Bee-school with SAD 54 adult ed

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adult education centerYesterday marked the start of the fall session of my bee-school. I loaded my laptop, and a variety of beekeeping gear and equipment into the back of my Subaru Outback and drove to Skowhegan and to it’s high school where I was scheduled to teach more than 20 peoples about the basics of beekeeping here in Maine.

Back in July I was approached by the SAD 54 Adult Education program about teaching a fall beekeeper’s course for them. At the time I was swamped and couldn’t really fathom the idea of fitting the course into my schedule, but I was flattered to be asked, and I’ve been asked a number of times over the last 2 or 3 years about a fall bee-school so I decided this was the year and I brazenly said yes.

This is my 6th year as a beekeeper, my 5th year serving as president of the Somerset Beekeepers, and my 4th year teaching beekeepers─however this is my 1st experience with a school district. The Somerset Beekeepers congregates at the Somerset County Cooperative Extension; I have a very good relationship with the folks there and so I’ve held my bee-schools there every February for the last 4 years.

It turns out I have quite a knack for gathering and organizing information. That’s not surprising really for someone who relished research reports and essays in school, who likes to write and has had experience homeschooling I suppose. I’ve put together my own bee-school curriculum covering the basic topics for new beekeepers: facts about bees, equipment & gear, establishing new hives, seasonal management, honey production, pests & diseases and IPM, etc. And I try to present the information using multiple learning modalities: printed information in handouts and power-point, visual info─also in handouts and in the form of pictures and graphics included in the power-point, hands-on demonstration pieces and when possible projects that allow participants to take part and get their hands involved.

All that sounds good and I guess I’ve done a fair job of it, but I’m still nervous standing as the voice of authority in front of a group. I’ve gotten a lot better since the first bee-school I ever did, but last night was something of an ordeal.

I managed to remember almost all of my gear and equipment. I found a whole host of handouts that I wanted to share with my prospective new beekeepers. And I was on the road headed for Skowhegan at a reasonable time. Yay me!

The staff in the Adult Education Center there at the Skowhegan High School were very nice and set about making copies of all my handouts. They have a fabulous copy machine that copies the handouts front and back and staples them together for you too! You can put in a sheaf of 5 different pages and it will print 20-something sets of them for you. The only problem is that it’s a painstaking process and the machine is slow.

While I waited for the handouts to be ready I went in search of my classroom: “Orange-10”. It felt like something of an expedition trekking the 200-yards down one corridor, then turning right and hiking another 100-yards through the school, but I eventually found my classroom and set my bag and laptop off there before turning around to make my way all the way back and out into the parking lot to unload my gear and equipment.

I wasn’t looking forward to making several of those trips with the hive pieces and my tool box, but luckily a number of my eager bee-pupils were in the parking lot as I opened the back of my car and they each offered to carry something in with them. I had a whole procession of people carrying equipment as I led the way back through the school to Orange-10, I imagine it might have been a rather humorous sight.

Once the equipment was in the classroom I left the students to “settle in” and I went all the way back to the office once more for the handouts and to ask about a projector for my laptop and power point presentation.

After a conversation with the ladies in the office about how to hook my computer up to the school’s projector and a promise from Vivian, the adult education coordinator there, to bring the remaining handouts (which were still printing slowly but steadily) down and to check on me (for which I was relieved and grateful), I finally made it back to the classroom where my bee-students were waiting patiently. The classroom was small and very warm, and stuffy. I was hot and flustered from having made so many trips back and forth from my classroom to the office and the parking lot, and attempted to hook my laptop up to their system but quickly realized that none of their cords or cables looked familiar. I was confused and decided we would just have to wait for Vivian.

In the meanwhile I had 21 pairs of eyes on me and suddenly my entire plan was shot. I’ve developed a rhythm over the last 4 years teaching this program, and it always begins with a power-point presentation “About Bees”. Instead I began talking about equipment, tools and gear and, still being hot and flustered, stumbled a bit in my presentation.

Eventually Vivian came down with the handouts and we quickly discovered that my beat up old laptop (it’s only 3 years old, but my kids have done quite a number on the thing) doesn’t have the right port for the cable they use for the projector that’s installed in the classroom. The school has other projectors, but it would take a while to track it down, pull it out and set it up, so I wouldn’t have it til the next class.

So no power point.

I wound up just talking my way through the presentation. There were a few pictures that I insisted my student needed to see: pictures of bee eggs, larvae, drones and the Queen, for example. and so I would walk up and down between the rows of desks with the laptop for each person to see exactly what I was talking about. And when I say that my laptop is beat up, I mean that one of the hinges that attaches the screen to the keyboard has broken and so my screen hangs ajar somewhat, and doesn’t always like to stand upright. I felt rather ridiculous parading the thing around in front of everyone, but it is what it is.

Somewhere in all this I remembered to take attendance and we got all of the handouts sorted and passed out. The copy-machine in the office may be a wonder of modern technology, but the sheaf of various handouts was in no particular order and once again I was confused and discombobulated.

Nevertheless we managed to get through the topics I wanted to cover in our first session, and I answered their questions as best I could. I always tell folks up front that I don’t claim to know it all. I’ve learned a lot in my 6 years as a beekeeper, but I know I still have a lot to learn.

Despite the confusion and disarray, the bee-students seemed happy with their first class. They brushed off the mishaps and said they were looking forward to next week. One gentleman who has been keeping bees for a year already, and has taken some of Lincoln Sennet’s workshops at Swan’s over in Albion, said that Lincoln’s classes are very good, but that he’d already learned some things from me that he hadn’t picked up from Lincoln. That was definitely a relief to hear, and a nice encouragement after the shenanigans of the evening. Hopefully next week’s class goes more smoothly!

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