In a day-long seminar that used a game of charades to emphasize the finer points of the nature of honeybees, one organization is hoping to make its message clear to the students of Arizona.
The Arizona Foundation for Resource Education hosted a day-long seminar for teachers at the University of Arizona’s Cooperative Extension Agricultural Center in Maricopa Oct. 20, giving educators a view inside the honeycomb that is the honeybee. Detailing recent news reports about a possible virus affecting honeybee colonies that has translated into a decline in pollination for much-needed fruit, vegetable and animal feed crops, the seminar integrated news from the agriculture world with ways teachers can educate students about the buzzing insects.
“AFRE is a nonprofit organization that uses Arizona as its classroom to teach K-12 teachers about our natural environment so they can take that knowledge back to the classroom,” marketing consultant Rebecca Heller said. “We hear reports of children who literally don’t know where their food comes from. They don’t know that farms exist – they don’t know that eggs and milk come from living beings.”
Since 2001, AFRE – which began as an educational resource for the mining industry and has since expanded to a broad scope of topics on both agriculture and natural sciences – has provided an outlet for teachers to not only learn the material but gain tools and methods for effectively teaching it to their students. The seminars, which are conducted year-round, and are generally more time-extensive during the summer, are free to those who attend.
“We take the teachers on field trips so they can take what they learn back to their kids,” said AFRE education programs coordinator Erin Morris. “They get packets of resources relating to each event... and earn points for attending that they can use toward purchasing further materials.
“Teachers are required to do development training and, this way, they can do it in more of a fun way and without out-of-pocket costs.”
Morris and AFRE not only bring in experts on topics to educate the teachers about a plethora of issues occurring in the natural world, they also employ a number of master’s degree-holding educators to serve as facilitators. Chandler Frye Elementary School teacher Dawn Koberstein and Marana Ironwood Elementary School teacher DaNeil Olson worked at the honeybee seminar in Maricopa, giving the more than two dozen teachers gathered ideas on how to communicate the information they are learning to their students.
For Koberstein, the ability to enrich the learning and teaching abilities of her peers goes well beyond a lesson in agriculture for its value.
“Participants leave with new knowledge of best practices that have been modeled in addition to knowledge of natural resources, depending upon the event content, materials and tools to use in enriching the content of their curriculum,” said Koberstein, who appreciated the value of bringing teachers together to learn and share ideas. “AFRE assists in strengthening the professional network among teachers to share ideas, effective teaching strategies and knowledge.”
The goal of the organization, Morris said, is to provide the teachers, regardless of whether they are in high school or kindergarten, a number of ways to enrich the education of their students in multiple subject areas.
“Even though we were here to learn about honeybees, we’re distributing materials to help teachers be better through best practices,” Morris said. “We have experts in the field that can give a unique point of view and anticipate what kind of questions teachers will be asked by their students.”
Monica Pastor, the Maricopa County extension director for the University of Arizona, is AFRE’s guest expert on honeybees. For Pastor, who has helped with other classes for teachers through the agricultural cooperative extension center, opportunities like these cannot be passed up.
“The honeybees lecture is just a method to get information across about agriculture in general,” she said, focusing on her hope that the more teachers can learn about agriculture and the natural world, the more the traditional stigma of farming can be broken. “We need to feed the world and we need people that are going to help us do it. It’s not just going to be the farmers.”
Pastor said the colony collapse disorder affecting honeybees will continue to have a significant impact on food sources as a whole until it can be resolved.
“There are 130 types of crops reliant on pollination from honeybees,” she said. “We’re in big trouble if we don’t have honeybees to pollinate.”
While the U.S. Department of Agriculture seeks to find a solution to the death of honeybees, Pastor sought to educate the teachers on both the basics of the bee and how it fits into the puzzle of life.
“We are able to show them ways to teach science and bring in the reading and writing component,” Pastor said. “We like to show (different) subject areas while bringing in something that is real-life.”
It is then up to the teachers to work with one another to make what they learned relevant to their students.
“Since we do come from varying backgrounds, we are aware of the needs of our grade level spans and hold each other accountable, making sure that the content is relevant to a span,” Koberstein said. “The key to events is that we practice what we preach. We think with the end in mind, then choose the activities that are most meaningful and that will get us there.”
For information about AFRE or to find out about upcoming seminars, go to their Web site, www.afre.org.