Inquiry-based Learning in Beekeeping.

Jane teaching prospective beekeepers at a “taster” day.


Some of us will begin the beekeeping season teaching new beekeepers as classes spring up across the country. Not everyone has the benefit of past teaching experience to rely on, and so this week our regular guest blogger, Jane Geddes, gives us some ideas of how we can improve our teaching content and delivery. Jane speaks from experience as a beekeeper and as a practice and theory- based midwifery educator. Thank you, Jane, for contributing your time and knowledge and creating a super blog this week.

Engaging with a Scout Group.

Recently I was asked to give a beekeeping talk to a group of local Scouts. I felt quite apprehensive as there were to be approximately 20 of them, known for their energy. My planning involved thoughts of a slide show, videos of swarming bees, “building” a hive, wondering how long to speak for/ do I “speak” at all, leaving them to take the lead? What areas of beekeeping would they find interesting? Do I run as a practical hands-on session, handling equipment? Should I do a honey tasting? What if I don’t hit the mark and they are not interested?

I thought back to what worked well for me when introducing a new topic back in work days as a midwife/lecturer. Therefore, I decided to use a tried and tested approach. This was Inquiry Based Learning (IBL).

What is Inquiry-based Learning?

This is a wonderful, flexible approach to learning and teaching.

It is widely used across all areas of teaching, whether in the classroom or academy, or at college/university to stimulate an enquiring mind and encourage deeper learning and self -enquiry. Students are presented with items or “triggers” to stimulate questions, and hence the development of their investigative skills using a variety of media. This can be either through a physical object, or paper based, with a particular posed question: the student leads the learning journey by using a variety of resources, a library, web-based, or hands-on exploration and practical application. The flexibility of the approach means that the student is able to follow individual threads of interest, building into a bigger “picture” when the class comes together to share learning. It is an ideal approach for small scale investigations.

IBL is also ideal for informal settings where facilitation is more important than “teaching.” The student is in control, they have the freedom to explore, or question starting from their own standpoint. This curiosity could spark off an interest in bees and beekeeping. With some encouragement by the facilitator and some (hopefully) enthusiastic dialogue, we should be set for a lively, interactive session. Perfect.

My Plan.

I decided to be free-flowing and just “wait and see.” I had thought that, if there was little engagement, I could build the hive for them and discuss as I go.  I took some items for the Scouts to explore. I decided to take along the Local Association’s Virtual hive for them to “assemble” and, in so doing, ask questions. This is a full-sized wooden hive which holds a brood box full of frames containing photographs of what one might see inside the brood nest. I also decided to take along some comb, beautiful brace comb and see where that led. I prepared for a “blind” honey tasting, choosing 4 very different honeys (German honeydew, French Chestnut, Malawian mixed blossom and a jar of my own honey).

The Event.

I was relieved and delighted to see one of the Scouts, also an avid beekeeper (his parents keep bees and he has helped at another event). I had an ally!!!

I need not have worried about a lack of engagement, a lack of questions, a lack of interest. From the moment they arrived in the room there was a virtual explosion of chat, questions, comments, comparisons to other areas (ant colonies). I was so glad that I hadn’t come along with a set idea of what to do or say.

We began by looking at the hive, and the first frame we looked at generated questions around the “collective mind” “super organism” and “Drone mating areas” and other ideas. My head exploded- How do they know all this? How do they use vocabulary such as “when the virgin Queen emerges….” (not “hatches”) for example.

Questions came thick and fast, as did the jokes of “Beehave” etc. I was so well assisted by my ally and so grateful he was there too; his knowledge and input motivated the others. It was great!

Following the free-flow question and answer session, the blind honey tasting began. I had, beforehand, covered the labels with paper. The group was divided into 4 and each smaller group was given a guidance sheet, assisting the tasting. They were advised to take notes as there would be a vote for the most popular at the end of the session. They were invited to take a sample, look at it (colour, consistency), smell and note down anything they were reminded of, then taste, and decide if they liked it, and why. Votes were cast. The stronger tasting honeys were unpopular. I was delighted that my own honey, with was a mix of (I think) clover and heather, was the runaway winner.

There were questions that followed which felt like a wave washing over me! ….. “Yeah, but what is INSIDE honey?” “Is it bee-spit”? “How to they MAKE it, though?” “Where do they go to GET it?” “What do they DO with pollen?”


Upshot: I’m going back, with a microscope (and some support!) to look at samples of honey, bee parts and pollen in greater detail.  I went home and collapsed on the sofa for a well- earned cuppy. How do teachers do this day in-day out?

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