Changing the World…. One Project at a Time: Honeybees & Elephants
EA/UNCW Think-Care-Act Project Partnership.
EA/UNCW Think-Care-Act Project Partnership.
Dr. Elizabeth O. Crawford, an education professor at University of North Carolina Wilmington, and Susan Gelber Cannon, a middle school teacher, author, and developer of Think-Care-Act Projects, are pleased to present our second collaborative year of sharing Think-Care-Act-Projects [TCAP]. Our EA/UNCW Think-Care-Act Project Partnership allows Episcopal Academy sixth graders and Dr. Crawford’s senior UNCW pre-service education majors to consider personal qualities and talents, identify passions for social change, and act to change the world for the better. Through video sessions, my students and those of Dr. Crawford have inspired and encouraged each other to make a difference.
Below, and for the next few blog postings, you will read future teachers’ guest blogs about their TCAPs, with links for research and teaching suggestions.
Happy reading and thinking, caring, and acting!—Sue Cannon
Honeybees and African Elephants as Keystone Species
Think-Care-Act Project by Brittany Hutton, Destyne Frazier, and Emily Tate
University of North Carolina at Wilmington, May 2016
Both here in our community and all over the world, there are species of animals that are threatened as Earth continually changes. Why should we care about these animals? Some of these threatened species are keystone species; these are animals that play a huge role in their ecosystems. Some of these animals may not be very big, or very populous. Yet, keystone species maintain the structure of their communities. The survival of many other species relies on these keystone species.
For our project we looked at honeybees and African elephants, two very important keystone species. While these two animals are quite different from one another, they each play a huge role in their environments. In addition, both of these species are declining in number due to human activities.
Facts about Honeybees
Pollinators are essential for all ecosystems to function, especially the agriculture-dominated ecosystem in which humans live (Spivak, 2013). Bees—honeybees in particular—are the most important pollinators of fruits, vegetables, and alfalfa.
There are four main causes that we can point to in the decline of honeybees; pesticides, global warming, deforestation, and disease. When honeybees ingest pesticides their memories and navigation skills become scrambled, and in some cases they are “addicted” to nectar that contains pesticides (Carson, 2015, para. 4). One insecticide, a type of pesticide called neonicontinoids begins in the ground and stay in the plant as it grows. These insecticides are lethal enough to kill an insect with one bite of a leaf. Many of the weeds that herbicides kill have flowers which bees need to pollinate and collect nectar from (Spivak, 2013). Neonicontinoids are also found in the pollen and nectar of the plant, and is lethal enough to kill honeybees when they feed (Spivak, 2013).
Complicating this situation, there is a mite called the Varroa Destructor that causes viruses and compromises immune systems as it sucks the bees’ blood. Because the neurotoxins in the pesticides that bees consume are unhealthy for the bee and often make them confused, the viruses caused by this mite make bees less likely to be able to make it through consuming the unhealthy pollen (Spivak, 2013).
Other conditions also endanger bees. Changing weather patterns (global warming) are causing honeybees to come out of hibernation early. A cold or rainy spell then comes along that causes them to be unable to go out and collect pollen, and they starve to death in the hive. As industry and development increase, the fields of flowers that honeybees need to collect nectar are being destroyed to make way for new buildings.
Taking Action for Honeybees
In our research, we found that the simplest and most beneficial way to benefit the honeybees is to create a pollinator garden with a water basin for pollinators to drink from. We wrote letters to companies who generously donated many pollinator friendly flowering plants as well as bulbs, soil, and a dish to make a water basin. We chose to plant these plants at Pine Valley Elementary, where we have been interning. The first thing we did was get this project approved with Mrs. Opgrand, the school's principal. Our partnership teachers, who allowed some of the third and fourth graders to help us with the planting, also approved this project. These students had been learning about bees and were very interested in this topic.
The students really enjoyed planting in the garden—even the students who thought they wouldn’t have fun! We were able to see different sides of the students than we are used to seeing in the classroom. Students who were typically quiet and unmotivated were taking ownership of their plants and telling stories about gardening with their families at home. The students who are usually talkative were quiet as they were focused and motivated on their task. When discussing what we were learning about being outside in a garden during class time, the students realized that they were learning to work together. They also were learning about gardening, plants, and most importantly helping the bees!
