Sunday, 24 April 2016

A honeybee inquiry: The importance of noticing a spark, giving time, slowing down and stepping back!

The Spark...

While reading this lovely book about spring one child's question initiated a deep discussion about bees. We didn't even have time to finish the book!

“Why is there so much fruit and less bees?” C. D.

“When I go to the grocery store I see so much fruit but outside I don’t see many bees and bees make the fruit?” C. D.

“I think it’s because they are getting hurt because the days are cold and only come in the spring and they don’t have fur.” C. D.

“Bees are in danger, my mom told me that farmers are putting pesticide on their plants and they bees are getting it on them and killing them.” L. B.
“What is pesticide?” Mrs. Ralph

“It’s a type of spray you put on plants and leaves.” M. S.

“It kills the bees because it has bad stuff that kills the bees.” J. B.

“They die from the spray because it has bad stuff for bees, people, and bugs.” D. F.

“The farmers doesn’t want the bees to get all the flowers because they will die.” P. C.

“They use pesticide because they don’t want bees around.” S. T.

“Bees are really important because they need to make honey and don’t want people to get sick. E. B.

“The pesticide makes bees not make honey so they won’t make it through the winter because honey makes them survive in the winter and it keeps them warm.” Z. G.

“They put the pesticide on flowers so the bees die and don’t sting them.” C. D.

“It is a bad idea because we won’t have honey.” P. C.

This was a very engaging conversation. A great start to some deep questions about bees. But now what? Where does one go from here in regards to extending this learning further? Below are a few suggestions that my teaching partner and I try and keep in mind as new sparks present themselves. 

Giving Time...

As with many inquiry topics, there is a vast amount of factual knowledge than can be found from many different sources, but I have found that the key to sustaining and extending an inquiry is to allow for enough time for the children to be able to formulate their own ideas. Critical thinking and being able to express their reasoning is in my opinion one of the most important aspects of inquiry based learning. As the children looked at pictures in books, viewed videos, and supported each other through discussions, they were able to formulate and express their own ideas.

"Imagination is theory making" ~ Jason Avery
(Twitter: @inquirelee)   

Ask yourself what the goal of the inquiry is? For us it is never solely about seeking correct answers. It is more about instilling a sense of wonder and curiosity that drives and motivates children to think critically and use the resources around them to guide their own learning. They are also able to support each other by taking part in group discussions and using new knowledge to either add  to or refute their own theories. I can't imagine how much rich knowledge of the children's thinking I would have missed if I didn't give them the time to ponder things on their own.

Answering back with open ended questions opens the door for further investigation. 

"What do you think?"
"How do you think they do that?"
"Where do you think they go?"
"Why does that happen?"

Open ended questions allows the learning to continue rather than stalling it. With so many wonderful books and other resources it was very tempting to give answers but I learned from experience that there is a balance in supporting children just enough so they continue to want to learn more. 

Slowing Down and Stepping Back...

I feel an inquiry should follow the children's interests at the deeper level based around their observations, wonders, and theories. With the educators' guidance, children's thinking and learning can be made visible. For this process to be achieved, one must slow down and give time for children to explore and investigate the many resources provided to them. I really had to hold myself back in wanting to read and show them everything on honeybees. In slowing down and stepping back the children became more confident and independent in seeking out knowledge on their own or having discussions in small groups with their peers about their thinking. Rather than coming to myself or Mrs. Powell, the children used the resources in the classroom to guide their own theories and formulate new ideas.  

Documenting the children's thinking has been beneficial in giving us a view into their level of understanding. Knowing where they are coming from in terms of their theories has greatly allowed us to be able to plan the type of supports and challenges needed to further their learning.   

How our honeybee inquiry unfolded...

After the initial discussion, we encouraged the children to write or draw their ideas on stickies and place them on the "I see, I wonder, I think" chart paper was placed on the wall at the Discovery Area. Once a week we read over the sticky note comments and discuss further. 

Below are some of the prominent discussions the children had relating to some of their wonder questions and theories. These documented conversations supported our planning and gave us direction into the type of learning the children were fascinated with.

Conversations about pollen, nectar, and honey…

“How do bees turn pollen into honey?” L. B.

“Bees get their honey from the hives.” B. P.

“I wonder how a beehive is made?” J. K.

“Bees pick up nectar by the things on their head.” D. F.

“They get the pollen on their body by going in the flower and rolling in it.” P. M.

“Why do flowers have pollen?” F. D.

“When I was looking I saw yellow dust. It’s pollen but I didn’t see nectar.” Z. G. when inspecting our classroom tulip plant.

“Nectar is like pollen it is on the inside of the flower. It was on my finger!” L. B.

“They carry pollen in their pollen basket.” Z. G.

“Bees make honey and they give it to the factory. They make it sweet. The factory people hold out a jar and the bees drop it in.” B. P.

“I think they drop the pollen into the honeycomb and it makes honey.” L. B.

“I think nectar is what bees drink, it is a liquid.” F. D.

“I think the bees eat pollen.” P. M.

“I think bees give nectar to the babies and the pollen is to make honey.” C. D.

“If they drink the nectar and give pollen to the babies what do they make honey with?” F. D.

“They make honey with the nectar and drink it too. Honey is made with pollen and nectar.” B. P.

“I know how bees get pollen, they lay down and get it on their stinger.” A. R.

“The bees get her finger to get pollen and brings it back to the house.” F. W.

“They were sucking pollen from my flowers in my garden.” S. T.

How do bees know who is the queen bee? F. D.

“Two bees fight to see who get to be the queen bee. She takes care of the babies while the others go get pollen.” L. B.

“If you win the fight do you get to be a queen bee?” P. M.

