Bees and Barnacles and Bits and Bobs

Good morning! I hope you had a splendid half term break.

Biological highlight of the last few weeks was probably a successful honey bee swarm collection. Our last surviving hive had starved to death in the really cold spell of mid-April – we felt very sad and rather guilty (we should have fed them!) on opening up the hive and finding the pathetic corpses of bees, buried deep in the cells in a desperate search for a drop of honey…

So when a swarm attached itself to the hazel tree in the garden, it was an obvious chance to renew our stock! And it was textbook. We shook the swarm into a box – they land with a satisfying thump. We put the box under the tree to allow the other bees to find them. Then, later in the day, we took the box up to our newly refurbished hive (lots of lovely wax comb and a sugary bait in the top). We had put a white sheet on the ground leading up to the entrance of the hive, and just dumped the swarm out of the box and onto the white sheet.

Well, I had seen videos and read accounts, but what happened next still blew me away. After a few minutes, the scout bees had found the hive, liked what they saw, and sent out the necessary signal to the rest of the swarm. Which promptly walked into the hive. I sat, transfixed, for an hour and a half as the 1000s of bees marched in orderly columns up the sheet and in through the entrance. Just incredible.

I’ve looked at the possibility of keeping bees in school and having an Apiary Club. I know that other schools do this successfully and I think our students would love it, but there are only so many hours in a day and I just couldn’t face going through the risk assessment process.

Anyway, back to the plot. Apologies for the slightly late burble-posting – I had a very enjoyable Tuesday in Taunton, contributing a session on Flipped Practicals to a group of Biology Heads. I picked up a brilliant idea for using barnacles in lessons, involving an invasive Australian species, Eliminius modestus, that attaches to small rocks and pebbles, making them easy to pick up. In a plastic bag in a cold box, they’ll last a month, “thinking” the tide is out. Collect some sea water at the same time and keep it chilled. For the lesson, students have a suitably barnacled pebble in a glass dish and cover it with cold sea water. The barnacles almost instantly spring into action and you can watch them “beating” their little food gathering legs in and out of the hole (technical term?) on top. This correlates beautifully with temperature, so as the sea water warms up, the beating activity increases. There’s a nice link to Darwin – E.modestus features in his monograph on the group – and I’m only sorry that being based in Oxford doesn’t make for convenient collection of the animals….

Other snippets from the day. I liked the equation: rtfg + atfq = exam success.

And I liked this picture:


Back in school today, I’ve started work on an A-level Nitrogen Cycle lesson. My existing lesson is awful and needs to be taken outside and shot. I’m quite pleased with the new version that is evolving but it’s not ready for sharing just yet. Watch this space. I’ve also been commissioned by the education branch of ASAB (Association of the Study of Animal Behaviour) to develop a lesson on cuckoo brood parasitism. Lots of role play with chocolate eggs and trying to think like a bird. It’ll eventually be free for access on the ASAB website and I’ll put the word out when this happens.

But for now, I’ll complete the story of our KS3 Summer Exam practical questions.

For Year 8,  I wanted to be a little more ambitious. We couldn’t do microscopes again – though they had enjoyed looking at osteocytes and imagining the lonely life in that little bone-clad prison – and they had already had some practical questions in progress tests on Forces – so no block sliding down slopes. What about Chemistry? The topic on Rocks won’t be in next year’s SoW (deathly deathly dull!) but they had really enjoyed the chemical analysis of malachite.

So I put in a question which required them to identify 3 unknown compounds provided in solution. Here it is.

Year 8 Summer Exam 2016 practical question

Can anyone spot the chemical error???

The outcome was interesting. They all (well, nearly all) successfully identified the metal. But they didn’t have enough chemistry to appreciate that a cation will only ever have one anion. And with the carbonate also giving precipitates with Barium chloride and Silver nitrate, most of them thought they had found Sodium Hydrogen Carbonate Chloride. So, that needs a bit of rewriting….

But they liked the process and took it very, very seriously. With most of the marks allocated to practical skills, the successful identification was less of a concern, and we had a tick list for what we wanted to see (wear goggles, label tubes, rinse tubes, etc). Certainly, the over-arching aim of emphasizing the singular importance of experimental investigation to Science was, I think, successful. I hope to see more evidence of this next week when I introduce them to their summer project – they’re all going to do a Bronze CREST award….

Have a good week.


4 thoughts on “Bees and Barnacles and Bits and Bobs

  1. Bill Burnett

    They’re called cirri (the barnacle legs…). And don’t forget to mention that they keep the largest penis (for body size) in the animal kingdom inside that unassuming shell…


    1. paulweeks2014 Post author

      Aha! Thank you. Cirri it is. What’s the hole called? I was going to mention the very long penis (and, indeed, hermaphroditism) but in my rush to publish, it must have slipped out. I also like the fact that, in the glass dish, they will often discharge their little baby nauplii – which then promptly get eaten as they obviously can’t distinguish them from general food stuff in the water.



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