Bee study supports differentiated learning

Issue: Volume 98, Number 18

Posted: 28 October 2019
Reference #: 1HA1A0

A bee colony installed at Avalon Intermediate has been a source of enjoyment, observation and learning for students, teachers and two Massey University researchers.

In 2016 an apiscope – an observational beehive – was installed at the school. The Apiscope Buzz project, led by Associate Professor Tracy Riley from Massey’s Institute of Education and Distinguished Professor Anne Noble from the College of Creative Arts (CoCA), used observational processes for learning about the life of a bee colony.

The two Massey researchers wanted to find out if adding art to STEM subjects (= STEAM) as a tool to expand expressions of learning would result in the development of innovative teaching and learning practices.

Making art about science

Students were able to show what they’d learnt about the lives of bees through a variety of creative art projects including: song writing, photography, digital music production, performance, music videos and a documentary.

Working in teams with professional artists and musicians, they made art works that incorporated strong language components. Tracy says students developed good relationship skills especially around participating and contributing.

“I think these were developed because of the focus on strengths each learner brought to the collaboration. Students were identified for particular roles based on strengths – we had sound engineers, lyricists, singers/rappers, videographers, photographers,” she says.

“For example, we have seen learners identified as having strengths in visual observation who, when given a camera, have produced amazing photographs. Other students have expressed their visual observations in their musical lyrics or their aural observations through music that literally buzzes. The link between what they have observed and how they have expressed their learning is scientific content about bees,” she explains.

The critical role teachers like Simon Flockton and Victoria Harrison from Avalon Intermediate School play in differentiation and responding to individual’s learning abilities was highlighted.

“We have observed that the response to learner strengths and readiness that the beehive stimulates can improve learning outcomes for students,” Tracy says.


Anne says the Apiscope Buzz project gave researchers an opportunity to engage with project-based learning in a classroom and is an example of how the observational study of a living system seen through the lens of the creative arts can enable students to express their learning across multiple disciplines.

“Observation-based learning spans science, technology and the arts. The Buzz about Bees, as a transdisciplinary project, models how learning in the domains of maths, science and technology can be expressed through the creative arts.

Bringing together professional artists to work with the students and teachers enabled authentic, relevant learning and teaching and is a kind of transdisciplinary learning model where art is placed as central to the expression of learning – transforming STEM to STEAM.

“Students were able to demonstrate scientific literacy and understanding of environmental concepts in a way which is not captured by traditional demonstrations of learning.

“Although not the focus of this study, this project raises further questions about standard assessment processes that may well disadvantage some learners at this level,” Anne says.

Learning growth

“We are still analysing data, but I believe we have seen an improvement in learners’ understanding of bees, a sharpening of content skills and quite advanced artistic expressions,” says Tracey. “But it is difficult to measure some of this growth using traditional forms of ‘assessment’ and this has raised questions for us – how do we demonstrate growth and improvement in learning outcomes? We are still trying to work through this for the project.”

Key competencies

The research has been supported by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research’s Teaching and Learning Research Initiative. Funding will finish in early 2020, but the apiscope will remain at Avalon Intermediate. Some strong connections with university staff, students and a local beekeeper have been made.

Professor Noble and Dr Riley are also working with Newlands Intermediate School, where students are writing, illustrating and publishing a series of books about bees, working with a team comprising Anne Noble, Tracy Farr, a novelist and former NIWA scientist and Massey University illustrator and researcher Caroline Campbell.

“I think that our final report and subsequent outputs will provide guidance for teachers in other schools, perhaps not with apiscopes, which require ongoing funding and support for their care and maintenance, but around observational learning and teaching, and STEM to STEAM learning,” says Tracy.

Arts engaging with STEM

The Apiscope Buzz research project is the first of its kind in New Zealand and has used the arts to engage students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) subjects.

Students worked with Massey University music and photography specialists and educational researchers to make an album – Yellow Black Nation – which includes an illustrated lyrics book, music videos and a documentary about what they had learned through observing the bees in the apiscope in their classroom.