“Yes and the other goes to find another hive to be queen.” L. B.

“I think they know because they watch the fight and whoever wins is the queen bee.” J. K.

“They know because they switch crowns with the old queen bee.” C. T. and M. S.

“I agree with J. K. that they watch the fight to see who wins.” P. M.

“I think the queen bee dances and tells them about what to do that’s how they know.” C. D.

“When they see the fight they see the difference of how they look and remember when they are in the hive.” L. B.

“The queen bee looks like a big larva with a red face and stinger. How they decide is when a queen bee lays an egg that is a bigger egg so they know the queen bee is inside.” Z. G.

What happens to bees in the winter?
A wonder inspired by our poem

“Bees die in the winter but before they die they lay eggs in the winter and hatch in the spring.” C. C.

“I disagree with C. C. because the larva need to be taken care of, they get hungry and hungrier each day they stay in their hives in the winter. They don’t die. Z. G.

“I thing C. C. means it’s a life cycle, before they die they lay eggs and then they hatch in spring and are busy in the fall making honey.” C. D.

“I agree with Z. G. because bees hibernate in the winter.” D. F.

How do bees help give us food?
Mrs. Ralph

“Fruits start as flowers and the bees help them grow and help flowers open up. The flower grows into a plum and it loses all their petals!” R. S.

“When they put honey on the fruit we taste the sweet part.” F. D.

“Flowers are flowers and then it goes into apples.” J. B.

“Bees bring pollen to flower and another flower to help them grow and then they bring it to the hive and the other bees turn in into nectar.” Z. G.

“They put pollen from another flower on it that’s how they make fruit.” M. O.
“They bring the honey from the hive to the fruit and put the honey on them to make them ripe.” C. D.

“They put pollen from different flowers on them and it turns the flower into fruit and vegetables. Then they put honey on fruit and vegetables to make it ripe for us to eat!” L. B.

“Bees see different shapes and smell different smells, that’s how they know if they have the right pollen to mix with other flowers.” Z. G.

Expert Information!

We were fortunate enough to have the Scientist in the School program come and deliver a fun fact filled afternoon all about bees! At the end the children were fascinated by the wax honeycomb they were able to observe.

We were also very lucky that one of our children had a family friend that was a honeybee keeper. This was another great opportunity that the children had to pose some of their wonder questions. Thank you to Gill who was gracious enough to answer our questions as well as send back some honey, bee pollen, and a dead honeybee for us to view under the microscope!

Conservation and Stewardship!

A conversation from the book:
What would we do if there were no bees?

“We need bees because we need food and bees help…” M. S.

“By pollinating!” C. C.

“The bees take pollen to flowers more than one, like two or three.” A. F.

“We would be dying because there would be no fruit, vegetables, and honey!” L. B.

“We would not have food.” B. P.

“There would be no seeds to make new plants.” C. C.

“We could tell the farmers not to spray pesticide on the bees?” C. T.

“Well how will we get to all the farmers and tell them not to use pesticide?” D. F.

“Well my neighbor goes to his farm and I could tell Charlie to tell the farmers not to use pesticide.” C. D.

“If the farmers don’t spray pesticide then the bugs will eat the plants.” B. P.

“What about the farmers spray half their crops with pesticide?” K. C.

“But how will the leaves get bigger on the plants if they don’t spray pesticide?” J. K.

“My neighbour Charlie doesn’t believe that bees need help.” C. D.

“Bring him a book about bees.” F. D.

“Bring him to a farm and see dead bees.” L. B.

“Show Charlie the cereal box.” G. S.

“Show him videos we have.” F. D.

“Show him the commercial we saw.” D. F.

How can we let our school and community know about saving the bees?

“I made posters and put them at the bus stop with L. B.” C. D.

“I can put posters up around my neighbourhood and community.” C. C.

“I can tell my mom to tell people at her work so they can help bees by planting wildflowers.” L. B.

“Send other classes videos about saving the bees.” M. S.

“Talking to the classes about bees and giving them books.” F. D.

“Put posters all over the school.” B. P.

“Maybe we can go to other classes and tell them bees are in danger and how to help them?” M. S.

This is just a snippet of the documentation. More can be found on our board display just outside our classroom!

"Don't look for a product, look for the thinking." ~ Jason Avery
(Twitter: @Ms. SAndrews)


  1. Thanks for Ssharing Mrs. Ralph! Mika has been very engaged and sharing a lot at home about bees, drone bees vs. queen bees, the effects of pesticides, pollen, etc. We're tryign to follow your lead of asking instead of telling, and it's lead to some very interesting conversations! Mika loves to role play, so sometimes we will pretend to be the bees and he will tell us what the queen bees vs. the worker bees do. it's exciting to see him so engaged!

  2. I love that I came across this post on your blog!! My Grade 1's have started an inquiry about Bees and Plants based on the Cheerios Bring back the Bees video!!! I love seeing your documentation board as this is new to me and helps me visualize our board that I have just started!! Looking forward to reading more of your posts as I venture into kindergarten next year!!!

    1. Hi Angie! Thanks for the kind words and for taking the time to view our learning journey. I wish you all the best next year in Kindergarten! Keep in touch!


  3. Hello! I came across your blog when searching for information and ideas on the Reggio Emilia philosophy. I am currently on maternity leave, but will be going back to work in a JK/SK classroom in September. I have found a lot of inspiration in your blog posts. Thank you for that! Where did you purchase the mini dry erase easels? Those are perfect for provocation questions. I will be coming back to visit often. Thank you again.


    1. Hi Kathy! Thanks for visiting our learning! The dry erase easels were found a few years ago at Michaels craft store. I'm not sure if they still have them but definitely check. I wish you the best in JK/SK. Keep in touch:)