This year, the students of Carolyn Nichols’ AP biology class at Morse High School are using honey bees to learn about everything from animal behavior to biochemistry. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

BATH — In a classroom full of bubbling tanks and overgrown plants, the Advanced Placement Biology students at Morse High School in Bath are particularly abuzz about honey bees.

This year, Carolyn Nichols, who teaches the class, launched a program that incorporates honey bees into the curriculum.

When studying biochemistry the class learned about the properties of lipids by making lip balms and hand lotions using beeswax and honey. The bees also took center stage when the class studied animal behavior and cell energy.

The students have taken to calling the bee-focused lessons “bee therapy” because it allows them to, “take a break from the normal schedule and get extra context for the material we’ve been learning,” according to Emily Adams, a senior at Morse.

“Students may not remember mitosis or the Krebs cycle, but they’ll remember working with bees,” said Nichols.

Nichols uses her own four beehives in her lessons rather than keeping bees on school property. The class took a few field trips to Nichols’ home to work with the bees, and she brought in honeycomb so students could learn how to extract honey.


Nichols began testing the waters with bee-themed lessons last year but found, “Working with bees is not receptive to all parties.”

Elsa Bertlesman, who took the class last year, said she was afraid of bees since she was 7, but called the experience “irreplaceable.”

“It’s one thing to learn about bee anatomy in the classroom, to read in a textbook about their social hierarchies and communication methods, but to see it in action in a safe and fun setting is another,” said Bertlesman. “I’ll never forget the taste of beekeeping I had that day. It was one of those experiences I feel so lucky to have had.”

Nichols plans to bring the activity to the students at Georgetown Central School, who first gave Nichols the idea to use bees as a teaching tool.

Nichols attended the Maine State Beekeepers Association Annual Conference in 2018, where she watched seven first-grade students from Georgetown Central School share a book they wrote on beekeeping.

“That Monday morning (after the conference), I brought in frames filled with honey and my AP Biology class learned how to extract honey,” said Nichols.


Earlier this month Nichols was awarded a $1,800 grant from Berlin City Auto Group’s Drive for Education grant program. She plans to use the money to purchase 14 beekeeping suits, which allow more students to work with the bees at a time. She was previously funding the program herself.

The class, all seniors, will graduate by the time the new Morse High School building is completed in December of this year, but the group hopes the new school will have an apiary on the roof to allow next year’s AP Biology class to have more hands-on experiences with the bees.

Nichols’ said the roof would be the safest place for the bees, as students have a 1 in 8,000 chance of being stung by a bee in an apiary, but she keeps EpiPens on hand as a safety precaution.

The class was also invited to make a presentation at the Eastern Apicultural Society Conference in Orono this summer. Founded in 1955, the Eastern Apicultural Society of North America is an international nonprofit educational organization for the promotion of bee culture, education of beekeepers, certification of Master Beekeepers, and excellence in been research.

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