Science - Flower power

13th July 2012 at 01:00
Why have bees buzzed off and what can schools do about it?

Bee numbers have dropped about 50 per cent in the UK in the past 20 years, leading to serious concerns that they may die out. New research shows that the fall in numbers is partly due to pesticides, which severely damage their ability to navigate their way home. And we have destroyed flower-rich habitats in our homes in favour of well-kept lawns and patios.

Bees, including honey bees and bumblebees, pollinate more than 250,000 species of plant and more than 100 different crops. These include fruits, nuts and vegetables - food for us, and for farm animals, too. Overall, bees are responsible for pollinating about one-third of all the food we eat, not to mention the cotton that made the shirt you may be wearing.

Now the decline of the bee has entered the AQA biology GCSE syllabus, under the environmental change section, where pupils need to understand that changes in the environment affect the distribution of living organisms.

An effective way to explain this to younger pupils is to give them a list of foods and ask them to circle everything they have eaten in the past week. They begin to understand the variety of produce affected, rather than assuming that bees simply make honey. The list should include lemons, apples, carrots, garlic, strawberries and onions, to name but a few.

It can be a little depressing when you encounter pupils who have circled no fruits or vegetables, having lived off chips and pizza all week, but they are still pretty surprised by the critical contribution bees make to our food and health.

Our comprehensive school has an allotment, where we have planted "bee- loving" plants that will hopefully encourage them to pollinate our fruit trees. Why not get your classes to create planters containing wild flowers? Take children out of the classroom to observe bees at work in the garden. You can even monitor the skills that pupils are acquiring by conducting surveys on the insects they find.

First-hand involvement in sustainability is something pupils can feel proud of, so get your hands on some sunflowers, geraniums, freesias, crocuses, chrysanthemums and tulips. Helping the bees can give pupils a real buzz.

Rachel Pleydell-Pearce teaches biology at Porthcawl Comprehensive School in Wales


Build up a buzz about bees with rbryant1's PowerPoint introduction to the insect.

Start thinking about how to save the bees with fairykitty's assembly script.

Find all links and resources at


The chief topic of conversation in the TES science forum is Michael Gove's proposed scrapping of GCSEs. What do you think the science curriculum of the future should look like?


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