Trinity Roots musician and lecturer Warren Maxwell and graduates of CoCA’s School of Music and Creative Media Production worked with students on the music. Teacher and music video education founder Paascalino Schaller worked with them to make music videos and Professor Noble and a photography graduate, Chevron Hasset, helped students make and illustrate a lyrics book featuring their own photographs.

Paascalino has been involved in the project since it started and says it has been a great way to connect science with art in the classroom.

“If children are curious about something, they’ll want to find out more about what they’re learning. That’s the point, the moment when everyone is engaged in the process, it creates a really positive experience of learning and generates intrinsic motivation. It stimulates the children’s curiosity and develops their creativity. That’s where the arts play a massive role,” he says.

“That’s the point where I want to get those kids to. The moment where they’re so in that moment of whatever they’re doing, that when they reflect upon that moment they have a really positive reflection of that learning. That stimulates their curiosity and develops their creativity.”

Tracy says she and Anne are still in the process of gathering data, but that “the proof is in the pudding”.

“Look at what the children developed with scaffolded, expert-novice learning and rich resources. But the work you see is by kids who are often identified for their deficits, such as low literacy and lack of engagement,” she says.

The songs written by the students show their learning about bees, with messages about conservation, bee roles in a colony and sustainability.

You can enjoy Yellow Black Nation Soundcloud(external link) and documentary(external link)

The buzz about bees

Here’s what some Year 8 students had to say about the apiscope project:

Jordyn: When I first saw the apiscope, I was a little bit confused as to why a beehive was in a classroom but as we started learning about it, I got used to it. The main thing I learnt from my two years of being with the apiscope was that nature is so fragile and that there is a lot of people destroying this beautiful species that not only effect the production of honey but also the reproduction of so many plants and animals therefore making it very important to us as humans.

Personally, I think these particular subjects are important to teach to new generations to be able to inspire them or at least show them how important it is to look after our New Zealand land and roots. Ways we can express this could maybe be through articles, short movies, books, art, or for us, music, this way we were all engaged in different things we enjoyed doing.

Theo G: The first thing I thought when I saw the apiscope was, “wow, that is a real beehive in a school”. Overall, I was astonished. I learnt about how bees affect the Earth and the plant reproduction cycle. Through this experience I also had the chance to learn how to produce music, film and act in music videos, and write good, vibrant music. Not only does it educate kids in a way that is fun and intriguing, but it teaches them bonus values like teamwork and perseverance. I personally thought that this was one of the funnest school projects I’ve ever indulged in.

Jeremiah: I thought the apiscope was cool because it was the first time I’ve ever been in a class with a pet or insect that lives in the class. I have learned a lot of new things from bees, such as if queens die, they are reborn by the worker bees feeding a newborn bee a special food called royal jelly or something like that which will make them into a queen bee when they’re older. It was an all right experience, I wouldn’t say that I fully enjoyed the music part but it was fun just not having to do work.

Jasper: When I first saw the apiscope I thought it was really cool, because I have never seen an apiscope before. I have learnt a lot, like what type of bees there are and what jobs they do. It was fun to team up with Massey University and make an album.

Rich learning

The Apiscope Buzz project enabled students to explore ideas in science, digital technology and the arts, with conceptual learning, such as the theme of sustainability, expressed across many disciplines.

Leadership development

Based on strengths, one group of students was selected by their teacher as kaitiaki for the hive and given opportunities for leadership development through a symposium at Massey, where they learnt about their roles as youth leaders in science.

Rich science

The kaitiaki developed advanced bee knowledge by working with a beekeeper. A colony died in 2018, so they got advice and guidance on what to look for in the hive in terms of Varroa mite, disease, feeding, activity levels and temperature. The bees survived the winter. The rich science learning was not limited to the guardians of the apiscope – the project’s lyricists also had their facts checked by beekeepers and their words reflect deep engagement with bee facts.

Observational skills

As well as learning to look at the bees, photograph or video them, students learnt to observe them through sound, touch and smell. They recorded sounds of the bees and the hive; checked temperature by feeling the warmth of the hive, holding wax and handling bees; smelt honey and beeswax; and tasted the honey. These observations helped the children understand bees and learn about key observation skills used by scientists and artists.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:33 am, 28 October 2019

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