Think of a food, any food. It could be what you had for breakfast, or something you’ve been craving. Once you have an image in your mind, imagine what that snack would look like without the existence of fruits, vegetables or grains. Would it completely disappear? Would only a portion remain? Now ask yourself, “What is the common link—the necessary life source—behind the production of our food?”
The answer lies in the simple act of pollination. It is nearly impossible to think of something within our diet that can exist without it. Pollination, or the transfer of pollen between like species of flowers by wind or wildlife, leads to the formation of healthy fruit and seeds. It is estimated that nearly one-third of all plants and plant products consumed by humans depend on bee pollination alone.
Educators at Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center in Millersville, Maryland, understand this fact and work to teach others about the important role that pollinators—like bees, butterflies and bats—play in our ecosystem. For the past 17 years, the center has partnered with the Anne Arundel Beekeepers Association (AABA) to provide a home for more than 80,000 honeybees each year. When needed, AABA donates bees to Arlington Echo to replenish the center’s four outdoor bee boxes and two indoor observation hives. While the outdoor apiary is used for ecological purposes—providing habitat for the bees—the observation hives are used to teach children and adults alike about insect anatomy and life cycles, pollinator survival, community roles and math.
While it started as a recreation center, Arlington Echo quickly evolved to support authentic, hands-on learning. Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center is part of Anne Arundel County Public Schools and has been for 45 years. In fact, it is visited by every fourth grader in the county. “Education facilitates change,” said Sheen Goldberg, Teacher Specialist at Arlington Echo. The volume of students they reach each year provides a valuable opportunity to plant the seed of environmental awareness in many young minds. Here, people learn to make the connection between pollinators and the food they eat.
“One of the major issues we face today… is a lack of knowledge about the environment and where things come from,” said Melanie Parker, Coordinator of Arlington Echo’s Environmental Literacy and Outdoor Education Department. “[Food] doesn’t come from the grocery store. And it’s not just our kids [who are unaware]. Sometimes, it’s parents. Sometimes, generations don’t have that connection with the land and nature. There’s not that experience or exposure. All people see is that chicken comes in a package and isn’t an animal that’s running around on the ground. There is a detachment to where our stuff comes from.”
Spreading knowledge and linking people to their natural environment is a vital part of Arlington Echo’s mission. By connecting the dots between healthy pollinators and a healthy environment, they hope to incite positive change and help pollinators overcome the challenges they face. Population growth and development have encroached on pollinator habitat; chemical contaminants harm their health; and both native and invasive pests, parasites and diseases threaten populations.
“Right now, pesticides are a really big deal. Bees are going through something that we are calling Colony Collapse Disorder because we don’t actually know what causes it,” said Heather Calabrese, Program Assistant at Arlington Echo. “There is some research that points to a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids. It’s interesting how it, and many other pesticides, work. It doesn’t actually kill the animal right away. It effects the nervous system, disorienting it, [the animal] stops cleaning itself, eating, feeding other animals, and then it starves to death or dies of disease.”
Although honeybees, like those kept at Arlington Echo, are not native to North America, they are not considered invasive. Instead, they are considered an important part of our natural ecosystem, and their decline is directly linked to habitat loss. Development fragments wildlife habitat and pushes native species out. “Because of development, we lose native plant populations. If there is not enough food for our pollinators because we have built on their habitat, then we won’t have the native pollinators,” Parker explained.
Over the past 60 years, managed bee populations have declined from 6 million to 2.5 million, an alarming number that has sparked many states and organizations to offer financial and tax incentives to encourage people to keep bees.
Parker, Goldberg and Calabrese are all enthusiastic about keeping bees and claim that once you start, you can’t help but become fascinated by the social complexities of the critters. “You can put as much or as little work into maintaining the hive as you would like,” said Goldberg. “The bees are clean, hardworking and good at taking care of the hive for the most part.”
The educators at Arlington Echo stress the importance of making connections between the natural world and human health. Many of the things that harm pollinators also pose a threat to humans, water and other wildlife. “There is the developmental part of… pollinator population decline, but also the pesticide use,” Parker said. “Those pesticides end up in our waterways. You know, everything is connected. You pull one string and the rest unravels. So, even though it seems like a small piece, it is part of a bigger issue.”
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program's Flickr page.
As I strode to the front of Ms. Molly Moran's second grade class at Annapolis Elementary School one June morning, I was confident in my lesson plan, so elegantly simple that I didn't even need the 3X5 index card in my shirt pocket on which I had it drawn out.
