Innovative Teaching and Learning - Just another day at CCDS
Innovative Teaching and Learning - Just another day at CCDS

Bees usually elicit screams from young children, but Country Day students have embraced the insects – stingers and all.

Students from cross-divisions and cross-disciplines have spent several weeks studying the insects, known for their pollinating power, as well as production of honey and beeswax.

Earlier this school year, Outdoor Education Director Kaki Scheer presented a proposal to teachers to gauge their interest in exploring bees with their students and helped them design a creative curriculum. The culmination was an environmental art show, which continues through October, as well as continuing bee explorations.

Picture this

Carole Lichty-Smith's AP photo students and first graders collaborated to find pollinators and take photos in the West Woods. First graders taught the AP and Honors students about pollinators and other bugs that live outdoors, while the older students guided the first graders in taking and editing the photos. "I heard some really positive things from teachers and parents about the kids," Lichty-Smith said. They had a good time."

The impetus for the photo project began when Scheer asked Lower School teachers if their students would be interested in observing bees and other pollinators around campus.

"I jumped at the idea, thinking I was ready to get my students involved in something outdoor-related," said first-grade teacher Ann Wimmer. "I wanted to see if their interest was piqued, so we went on a walk with Kaki and she showed us how to capture bees in a plastic bag," Wimmer said. She studied them over the summer and was able to take those bees and cool them in a refrigerator for a brief period of time. It actually slows them down so that you can observe them in a more safe manner. My students were really interested in that."

Her class didn't stop at bees. They moved into a new class of insects – the ants that like to sneak into the classroom from the outside door. "We bought an ant farm and we've been doing a study on ants. Now, I'm waiting to see that next spark."

For Meghan Graves and her first graders, it all started with a dead bee found in their classroom. "We talked about it, and we asked Mrs. Scheer to come visit us as our expert so she could answer some of our questions". We went outside, and she taught us how to catch bees with a net. We learned that they fly up, no matter what you're using to try to catch them. So, it all started with a dead bee and it's spiraled from there." She and her students are still talking about the life cycle, hives and honey.

Scheer got the first-grade teachers connected with Lichty-Smith and her AP photo students. Graves said the photo project was a good opportunity for her students to work with older students. "They just loved being with the Upper School students. We don't get to do that very often, and it was a good learning experience for both of them. They felt like they got to teach them something, so they were proud of that. I think they also learned a lot. Being with the older students and working with the cameras was exciting for them."

Wimmer's students also loved the project. "Walking to and from lunch, they see their photographs so large on the wall. Every day, at least someone comments. 'Look! There's my work,' or 'Look, there's my friend's work,' or 'I remember when we used a photo filter.' So, they're still commenting, and it's been up several weeks now.

Bees and art

Bees also brought together cross-divisional art teachers to collaborate on art for the show.

Lower School art teacher Lauren Gilmore talked with Upper School art teacher Amy Brand about what the second- and fourth-grade students were contributing to the show. "With the second grade, we talk about symmetry, so to stick with our curriculum, we talked about the symmetry of a bee. So they drew bees," Gilmore said.

She gave the students a work sheet with one side of a bee. They had to create the other side to practice symmetry. They then drew their own bee with details on a piece of Styrofoam and printed the bees, using different colors of ink and different colors of construction paper.

Then, the fourth grade added creative flair to the second graders' work by designing and printing hexagon tessellations to be used as the background for the bees. They also used Styrofoam sheets for the design, as well as different colors of ink and construction paper.

"They're both high energy classes, so printmaking is great because it's such an active art from," Gilmore said. "They made hundreds of prints between the two classes. It's a high kinesthetic activity."

The beauty of the project, Gilmore said, was that she was able to work it into the curriculum so it wasn't an additional piece unrelated to her regular lesson plans. Their artwork is located under the windows outside of the head of school office. Some pieces are also displayed with art by Brand's students.

Brand decided to do pollinator art lessons with her Art I, AP and Honors classes. "From my point of view, it's a great way for students to understand how art can be about something."

"Art I classes are working with the hexagons, and at the same time, they're doing this project that's about learning and understanding the principles and elements of design. So that's what the Zentangle is, but instead of doing it as a rectangle, we did it as a hexagon," Brand said.

She required that their work involve nature. "We went out to the pollinator garden, and I left it up to the students whether they wanted to be inspired by the pollinator garden, by pollinators, by nature in general or whether they just wanted to make it about abstract shapes."

Her AP and Honors students, sketchbooks in hand, started out the year by doing one-a-day plein air drawings in the pollinator garden. Plein air is a practice of experiencing painting or drawing in nature.

Art I, AP and Honors students also did a sketchbook assignment where they researched an aspect of the pollinator garden or pollinators, and had to write as part of the research.

Jamie Back, Upper School math teacher, got her math classes involved in the pollinator art project in several ways. Her two sections of Honors Geometry did a 3D printing of a honeycomb and three Honors Pre-Calculus classes explored why the hexagon shape enclosed the greatest area of all the regular shapes that tessellate, meaning you can have several shapes, such as a group of hexagons, on the floor and they will fit together without gaps.

When Scheer presented ideas to teachers, she was adamant that they only participate if they felt it made sense to incorporate them into their curriculum at the time. "I tend to jump at the chance to do those sorts of things because, if it makes sense, why wouldn't we do that?" Back said. "I spent a great deal of time trying to come up with something that made sense to do in my classes."

She began with some discussions about why the pollinator garden was created and what kinds of things are going on with the bees. Students did some research and watched videos about bees, honeycombs and hives.

