What's the Buzz on Bees?

Lisa Holt-Taylor
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Assessment Item , Article , Experiment/Lab Activity , Lesson/Lesson Plan , Unit
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



This unit is comprised of a series of lessons that follow the 5E model, providing students with opportunities to learn about pollination on different levels. Studying the structures and functions of flowers and bees through text, video, and observation is followed by students engaging in the engineering design process to create hand pollinators that could help respond to the severe reduction in bee populations.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 4
  • Grade 5
Access Restrictions

Available for purchase - The right to view, keep, and/or download material upon payment of a one-time fee.

Performance Expectations

4-LS1-1 Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.

Clarification Statement: Examples of structures could include thorns, stems, roots, colored petals, heart, stomach, lung, brain, and skin.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to macroscopic structures within plant and animal systems.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students read about plants, germinate seeds, dissect flowers, and study bees to learn about the structures involved in pollination and how they interact to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction. In creating their own hand pollinators, they apply their learning to a design problem.

3-5-ETS1-2 Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students are provided the background needed to identify a need that can be met by a device that can pollinate flowers by hand. They are given time to collaboratively design, test, redesign and retest their devices. To be more explicit regarding language for this engineering activity, students might begin the design process by being asked to identify criteria and constraints in their journals (e.g. Criteria: create an intact pollinator that could effectively pollinate two of the six artificial flowers on display. Constraints: limited materials and time). Since the possibility that students generate their own list of materials is suggested, constraints would vary depending on how the teacher handled this phase. The author suggests that the re-testing phase could be done outside with actual flowers, which would be highly engaging for students if it’s possible to schedule the unit when flowers are in bloom and there are no students with severe allergies.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students are fully engaged in the engineering design process during this lesson sequence, including testing multiple iterations of their designs. They do not plan the investigation or focus attention on variables, number of trials or what constitutes a fair test. The teacher might introduce or reinforce these concepts during the unit, possibly including them on the editable worksheets that are provided. Students are also engaged in the Engineering Design practices of defining a simple design problem and generating and comparing multiple solutions, although the teacher should reinforce the concepts of criteria and constraints to more explicitly address these practices.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students work in small groups to brainstorm design ideas for a hand-held pollinator, switch to new partners to share and revise their chosen designs, and then return to their original groups for a final revision. Students test their completed pollinators in small groups, providing further opportunities to rethink their devices prior to redesigning and testing their second iteration.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students learn about the organisms involved in the pollination process and their interactions, and then about the reduction in bee populations due in part to Colony Collapse Disorder, providing background and identifying the need for the pollination devices they will design and test. Students might also research other causes of the decline of bee populations.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
This lesson sequence does not address internal structures, but students compare and contrast the scent, color pollen, and structure of different flowers following observation and dissection. Students take home seedlings they have germinated, but the teacher may want to have additional seedlings to remain in the classroom for longer term observation, if possible through the flowering stage.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students consider the roles of plants and bees as pollinators, exploring their interactions through research and observation, and then the testing of designs that incorporate engineered components into the system. Another significant focus of this lesson sequence is Connections to Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science, 3-5-ETS1-2: Engineers improve existing technologies or develop new ones to increase their benefits, to decrease known risks, and to meet societal demands. To extend this element, students might also research the decline in other pollinator species like bats and butterflies. This could be especially engaging if these or other species are important in the region where the students live.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Students engage in this series of lessons through reading the book On Meadowview Street and connecting it to their own experiences with plants and bees. In order to make sense of the phenomenon of pollination, they then study plant anatomy by germinating seeds and dissecting flowers, examine the role of the honeybee in the process, and finally create hand pollinators through a full engineering design sequence. Each dimension is fully integrated into the lesson sequence. Several videos and books support and extend the learning. Though the books are available online inexpensively both new and used, teachers who cannot purchase them might freely access texts or websites to address the same topics.

  • Instructional Supports: Students directly engage in a collaborative process of learning about and designing a solution to the problem of Colony Collapse Disorder, connecting this phenomenon to their own neighborhood, as design testing is conducted both in class and outside near the school if possible. Worksheet packets are provided to support both the learning phase and the full design process, and they incorporate extensive peer feedback throughout. Extra supports are not provided for learners struggling with the language or concepts, and no extensions are provided for students who may have already met the performance expectations.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Formative assessment is provided by a plant anatomy worksheet and a detailed engineering design process packet, as well as student notebook entries. A rubric is provided to assess the effectiveness of the pollinator designs and re-designs for both student and teacher reflection. An end-of-unit assessment focuses on the structures and functions of bees and flowers and their interactions in the process of pollination. If students made brief presentations to the class on their pollinator designs and/or analysis of their effectiveness, it would provide another valuable assessment opportunity.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Several videos are linked that help students engage in this lesson sequence, but there is no technologically interactive component.