Tinahely National School – Heritage in schools visit – 4th September 2015

I got a call to visit the Tinahely National School in May 2015 and I was booked in for a September slot, 4th September 2015.

The schools request was to: “To enable the teachers and class groups to learn about the main plants/shrubs/trees that are growing in our school garden. Our hope is to map the garden and list all major trees etc. to act as an aid to future lessons, and transfer the information onto a Habitat Map

I had all 5 classes ranging from junior infants to sixth class. We had an ok day fairly overcast – temperatures ranging about 12-13 degrees. The weather pickedup in the afternoon. I knew there wouldn’t be any pollinators about.

The night before, I did a recci on ‘google maps’ and studied the school grounds and layout, and took approximate measurements of the school. This helped me to understand what equipment I required and what I needed for the school grounds. I brought a long measurement line so that it would help use measure out the perimeter of the hedgerow. Then using a photocopy of the OS map of the school, we used this as our base template to start recording species. We started with the sixth class, as they were able to write the species, hold the maps, and walk and understand what was happening with the hedgerow. While we walked and talked we numbered species along the map and recorded their common names, if Latin names were known they were also provided.

The hedgerow was a typical mature hedgerow in the countryside which had been recently coppiced.

The dominant large species of trees were Horse chestnut, Ash, Oak, Beech, the small trees were Rowan, Birch, and in the understory field layer we had Ivy, Herb Robert (still flowering), Nettles, Brambles, Cleaver, Foxglove, Alexandra. We noticed a section of sick trees that were probably effected by some kind of fungus – honey fungus perhaps as a section of trees and shrubs were sick for around 10 m or so. The children were fascinated to understand that trees get sick too. There were a family of robins in this hedgerow, but not so many other some birds for some reason – perhaps too cold? When I returned to the hedgerow there were a large flock of little birds (when all the children had disappeared probably foraging on the berries etc.).

With the younger groups we studied the mature hollies that had berries – they were still green – so the children understood that Santa hadn’t started shopping yet! We found a lot of insects in this area such as spiders & their nests, shield bugs, baby ladybirds, mature ladybirds, greenfly, a very tired hungry bumblebee (so we got sugared water). We identified the species at the front of the school and transferred this onto the habitat map. There was a beautiful apple tree, too, but it wasn’t ripe just yet. We noticed how the conifer trees were a great habitat for spider’s webs, in particular and there were a good few nests around.

The younger children got their clip boards and crayons and we did leaf rubbings and prints with a few common species of trees. I was very impressed with the school and how well they kept their school grounds with a huge focus and interest on nature. They had a few handmade insect hideouts, and a compost bin. Their growing garden areas were fantastic.

Well done to Tinahely National School for all their hard efforts & interest in natural heritage and using the school grounds to create their habitat map. This will help the school branch out to broaden the children’s knowledge of the local biodiversity, and natural heritage in their area.

Signing-off – Grace Garde

Heritage in schools Wicklow Heritage Expert

Winter Project: 6th Class learn all about Bees!

Labelling of the Bee
Labelling of the Bee

This Autumn I worked with a Primary school in the South Dublin suburbs and they requested that we start a project on bees initially for submission to the Young Scientist competition. They wanted to: To learn more about Bees, their habitat, and their impact on our lives – working with two sixth class groups of 16 and 18 at different times. It was a fascinating project for all concerned. We primarily focused on the Irish Honey Bee, although they were aware of the other 100 bee species native to Ireland. We focused on the casts within the Hive, the morphology, behavior, and dynamics within the bee colony throughout the year. The children made hand-made models of bees out of art materials.

We also completed a ‘Trees for Bees Habitat Map’. This will tie in very nicely with their Biodiversity Flag as they must do a habitat map for this flag. There were 83 mature trees on the grounds hundreds of years old. So we used an existing arborist report and mapped the 83 trees onto a large a1 site map of the school. The students went out with ipads and took morphological pictures of the trees inc. leaf & bark rubbings. Then we isolated the trees known be beneficial to the bees and recorded them on the map specifically – out of the selection these were noted as ‘Horse Chestnut, Lime & Sycamore trees’. There were significant hedgerows with a large Ivy/hawthorn/bramble/ populations but this would be recorded on a separate piece of work.

The children learned how the bees communicate through the ‘waggle dance’, and the ‘tremble dance’. They learned about pollination and the flower morphology. They were fascinated to learn about the Queen, we even dedicated a ‘Queen Bee workshop’!!. The breakdown of functions within the hive depending on the age of the bees and the time of year, and what the bees do with the pollen and nectar they collect. Every week, I went away with questions such as ‘How long does it take for the bees to produce a wild hive, how long does it take for the hive to get to 50-60k bees?, how many stings would it take to kill a human?, why are African bees so aggressive?, what’s in the queen bee sting? – is it different, who makes the queen cells?, is inbreeding an issue in the colony?, explain the evolution of insects?, how many queen cells are there?, what are the differences between a Bumblebee and wasp colony?……It was a real pleasure to work on this project with 6th class children.

Testimonials

This piece originally appeared on the Heritage in Schools website.