Lesson of the Day: ‘In Wisconsin: Stowing Mowers, Pleasing Bees’

Featured Article: “In Wisconsin: Stowing Mowers, Pleasing Bees,” photographs and text by Anne Readel from The Times’s The World Through a Lens series.

Do you have a front lawn? If not, have you ever fantasized about having one? Why do you think a lush, perfectly manicured lawn is a dream for so many Americans? Did you know that kind of lawn can hurt the environment and contribute to the decline of bee populations?

In this lesson, you will learn how the No Mow May movement aims to transform the traditional American lawn into an ecological benefit. In Going further activities, we invite you to make the case for or against a similar environmental campaign in your own community. You’ll also have an option to act as a photojournalist and document the often overlooked life in a front lawn or field of grass.

Part 1: Closely observe a lawn or patch of grass in your neighborhood.

Do you have a front lawn? If not, think of a familiar field or patch of grass that you pass by or visit regularly, such as a schoolyard, park or neighbor’s backyard. What plant and animal species do you imagine live there?

Go to this lawn or patch of grass and take some time to observe the life, big or small, there. Be sure to record and annotate your observations in a notebook. Consider bringing a magnifying glass, binoculars and a sketch book.

After your observations, respond to the following prompts in writing:

  • What did you notice? What plant or animal species did you identify? (Don’t worry if you’re not sure. It’s fine to write descriptions like “insect,” “bird,” “small yellow flower” or “strange looking bug.”)

  • What stood out from your observations? Were you surprised by the variety of life you found? What did you learn from looking closely at something you may have passed by without much thought before?

  • What did you wonder? What questions do you have about the life you observed?

Part 2: Watch a short video on the decline of bees in America.

Before reading the featured article, watch the four-minute “Why Are the Bees Dying?” by PBS from 2016 on the alarming rates at which bee colonies, wild and domesticated, are disappearing.

  • What are three reasons that bees are dying?

  • Why are these tiny pollinators so important to the world’s food supply? What will happen if all bees disappeared?

  • What are some possible solutions to help prevent the decline of bees, according to the video?

  • What remaining questions do you have about bees?

Read the featured articlethen answer the following questions:

1. What did Anne Readel, a photojournalist, discover was different about the lawns in Appleton, Wis., when she drove through it last spring?

2. What is the No Mow May movement, and what are its goals? How did Appleton become the first city in the United States to adopt No Mow May?

3. Look closely at the photos in the article: What story do they tell about Appleton or the No Mow May movement? Which image stands out to you most? Why?

4. What animal and plant species have flourished since Appleton adopted the No Mow plan? How do these species compare with the kinds you observed in the warm-up activity?

5. Why are some residents and communities not so happy about the initiative?

6. Dr. Israel Del Toro cautions that No Mow May is only a starting point for bee conservation. What else can communities do to be more bee- (no pun intended, we promise) and eco-friendly?

7. What is your reaction to the article? What did you find most interesting, surprising or memorable? Does the article change how you think about the traditional American lawn? Will it make you notice the often overlooked and ignored natural world around us more fully?

Option 1: Make the case for or against a No Mow May in your community

What are laws like in your own neighborhood or community? Are they neatly manicured? Wild and weedy? Or a rarity?

Imagine that your town or city is considering adopting a No Mow May plan and that you have been invited to speak at an upcoming community meeting. Make a passionate and reasoned case for or against the proposal. Be sure to present evidence to support your arguments. Anticipate possible counterarguments to your claims. Inform listeners why they should care about the issue. And consider how you can draw upon your own experiences with lawns as well as your distinct point of view as a teenager.

As a bonus, create some visual media — a poster, infographic or public service announcement — to support your case.

Option 2: Watch and respond to a Times video

In 2019, The Times published a seven-minute film, “The Great American Lawn: How the Dream Was Manufactured,” that explored how a perfectly manicured patch of grass came to represent the pride of homeownership and community. Watch the film and respond to the following questions adapted from our Film Club:

  • What moments in this film stood out for you? Why?

  • What did you learn about the history of lawns, lawn mowers and how the dream of the ideal front lawn was created?

  • Are there any surprises? Anything that challenged what you know — or thought you knew?

Option 3: Learn more about bees — and contribute as a citizen scientist

Why do bees buzz? How do they clean themselves? How can we all help with their conservation? What questions do you still have about bees and their alarming decline?

To answer these questions and learn much more, scroll through The Times’s Bees topic page or read one of the articles or short ScienceTake videos below:

After your new research, respond to the following prompts in writing or through discussion with a partner or small group:

  • What is one new interesting fact about bees you learned?

  • How did your article or video deepen or challenge what you already knew about bees?

  • What questions do you still have on the subject?

Still interested in bees? Want to help efforts to prevent the decline of bee populations in North America? Become a citizen scientist and learn how to help efforts to collect better data on native bee populations and to build more bee-friendly environments with collaborative projects like The Great American Bee Count, Bumble Bee Watch, the Beecology Project or the Great Sunflower Project.

Option 4: Document laws where you live

What role do laws and fields of grass play in your life? Why should we stop to notice, appreciate and, perhaps, rethink them?

Imagine that The Times hired you to document the laws and fields of grass in your own community for the World Through a Lens series. Using the main article as a mentor text, photograph the overlooked life and beauty of a patch of grass in your neighborhood.

How would you reveal this setting to others? What would you photograph? What details would you show? When would you use wide, medium or close-up shots?

After you have captured at least three photographs, write a short artist’s statement that explains why you chose them and what they reveal about the lawns in your community. Additionally, where possible, include identifications for each plant and animal species you documented. (Free apps like Leafsnap, Picture Insect or iNaturalist could help.)

Want more Lessons of the Day? You can find them all here.

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