Are Schools More Like Factories or Beehives? Schools as Beehives - Part 2

Are Schools More Like Factories or Beehives? Schools as Beehives - Part 2

Schools as Beehives - Part 2

When we observe active groups of students engaged in collaborative and purposeful work we are likely to describe them as being “as busy as bees.” The perception that students are productive and engaged problem-solvers like the self-regulated bees in a hive is far more consistent with our view of education than thinking of school as a factory where students are expected to master simple routines and have little, if any input, into their learning. The metaphor of the beehive is especially apt for describing healthy, sustainable learning environments.

It is evident that our perceptions about schools and whether we see them as factories or beehives has an impact on how we organize and manage learning environments. Increasingly, schools are recognizing the need for balanced classrooms in which there are separate yet integrated spaces for the whole class, small groups, and individualized learning activities.

The beehive also provides us with an excellent model for the kinds of open communication and learning collaboration that students need to progress academically. Bees keep each other well informed; they perform elaborate coded dances to explain exactly where foragers can find nectar to make honey.

Experienced bees mentor those who need to learn a new task, often accompanying them until they are ready to work on their own. Similarly, we know that peer mentoring and guidance from older students and community members enable students to gradually take on increasing responsibility for their own learning. For example, teachers who provide students with timely descriptive feedback help them to substantially improve their learning outcomes.

The structure of the beehive is efficiently designed to serve a variety of purposes. Architects have long been fascinated with the structure and function of beehives.1 In fact, Frank Lloyd Wright designed a school in Japan with hexagonal shapes in recognition of the “perfect world of bees.” Architect Paul Hankin has taken a similar approach school design for a school in Uganda. This school will consist of twenty hexagonal pods that accommodate two-hundred and fifty students.2

School architects in Finland are also deliberately moving away from factory-style buildings and are designing facilities in clusters with multiple gathering spaces. PasI Sahlberg, Director General of the Center for International Mobility and Cooperation in the Ministry of Education, attributes at least part of his country’s academic success on achievement tests to the increased attention being paid to the effect of the learning environment on student learning.3


1.  Ramírez, J. A. (2000). The beehive metaphor: From Gaudí to Le Corbusier. London: Reaktion Books Ltd.

2.  Hinkin, P. (2014). How a night at the 2degrees Awards is now helping to build a school in Uganda [Electronic Version]. 2degrees Community. Retrieved July 12, 2014 from

3.  Sparkes, S. (2012). Finland rethinks factory-style school buildings [Electronic Version]. Education Week. Retrieved August 4, 2014 from 

Did you miss out reading Part 1? Click here to read it! 

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