Flowers Seeking Pollinators

John Severn, California Academy of Sciences
Type Category
Instructional Materials
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 is one of many lessons provided by the California Academy of Sciences whose mission is to bring science to life in the classroom.In this activity, students learn about plant reproduction and use real data on flowers and the pollinators that visit them to construct explanations about which flowers are the most attractive to six pollinators: butterfly, bird, bat, bee, moth, and flies. The structures of flowers and pollinators are explored to  demonstrate successful reproduction in angiosperms.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 3
  • Grade 4
  • Grade 5
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

MS-LS1-4 Use argument based on empirical evidence and scientific reasoning to support an explanation for how characteristic animal behaviors and specialized plant structures affect the probability of successful reproduction of animals and plants respectively.

Clarification Statement: Examples of behaviors that affect the probability of animal reproduction could include nest building to protect young from cold, herding of animals to protect young from predators, and vocalization of animals and colorful plumage to attract mates for breeding. Examples of animal behaviors that affect the probability of plant reproduction could include transferring pollen or seeds, and creating conditions for seed germination and growth. Examples of plant structures could include bright flowers attracting butterflies that transfer pollen, flower nectar and odors that attract insects that transfer pollen, and hard shells on nuts that squirrels bury.

Assessment Boundary: none

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This activity allows the students to create an explanation of how plant structure is directly related to their specific pollinator by demonstrating that adaptations of the flower relate to successful pollination. Students, in groups, are assigned a specific pollinator. They begin their exploration by using data sheets on the number of pollination visits for 7 different flower types and making a prediction as to what 3 flower traits they think attract the assigned pollinator. Next, using their “Pollinators Profile Card” and a “Flower Seeking Pollinator Data Sheet”students construct explanations by using scientific data to support their claim of 3 of their flower traits that will attract their pollinator and compare this to their prediction. Lastly, students will go outside to a garden, create a garden inside with real flowers, or use a silk flowers classroom garden to explore their pollinators’ flower structures. These activities could be used as a follow-up to lessons on flower structure and functions, as well as a flower dissection lab. There is an excellent “Educator Background” section that gives content and ideas as to lessons that will support these activities. Since this is intended for a grade span of 3rd through 7th grade, it would be appropriate for older students to extend the lesson and challenge students to research pollinators and find out the ways in which the pollinators themselves are adapted to certain flowers.

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 will practice constructing arguments grounded in scientific data. By examining the structure and function of both pollinators and flowers the learner will construct and present a written argument supporting their claim. This investigation would be enhanced by using the Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning (CER) approach, using the questions provided for class and small group discussions. The CER template can be used in their oral and/or written argumentative reporting.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
This investigation deals with angiosperms exclusively, so the structure and function of flowers must be understood by the learners. This lesson provides "Educator Background" to provide the necessary information.

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
The structures of both pollinators and flowers are shown to serve specific functions. The lesson provides links to articles that extend the learning. "A birds-eye view" (, goes more in depth about how a bee’s sight is related to pollination of specific flowers.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The students’ exploration of the phenomenon of plant structure in relationship to the pollinator engages them in three-dimensional learning. The disciplinary core idea about plants reproduction depending on animal behavior and specialized features for reproduction is accomplished through students researching and constructing an explanation based on evidence and then arguing their claim. The disciplinary core ideas, practices and crosscutting concepts are integrated in what the students do in this lesson.

  • Instructional Supports: By using the data provided and flower structures explored, this activity provides an excellent, scientifically accurate context in which students can engage in three-dimensional learning. Several guiding questions are provided to facilitate students through the process as well as the oral and written argumentation. Students have opportunities to build on research from other students as to whether their answer is valid and acceptable, and there is scaffolding that allows students to begin the process through predictions and then check that with data and research. However, the lesson does not provide guidance for differentiation.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The lesson provides checkpoints for student understanding starting with predictions, claims, evidence and then finally the reasoning. Both oral and written questions are provided to lead group discussions at several sections and leading to a summary of the reasoning to their claims. Additional questions need to be incorporated by the educator to fully analyze the phenomenon.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This resource does not have a technology component, however as an extension, the students can use computer-based research as an enrichment to the lesson for older students.