstone of human understanding of our existence on this planet. In
addition, I believe that it is very important to impress upon others how the current dramatic loss
of honey bee populations is impacting our environmental and agricultural sustainability. To
comprehend this fully, I believe that it is vitally important to engage others in experiences that
allow them to see first-hand what honey bees are and what they do. In addition, I believe that is
crucial to understand the role of beekeeping as it relates to the pollination of plants that directly
or indirectly provide us with a very large percentage of the food and fibers that we rely upon for
survival. In doing so, I hope to encourage others to support the enhancement of honey bee
populations in their community.
“Honey bees (genus Apis) are the most economically valuable pollinators of agricultural crops
worldwide. Many scientists at universities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
frequently assert that bee pollination is involved in about one-third of the pollination of
agricultural crops and accounts for about one-third of the U.S. diet, and contributes to the
production of a wide range of high-value fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, forage crops, some field
crops, and other specialty crops”. (Berenbaum, M.R., University of Illinois, Statement before the
Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture, U.S. House of Representatives, March
29, 2007, and Pettis, J., USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), interview with University
of Pennsylvania staff, Jan. 23, 2007, quoted by Johnson, Renée (Analyst in Agricultural
Economics Resources, Science, and Industry Division) (Johnson, 2007).
As a beekeeper myself, I understand the critical importance of honey bees and beekeeping. We
owe much our lives to the honey bee. Most, if not all beekeepers share this common
understanding. However, there is a large population of people who do not. David Hackenberg, a
master beekeeper with 40 years of beekeeping experience says, "People don't understand how
important this honey bee is to, you know, the survival of us," he says. "One-third of all the food
we eat is derived from honeybee pollination. It actually amounts to about $14.5 billion a year in
the United States, what the value of food that is produced from pollination of honeybees," he told
CBS Sunday Morning correspondent Martha Teichner. (AP, 2006)
In recent years honey bees have experienced dramatic declines in their population numbers.
In 2006, commercial migratory beekeepers along the East Coast of the United States began
reporting sharp declines in their honey bee colonies. Starting in the last three months of 2006, a
seemingly new phenomenon began to occur based on reports of an “alarming” number of bee
colony losses and die-offs along the East Coast. By the end of 2006, beekeepers on the West
Coast also began to report “unprecedented” losses. Current reports indicate that beekeepers in
35 states have been affected. Because of the severity and lack of precedent, and unusual
circumstances, scientists coined a new term, Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), for this
phenomenon. In March 2007, the House Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture
held a hearing to review the recent honey bee colony declines. Recent surveys indicate that about
one-half of surveyed beekeepers have experienced “abnormal” or “severe” colony losses.
(Johnson, 2007)
I believe that we must do everything in our power to help people understand the severity of CCD
and the importance of supporting honey bee populations and beekeeping. Einstein is purported
to have said the following regarding all bee species: "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the
globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no
more plants, no more animals, no more man." Since 1994, Einstein's quote has found its way into
a plethora of newspapers, including the Washington Post, Der Speigel, the Independent, and the
International Herald Tribune. (Valk, 2007) Although there is no evidence proving, or disproving that it was an Einstein quote, it is certain that if every bee were to die tomorrow, it
would be an unmitigated disaster for human agriculture. Einstein or not, "no more bees, no more
pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man," is a contention backed by at least
some evidence. "The world would be a very different place without the pollination services of
bees; they are directly responsible for many of our food and floral crops. Without them, there
would be a [greater] reliance on artificial fertilizers, which would increase toxic runoff into our
waterways and gradually pollute our food sources and living environment." says Maureen
Maxwell, of BeesOnline , a New Zealand-based beekeeping and honey-producing outfit. (Valk,
At the same time that we are dealing with CCD, we also are experiencing a decline in peoples
understanding of agriculture in general, which we must address in our educational institutions
and communities. There is a widespread agricultural disconnect between people’s lives and the
agriculture that allows for their survival. Judy Tiger, who is director of The Garden Resources of
Washington, D.C. says “So many people in the city seem to have lost a sense of where food
comes from; broccoli grows on trees and tomatoes, the pizza sauce, and the spaghetti sauce, they
have no idea of what's in it except it's red.” (Women in Agriculture, Tape #243-Urban
Agriculture, 2007) Agriculture
Even in rural areas, few people have direct links to farming. Less than two percent of the U.S.