"This made sense to do in my Honors Pre-Calc classes because we had been working on trigonometry, and it does take some trigonometry to get where they needed to be," Back said. "Without telling them that they needed trigonometry, I wanted to see if they could actually use it and get there. Everybody did, in their own way. The coolest part about it was that every group got to the point where they looked at a circle as a shape with an infinite numbers of sides."

Some groups, especially in her Honors Pre-Calc class, told her they were frustrated that they didn't get anywhere with the assignment. "But it's not about where you ended up," she said. "It's about the process, what you're thinking and how well you at least communicated what you were thinking about at the time. Just because you didn't come up with the 'right' answer ... The ancient Greeks didn't come up with this answer in two bells."

The art show includes her students' math work explaining the geometry of the hexagon. "I think it's fun for the kids to see their work," Back said. "How cool to have math work on display in the Dining Terrace right next to the artwork?"

Meanwhile, Lisa Bodollo's US Studio Theatre class offered a special cross-divisional performance of "Super Pollinators." They collaborated with Scheer and the Lower School on the pollinator project by creating an original production that was presented to Lower School students.


Upper School English teacher Deborah Floyd does a unit on transcendentalists in which students read Emerson, Thoreau and Margaret Fuller and then take a walk in the woods. Knowing this, Scheer approached her about having her students write poetry about pollinators. It was early in the year, so Floyd didn't think her students were ready for a larger poetry project, so she came up with the idea of writing Haiku or Bee-Ku as she dubbed it. Her students researched bees and also watched videos about bees collecting pollen, and their life cycles.

"I encouraged them to brainstorm a page worth of things that struck them about bees," Floyd said. Then, from all that writing, parse it down into a Haiku, which is 5/7/5 syllables." She also opened it up to the rest of the Upper School. "I received around 40 of them and selected some of the stronger ones. The theme that kept coming up was just how essential bees are to life, so I think they got the point."

"I also hope that they saw that you can use writing about something scientific to advance an important objective. I love when there's this interdisciplinary crossover. We really were writing poetry about science and nature."

Kaki dyed handkerchiefs with golden rod, which is plentiful on campus and a favorite plant of bees. Floyd transferred the Haiku onto the hankies with a permanent marker. "I strung them up like they were out on a laundry line, in someone's garden that would have pollinators. You've got clothes pins on the wall, and it really is fantastic because there's a vent there, so they keep blowing in the wind."

Little learners love bees

Even some of Country Day's youngest learners have caught the bee bug. "We do project-based learning, so we typically follow the children's interests in choosing a project to focus on, and they guide us," said Lee Ann Bertsch, Pre-K ll team leader.

"At the beginning of the year, the kids thought that every flying insect was a bee, and they were screaming and swatting," Bertsch said. So, Bertsch and Pre-k II teacher Jennifer Hoffman and students hiked to the 7125 House to see Scheer who talked with them about bees. "The kids were extremely engaged and were very interested, so we thought that it would be a great project idea," Bertsch said. "We asked them what they know and what they want to learn."

The teachers touch on all parts of the curriculum during projects, incorporating phonetic spelling, math, art and the community. Pre-K ll students have already worked with eighth graders from Scheer's class, and first graders. They plan to make a mural with Brand's class on one of the outside walls. "Community is a huge part when we do projects," Bertsch said.

Right now, the focus is on the anatomy of the bee – the stinger, different types of bees, differences between bees and wasps. Then, they'll move on to how bees make honey and beeswax and more about the hive. They plan to invite a local bee expert to help explain the process.

"Jennifer and I don't know anything about bees, and so we are learning with the kids. We are not experts," Bertsch said. "Anything that we have learned through our research and our questioning is all new information to us, too, which is just as exciting." When they don't have the answers to bee questions, they reach out to Scheer or students from other divisions who are learning about bees.

Like other Lower School students studying bees, they are now more calm around the insects. Bertsch's students are also concerned. "We've talked about how bees are so important to our environment with the native plants and crops and how we need these for chocolate and so many things that they like – our clothes – and we don't want them to die."

Dan Wood, Middle School science teacher and chairman of the Environmental Council, was involved with Scheer and Upper School teachers Matt Dahl and Marcus Twyford in working on a pollinator garden last year. "But the mastermind behind the art installation was really Kaki," Wood said. The Environmental Council supported that effort by purchasing some art materials or more natural materials for the installation.

"The mission of the Environmental Council is two-pronged. One is to raise environmental awareness, and the second is to weave a thread of environmental studies through the Pre-K-12 curriculum, so this art installation hit on both of those prongs," Wood said.

"It was really tremendous to see the whole school involved and learning more about pollinators and the pollinators on campus, but then also to take that awareness and turn it into action by creating something that they could share with others," Wood Said.

Country Day was able to share the art beyond the school community when it hosted a joint event, "Conversations in Conservation" with the Cincinnati Nature Center on campus earlier this month. Students and teachers from other schools, as well as the general public, viewed the installation before and after a speech by world renowned-biologist, Dr. Olivia Messinger Carril, author of "The Bees in Your Backyard."

It's important for students of all ages to learn about pollinators, Wood said. "Plants, specifically native plants, form the foundation of all the food webs that help sustain our ecosystems. We rely on those ecosystems, so by taking care of the primary producers, it means that we're taking care of the complex interactions between living things and their environment. That helps sustain us."

As the season changes, Scheer is already making plans for outdoor experiences in winter and spring. "My first goal is to connect students with the natural world," she said. "I also loved watching the teachers figure it out on their own, or standing back and being wowed and impressed by my colleagues and how creative and lively-minded they are, and how they're willing to take on a new adventure, taking those risks of doing something they haven't done before."