My former boss at EPA's Wetlands Division, John Meagher, had invited me to talk about what I do in my work through the ReSET program he directs. ReSET is a D.C.-based non-profit volunteer organization that partners working and retired scientists, engineers and technicians with elementary school teachers to improve science motivation and literacy. ReSET's goal is to introduce children in the classroom to science, engineering and technology as being enjoyable and exciting (i.e., fun!).
John did his lesson first. I had scoped out his topic and identified a meaningful connection between his talk and mine. He was going to teach a hands-on, desk-top laboratory lesson about buoyancy, including a key vocabulary word: "gravity." (Did you know that a lacrosse ball sinks in fresh water but floats in salt water?)
I decided that was my link. The audience would be primed. I had decided on the audience participation approach, to put the pen into their little hands.
It was my turn. On the flip chart at the front of the class, I drew a hillside – a single black line – with wavy blue water at the bottom of the hill: the Bay, just like right outside the classroom window. A stick-figure person. A lolli-pop green tree. A cloud. A fish in the water. A swimmer. Rain.
I asked the class: "Where does the water go when it rains?"
The class: "Down to the Bay!"
One smart kid got it right: "Gravity!"
"How many of you have or know people who have dogs?" All the hands went up. Another volunteer drew a red dog on the hillside.
Then the clincher: "What do dogs do when you take them out to walk in the morning?"
The entire chorus: "THEY POOP!"
Ms. Moran interrupted: "Oh, Mr. Mike, you just got them to say their favorite word!" The audience, giggling, was wrapped. "Wait!" I said, fumbling around the front desk, "There's no brown marker!" Ms. Moran stopped the lesson until she could find one.
There was no shortage of volunteers to draw the little brown pile behind the dog. It was not exactly to scale.
"Where does that poop go when it rains?" "To the Bay" "Why?" "Gravity!"
"How do you think the fish and the swimmer feel about that?" "Yech!"
"What do you think you can do about that?" They knew that answer too.
And the lesson was over. I haven't had that much fun since the last time I caught a steelhead on a fly rod in a snowstorm.
Seriously, if you like kids half as much as I do and care about the future of the world, combine the two by volunteering with John for the ReSET program. John has the lesson plans; you and the kids have the fun.
Welcome to the latest installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week! Each week, we take a question submitted on the Chesapeake Bay Program website or a frequently asked question and answer it here for all to read.
This week’s question comes from Christina in Havre de Grace, Md., a high school mathematics teacher looking for ways to work the Bay into her lesson plans. “Since the Bay is in our backyard, I would like my students to analyze some of the statistics from the Bay. Where can I find teaching resources related to the Chesapeake Bay?”
With school about to start back up, tying the Chesapeake Bay into your lesson plans is a great way to ease students back into the swing of things. It’s likely that many of them spent some time on and around the Bay during the summer, so they will have some personal connection to the topics of your lesson plan.
Fortunately, there is a great resource right on the web for all your Bay education needs, Bay Backpack. Clicking on Teaching Resources at the top of the page will bring you to a handy search tool that will help you narrow down the hundreds of lesson plans and curriculums available on the site. You can refine your search by subject area, education level, type, alignment and keywords.
In Christina’s case, we could select “mathematics,” “high school” and “data,” which will bring up about 10 resources to use to create lesson plans. Data sets will become available for her students to analyze in their statistics class, and the data will actually have meaning to these students who live right on the Bay, as opposed to using “canned” data with no personal meaning.
If just looking for data in general, the Chesapeake Bay Program website has a significant amount of data available for download. However, it is probably easier to find data that is easily adapted to lesson plans from the Bay Backpack site.
Lesson plans aren’t the only thing Bay Backpack can provide educators. Field studies, training opportunities and funding resources are all available on the site, free to be used by educators at all levels.
Bay Backpack is a great resource for teachers looking to incorporate the Chesapeake Bay into the classroom in new and innovative ways. We often underestimate the ways we can instill values of environmental stewardship into the classroom beyond science classes, but this website helps to break down those barriers. Working awareness of the Bay into day-to-day lessons across all subject areas helps to establish an environmentally conscious mindset among students from a young age, ensuring that they will become the stewards of the Bay and our environment in the future.
Do you have a question about the Chesapeake Bay? Ask us and we might choose your question for the next Question of the Week!