population is engaged in agricultural production; The result: “We have an enormous population
that has no concept of modern agriculture and little knowledge of the food and fiber system in
this country,” says Shelley Diment, U of M liaison to the Minnesota Agricultural Education in
Leadership Council, a public policy group led by Minnesota Senator Dallas Sams, an AURI
board member, and Representative Steve Wenzel.(Morrison, 2006) Michigan is still a strong
agricultural state especially fruit and vegetable growers on the west side of the state and crop
farming in most of the state, except in the Ann Arbor, Detroit, Flint metropolitan triangle.
During the last approximately 27 years I have noticed an increase in disconnect between
agriculture and society as a whole and especially among youth. I have also noticed an increasing
lack of understanding of honey bees and the role that play in providing natural resources that
humans rely on. Most people that I have come in contact with do not know the difference
between bees and wasps and hornets. I have been a public high school biology teacher for 13
years, and now a biology teacher at Eastern Michigan University. Previous to that I was
veterinarian who worked in a large and small animal practice, and then a food animal nutrition
consultant and sales representative for an agricultural food-animal milk replacer company.
During that entire time I have been a beekeeper. I have been profoundly aware of the overall
ignorance of many humans regarding honey bees, beekeeping, and the crucial role that they play
in our existence on this planet. Although I informally taught about bees and beekeeping, and
have brought in a master beekeeper as a guest speaker, and have brought observation hives of
live honey bees into my classroom, I have never created a formal curriculum that strongly
addresses the disconnect of which I have written above. The Colony Collapse Disorder, the
increasing agricultural disconnect that I have observed and my participation in a 3-credit
graduate-level intensive honey bee/beekeeping/curriculum integration course funded by a grant
from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Education Division sparked my
desire to write this formal curriculum. The course, EST 643 Integrating Beekeeping Across the
Curriculum, taught by Dr. Dyanne Tracy (Professor and Chair, School of Education and Human
Services, Oakland University) provided me with many of the tools and resources that I needed to
develop this exemplary integrated curriculum.
The honey bee and beekeeping knowledge and skills that I gained in EST 643 enhanced my base
of knowledge and skills. Dr. Dewey Caron’s book, Honey Bee Biology and Beekeeping (Caron,
2001) along with his power point presentations provided much of the expertise needed to build
competence and confidence in my own mastery on the subject.
The experiences, knowledge, and skills that I gained in EST 643 reinforced a strong belief that I
share with Dr. Tracy: Integrated learning should be experiential, emphasize real-world problem
solving, and allow individual interests to cross or eliminate traditional content-area boundaries.
(Dr. Dyanne Tracy, EST 643 Integrating Beekeeping Across the Curriculum,2007)
My curriculum meets the appropriate Michigan Merit Curriculum standards and will help to
promote several of the recommendations of the Cherry Report, especially the recommendation
that “refashioned high school learning environments must be formed around research-based
models that engage and motivate students.” (The Final Report of the Lt. Governor’s Commission
on Higher Education & Economic Growth, December 2004) My curriculum also meets
expectations that are so profoundly described in the curriculum integration textbook (Meeting
Standards Through Integrated Curriculum, by Susan Drake, and Rebecca Burns) that we utilized
in EST 643. I strongly believe in a statement made in this text by Drake and Burns: Teachers
who use integrated curriculum usually create inviting classrooms that engage students in
meaningful learning. They are motivated and passionate teachers. Integrated curriculum can
lead to sustained academic success and thoughtful measurement of achievement in ways that
actually enhance learning. The time has come to explore how exemplary interdisciplinary
practice bridges the need for both accountability and relevance. (Drake and Burns, 2004) The
study and practice of Honey Bees and Beekeeping provides the ultimate in interdisciplinary
practice and enriches the lives of all who are connected by it. My transdisciplinary curriculum
ties together the art and science of honey bees and beekeeping with the environmental
stewardship that I hope to instill in all who are connected to it.