Special purpose trailer becomes a classroom for budding beekeepers

When Melbourne Polytechnic decided to shift the classroom to where the bees are at work for its budding Victorian apiarists, this special purpose trailer fit the bill perfectly.

The specially developed Maxi-CUBE Classic Dry Freight van is being used in the middle of Victorian bushland for students who are learning the trade of beekeeping and honey extraction.

Beekeepers, buzzing bees, tutors and students have come together in this mobile classroom, which is pulled a Western Star prime mover, powered by a 550 horsepower Cat engine.

The prominent Victorian training provider has been working to move Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses into the future – and this one is quite literally on wheels.

Traditionally, Polytech offers a diverse range of courses from agriculture to engineering.

Coinciding with the Victorian pandemic shutdown, the institution identified a regional gap: the absence of a beekeeping course in Victoria, with the nearest option located in New South Wales.

James Farmer, a member of Melbourne Polytechnic’s facilities and assets team, spearheaded the design and construction of a mobile classroom designed for teaching beekeeping.

Following the production of the trailer, a local third-party company completed the fit-out.

Developed in partnership with MaxiTRANS, this self-sufficient, off-grid trailer serves not just as a classroom but also provides practical, hands-on training. The classroom can travel throughout the state for greater flexibility and accessibility.

It was decided that a roving educational platform could offer unprecedented accessibility and hands-on training opportunities for students scattered across Victoria.

The trailer had to be large enough to serve as a classroom while also adhering to road safety and transport guidelines.

Farmer reached out to MaxiTRANS, which directed the concept to Maxi-CUBE.

Maxi-CUBE engineers designed a dry freight model tailored to the classroom’s specifications, with 3D models offered through the development process to ensure the trailer met all of Melbourne Polytechnic’s needs.

To make the trailer more functional and user-friendly, several features were added, including a fibreglass slip-free zircon floor, a side-access door, and underbody storage suitable for ladders and steps.

When the trailer came off the MaxiTRANS production line in Ballarat, the next phase was to customise it for its specific educational purpose which was done in collaboration with a local fit-out company.

Nine solar panels were installed on the roof, lying flat to comply with height and wind resistance restrictions. These panels power batteries built into the trailer, generating enough electricity to run the equivalent of two households.

Beneath the batteries is a water storage unit, providing hot water essential for honey extraction and other tasks.

The interior layout includes workbenches for hands-on training and sinks for preparation.

For usability, several features were added, including a fibreglass slip-free floor, side-access door, and underbody storage suitable for ladders and steps.

“There’s two extractors in there, a warming cabinet, equipment to do repairs to boxes or create new boxes,” explained Farmer. “They learn to rob hives, take the wax off them and run them through the extractors. There can be up to 20 students and they don’t all need to be in the trailer at the same time. They learn the whole process as they go through.”

Since its completion in April 2023, following a project timeline affected by the pandemic, Melbourne Polytechnic’s mobile beekeeping classroom was put into action, with the classroom hitting the road for its inaugural beekeeping course in August.

So far the response has been overwhelmingly positive, underscoring the success of this unique educational initiative.

The mobile beekeeping classroom serves as a case study in educational innovation with potential applications far beyond beekeeping.

Given Melbourne Polytechnic’s wide-ranging course offerings, the concept of a mobile, off-grid classroom could revolutionise how vocational courses are taught.

There could be scope for mobile classrooms to be used for courses in agriculture, horticulture, or even plumbing and locksmithing, which would greatly benefit from hands-on, on-site training.

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