Educator Spotlight: Saving the Bees with STEAM

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Stacey Churchill, this week’s Educator of the Week, led a project called “To Bee or Not to Bee” in which her students researched threats to bee survival, designed an art project to present their findings, and displayed their works in several locations in their town.

Me at the Oakland Zoo
Stacey Churchill teaches photo digital design to ninth- through twelfth-graders at Miramonte High School in Orinda, California. Photo courtesy Stacey Churchill

Could you describe your “To Bee or Not to Bee” lesson? What did your students do, and what were your goals for the activity?

Students researched the importance of saving the bees and used art to showcase their findings to the public.

Inspired by National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore’s film “Rare: Creatures of the Photo Ark,” in which Sartore photographs endangered species from around the world, students worked in three teams to conduct research on the essential role pollinators play in maintaining our food supply. Each team member focused on one of the parts of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) and presented their findings to the class by creating an art project of their own choosing. Having a choice in the aspect of STEAM through which they looked at the issue helped engage students in the lesson and allowed them to focus on their own personal strengths while making the project more meaningful to them. I think students gained a sense of ownership in their learning by making their own choices.

We then displayed their art in our school library, in a community exhibit at our town’s public library, and on the students’ web portfolios. Having students work in teams helped create a sense of community as they collaborated on their presentations. Students provided problem-solving examples of how to help mitigate the bee crisis, and we hope that we empowered community members to take action.

My goal for this lesson was to have students learn how such a small creature has such a large impact on our world. I wanted students to empathize with the problem and show responsibility for the planet while they created their art.

Soon after teaching this lesson, the rusty patched bumble bee gained protection under the Endangered Species Act, the first bumble bee in the U.S. to receive this designation. This news allowed us to continue this lesson by discussing the timeliness of the news and emphasizing that just because our lesson was finished didn’t mean that we should stop caring.

Educators: download the full lesson plan here!

What advice would you give educators who want to incorporate more art into their science lessons?

Adding the “A” to STEM can help reach all students in your classroom by making material more relatable to students with varying interests. Many STEM lessons effortlessly welcome art into the mix.

Art provides students the opportunity to communicate in an authentic way, so I would suggest teachers incorporate art to help students demonstrate their learning. Have students create their own solutions to STEM issues and present their learning in innovative and artistic ways.

Looking to nature was a wonderful way for me to develop a STEAM lesson, so I would suggest that teachers use the environment as a starting point.

Student Poster
Students presented their projects at their school library, in a community exhibit at their town’s public library, and in their web portfolios. Photo by Stacey Churchill

How did infusing art into a project about bees and conservation inspire students to be changemakers?

In reflections after the project, students spoke of how proud they were of their creations, how their groups came together to make a great presentation, overcoming the challenge of taking photos, and working more productively than usual. They would like to do more research to find the exact cause of colony collapse disorder, how the people making bee robots came up with such an amazing idea, how they can continue to spread the word about their research, and how they can translate this project into the real world.

I was impressed by my students’ engagement in the activity, enjoyment of creating art, and genuine concern for bees. They took pride in their work, and I think that the STEAM components of this project helped make a lasting impression on my students.

Student Photograph
Students presented their findings through several media, including photography. Photo by Owen, one of Stacey’s students

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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The Educator Spotlight series features inspiring activities and lessons that educators are implementing with their students that connect them to the world in bold and exciting ways.

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