Facts about Elephants
At this time 16,938 species are registered as threatened with extinction (Endangered Species International). One of those animals is the elephant. Elephants are a unique, beautiful species that could be facing extinction within the next couple of decades. This could mean that the next generation might never see an elephant in their lifetime (Wildlife Conservation Society). These intelligent creatures face many obstacles to survive in their natural habitat. Humans are in direct competition with elephants for a habitat to live in and are their predators in the wild because of the demand for ivory (SOS Elephants, 2010). Elephants have become endangered because of humans so it is up to humans to save this creature before it’s too late. If drastic changes are not made soon then the chances of saving this species will decrease considerably.
Elephants are the largest land mammal on Earth. They are recognized by their distinct ears, long trunk, and ivory tusks (World Wildlife Fund). Elephants live in matriarchal family groups and are also known for their close familial bonds. The entire herd protects its calves, for example. Herds, consisting mainly of females, can range in size from 8-100 elephants. The males leave the family between the ages of 12-15 and live a more solitary lifestyle while females tend to spend their entire lives with their herd (Defenders of Wildlife, 2012).
Elephants are considered a keystone species because they play such a vital part in the African ecosystem. Animals depend on elephants to pull down trees, dig waterholes, create trails, and produce dung. Elephant dung is especially important to the African ecosystem because some seeds cannot even germinate without going through an elephant’s system. Their droppings also disperse seeds around the environment and create fertile soil. Without elephants, countless species in Africa would be negatively affected (SOS Elephants, 2010).
Taking Action for Elephants
Elephants are a keystone species that needs to be protected. If citizens care about preventing the extinction of this incredible species, they need to take action. For communities in proximity to elephant environments, there are local actions to take that differ from the suggestions below for classroom action. For example, local communities can build healthier human-elephant relationships. This can be done through monitoring elephants, building fences when needed, and educating citizens in the community. Another important step is to stop poaching and the sale of ivory. An estimated ninety-six elephants are killed every day in Africa (Wildlife Conservation Society). These killings might be prevented by increasing the presence of law enforcement in areas where poaching and the illegal sale of ivory is a problem. It is also necessary to protect elephant habitats so elephants have the proper space to live and wander freely (World Wildlife Fund). If enough people care, the elephants will continue to live, instead of becoming extinct. At this point, humans need to take action if they want future generations to live in a world with elephants, instead of just their tusks.
Using Think-Care-Act Projects in the Classroom
As adults, it is easy to think that one person cannot make a difference. Society also sends children messages that they should be seen and not heard, that their opinions do not matter, and that they are too young to know better. Think-Care-Act Projects are a great way to remind students that kids can make a difference! As teachers we care about what our students think and care about, and we should empower them to take action. Getting students to think about global issues allows them to realize that the problems that we deal with everyday may have effects on people all over the world. This project is also a great way to get students to express their interests and passions at a young age. By taking action about an issue that they care about, students are engaging in meaningful learning that they will not forget!
Let’s return to the task of saving the elephants, for example. Students can make a difference by something as simple as taking an “elphie.” Taking an elphie is a social media campaign being used by some organizations, like “96elephants.org.” Students can draw a picture of an elephant and take a selfie or a group selfie and send it to 96 elephants with the caption, #elphie. Their photo could be used on their website or on their Facebook page. This is a simple way for students to raise awareness and make a difference for this important issue. The point is, children can become involved in an important global issue in simple, fun ways that don’t cost money.
If students want to do more, there are great organizations that take donations for protecting elephants. “Defenders of Wildlife” is an organization from which your classroom could “adopt” an elephant. There are several packages that your class can select from, depending on the amount of money raised or they would like to donate. Having a symbolic elephant that your class adopts can create a very positive classroom environment that promotes making change in the world.
- Check out these websites to
learn more about Honeybees:
- Check out these websites to learn more about elephants:
- Information on Think-Care-Act Projects: