The Curious Case Of Brandon’s Bees

I had talked about getting a closer look at the bees just a couple days before. Up until then, I had used the zoom on my camera as best as I could to close the distance between the ground and the beehive about 15 feet in the air. I’m not sure what it was about this particular day. The rain had let up; the bees were active. Something motivated me to put my usual plans aside and ask around for a long stick.

Just off the path from the administration buildings to the library and computer lab, a water tank rests atop a 16 foot brick base.

A wooden beam on the platform top enters its trunk creating a hole just under the platoform that the bees made into a home.

Walking by on my way to class, I often stop when seeing the bees in an active mood, hundreds buzzing in seeming chaos in and out of the break in the bricks. Perhaps inspired unconsciously by the GoPro fad or evoked independently, I got the idea to attach my camera to something and reach it up to their nest. Could have been the seedling idea at the forefront of a bad story. Nonetheless, I was undeterred. In fact, this experience would be a teaching opportunity for the students of Magulilwa Area Secondary School in Tanzania.

My American colleague science teacher Leah told me she had meter sticks in her class. She also suggested a broom. I found this favorable to the meter stick idea or trying to find a long branch, and on Thursday, March 27th, I walked into the library to ask Caroline, the late-20s librarian, if she had any brooms. She walked me to a room behind the front desk and opened the door to book storage. Within were a few brooms/mops along the wall. I also found a couple broomsticks. Perfect.

I took one broom and two broomsticks up to my room where I found the masking tape I had received for shipping the box of computers with me on my trip out here in January. I wrapped the clear tape around and around the three sticks with the broom being at the top of my three-part pole. I then tied my camera to the broom head with some rope I also brought with me to Tanzania. I remember thinking when packing it, “You never know.”

With my camera taut up against the bristles, I parted them like stiff hair to see the back camera screen to make sure it was recording from its mount. It was. So I carried my apparatus back toward the library and over to the bees to give this thing a test run.

The busy buzzers were quite active this noon hour with the members of the colony swarming about. I hoisted my 15-foot Frankenstein broom cam while it was recording. The bees didn’t get too riled up about the camera impeding despite me putting it directly outside their lair. And despite being almost directly below, the bees never followed the broomsticks down to sting me. I don’t think they were that aggressive a species. Though they certainly frenzied around the camera, they didn’t cover it with a coat of themselves as I’d seen on nature shows about bees.

All the while, I didn’t know if the angle of the lens, the location of the camera, or the focus or lack of light inside their home were amenable for a good shot. So I tried a couple positions. When I brought the camera down a minute later, one stubborn, perhaps curious bee took the ride down to greet me.

The bees weren’t very large. Maybe the size of a large pill capsule. This one flew away after a couple shoos.

I untied my camera and watched what I recorded. The angle was a little off, but other than that, the footage was focused and took some nice bee action up close and personal.

Throughout this process, a couple students had walked by and briefly watched briefly what I was up to. Class had been in session, so they had to move on. I wanted to show more students my little project, figuring it would make their day the way my ant curiosity (in this very same spot as a matter of fact) had a couple weeks before.

So I walked with my boom camera down to the lower classroom building near the library. Mr. Chonya, the 30-year-old teacher of the youngest, Form One students, actually happened to be serendipitously standing outside on the concrete front steps with his class.

“Can I borrow your class?” I asked as I approached.

Looking at me for a second with my pole vault-ish broom, he said with slight bewilderment, “Yes.”

I didn’t notice right away, but the students here were just the boys of his large class. So about twenty-five 12-14 year olds excitedly followed me having no idea what for, but seeing the camera recording, saw their chance to get some screen time with funny faces.

After maybe 30 paces, we got back up to the water tank where I asked the boys to stay on the grass on the opposite side of the path. I turned toward the bees for my take two. I’m sure at some point in my turning and lifting the boys figured out what their American computer teacher was up to, but I couldn’t see their reaction as I concentrated on the camera.

Here’s how it all went down:

Afterward, we walked back to the Form One classroom. The boys insisted on carrying the broom camera for me.

In their class, I knelt on the smooth, concrete floor while the boys all huddled around to watch the meager monitor of the camera. After they laughed seeing themselves acting silly on camera and commented on the bee footage, I played it for a surrounding audience of the Form One girls.

Mr. Chonya seemed to have left me with the class for the remainder of the hour, so I stood and addressed all 50 students by asking aloud,

“What’s the lesson for the day?”

The room responded with some shuffling and echoes of uncertainty.

“Be safe”, I began.

“Be curious”, I continued.

“Be creative”, I concluded.

I went for my fifteen-foot broom. Some of the boys had tied a piece of cardboard to the top in the same way I had tied my camera.

That evening I revised the lesson to:

Be Curious — Ask questions about your world.

Be Creative — How can you discover that which you are curious about?

Be Careful — How can you keep from getting bit, stung, yelled at, etc.?

I shared this in my Form Two computer classes. I showed them the bee footage, asked them why they thought I did this odd activity, and encouraged them to discover their curiosities–and then to start investigating.

I have always noticed a lessened level of inquisition in students here as compared to those I taught back in Minnesota. As a biology teacher, Leah has commented more than once about how students here fail to ask questions about their surroundings–the animals and plant life.

Headmaster Mgongolwa blames the country’s culture of testing over application.

“Children need to be outside and active,” said the 60-year-old to me in opposition to the nation’s stress on book learning.

So I asked my Form Two students what they were curious about–other countries, computers, animals. After some hesitation, one or two raised their hands.



Soon, most of the students’ hands were raised to list off an animal–whether because they were genuinely curious or just showing me what animals they knew in English, I don’t know. Fifteen animals later, though, I tied it into our computer lesson by having them type these items–from cockroaches to crocodiles.

I think I found something more than just computer know-how to impart on my students. To the degree to which curiosity can be cultivated, I can encourage and provide an outlet in a culture that doesn’t stress active learning and discovery as much as others.

I’ll try to get my students to put on their curious, creative thinking caps.


7 Responses

  1. Owen Ekman

    Brilliantly conceived and executed. This is what it’s all about; teaching them how to learn more than what to learn. Ingenious bit of gaffing, my Brutha. I’m sure they all got a kick out that, as well.

  2. Bev Klein

    Now that took some serious thinking to come up with that “contraption.”
    By the looks on those kids faces, they loved the lesson.They are going to hate to see you leave.

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What say you?