Target Grade Level / Age Range:

3rd - 5th

Estimated Time:

45 minutes

Virtual Learning:

Use this document to convert the lesson into a virtual learning module for your students. Use the steps outlined to create the different elements of a Google Classroom or other online learning platform. You can also send the steps directly to students in a PDF, present them in a virtual meeting, or plug them into any other virtual learning module system. 


Students will explore the role of honeybees as pollinators and how honeybees and other pollinators help pollinate specialty crops like lavender.


  • Specialty crops / Field crops cards, enough sets for small groups (3-4 students)
  • Memory cards, one set for every two students
  • Blindfolds, one for every student

Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)


  • Epigenetics – genes or traits can be expressed differently without being changed. They can be turned on and off as they interact with the environment.
  • Field crop – grains, dry legumes, oilseeds, fiber crops, and hay
  • Genetics – the study of how traits are passed and inherited from parent to offspring and the variations that happen
  • Linalool – compound found in floral scents, particularly lavender
  • Olfactory sense – sense of smell
  • Pollination – the transfer of pollen from one flower to another to allow fertilization
  • Pollinator – anything that helps carry pollen from the male part of the flower (stamen) to the female part of the same or another flower
  • Specialty crop – fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture)
  • Symbiotic relationship – mutually beneficial benefit

Background – Agricultural Connections

Specialty crops are defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as, “Fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture). Eligible plants must be cultivated or managed and used by people for food, medicinal purposes, and/or aesthetic gratification to be considered specialty crops. Processed products shall consist of greater than 50% of the specialty crop by weight, exclusive of added water.

Lavender and bees are very good friends! Honey made primarily from lavender nectar or pollen will likely have a very distinct flavor. But bees will travel up to 6.5 miles from their hive, so unless all that area is covered in lavender, few hives will have honey from only one source.   But, simply put, bees love lavender in bloom, as they love anything in bloom where they can get nectar or pollen.

The most important thing that bees do is pollinate. Pollination is needed for plants to reproduce, and so many plants depend on bees or other insects as pollinators. When a bee collects nectar and pollen from the flower of a plant, some pollen from the stamens—the male reproductive organ of the flower—sticks to the hairs of her body. When she visits the next flower, some of this pollen is rubbed off onto the stigma, or tip of the pistil—the female reproductive organ of the flower. When this happens, fertilization is possible, and a fruit, carrying seeds, can develop. Bees are only one type of pollinator. Other insects, birds, bats, and even the wind can serve as pollinators.

This video provides a good overview of how epigenetics and memory in bees are connected.

Interest Approach – Engagement

Share Slide #1 of the PowerPoint. Ask the question, how does this flower get pollinated? It is a specialty crop. How are other crops - field crops and specialty crops - pollinated? Solicit responses from students.

What is a specialty crop? What makes it special? Provide groups of students with a list of cards and have them sort the cards into two piles – specialty crops and field crops. Allow them a few minutes to sort through the cards and make their best uneducated guesses. Then display the definitions of specialty crop and field crop up on a large surface. Using those definitions, have students review their lists and re-sort the cards. You may need to help. Ensure that each group of students has sorted the cards accurately before moving on.

Specialty Crops

Field Crops



Aronia Berry




Black Beans




Sweet corn








 Be sure to clarify for students why each crop is classified as it is. For the specialty crops: apples, Aronia berries, and raspberries are fruits; black beans, cabbages, and sweet corn are all vegetables; lavender and rosemary are both culinary herbs and spices; and marigolds are annual bedding plants. For the field crops: corn, wheat, oats, and barley are all grains; soybeans and canola are both oilseeds; alfalfa is a dry legume; and cotton is a fiber crop.


  1. Explain to students that most of the specialty crops need to have a special relationship with pollinators like insects. Field crops like corn are cross-pollinated by wind moving pollen from one plant to another. Field crops like soybeans, wheat, oats, and barley are all self-pollinated.
  2. Lavender as a specialty crop needs to be pollinated to reproduce. Bees are ideal pollinators for flowers like lavender. Lavender in return produces a high amount of linalool – the chemical compound that makes flowers smell nice. The smell attracts bees. Lavender can bloom throughout the majority of the summer and provide pollen and nectar for the bees. This symbiotic relationship is mutually beneficial for both the lavender plants and for the bees.
  3. As bees are learning to find flowers that they can drink nectar and collect pollen, they create memories so they can remember where the flowers are. Bees don’t have brains like humans do. Their brains are very simple. But they can still create memories. Bee memory is largely affected by their genetics and epigenetics. Let’s play a game to learn more about how bees create memories.
    1. Pass out sets of the memory cards to pairs of students. Have students shuffle the cards and then place them face down on a desk or table.
    2. Students will take turns turning over two cards – one at a time – to try and find matching cards.
    3. If students flip over two cards that don’t match, they should flip them back over, face down.
    4. If students flip over two cards that do match, they get to keep them.
    5. The student who has collected the most cards after all cards have been flipped over and matched wins.
  4. Sometimes chemicals in the environment can interfere with the bee’s ability to make memories. This is called epigenetics. Epigenetics is when things in the environment change how genes are expressed. Because genes help make bee memories, epigenetics is important for bees to survive. If the bees can make memories and remember where the flowers are it will allow them to better return to the flowers and better survive. Let’s play the game again. This time each student will be blindfolded during the memory game.
    1. Instead of trying to match the cards by the pictures, students should feel the notches on the side of the cards to try and match them.
    2. Have students shuffle the cards and then place them face down on a desk or table.
    3. Students will take turns wearing the blindfold. The student wearing the blindfold will try to find two matching cards. The other student will keep watch and confirm if they got the match right.
    4. If students flip over two cards that don’t match, they should flip them back over, face down.
    5. If students flip over two cards that do match, they get to keep them.
    6. The student who has collected the most cards after all cards have been flipped over and matched wins.
  5. The blindfold represents how a gene trait (like eyesight) might be turned on or off.
  6. How do bees communicate with other bees? Can one bee tell the rest of the hive where a new flower field is? Have students watch one or more of these videos.
    4. Challenge students to write a short paragraph or a single sentence describing some simple directions. For example: “leave the classroom, turn left, walk 100 feet to the cafeteria.”
    5. Then challenge the students to develop a dance that would communicate those same directions (no words allowed!). Have students demonstrate their dances.
  7. Facilitate a discussion as to how and why bees working together in a group and communicating with things like dances can help them survive.

Did you know? (Ag facts)

  • Honeybees dislike the smell of bananas. To encourage bees to clean up their hive, beekeepers will put a banana peel inside the hive. Bees will work to clean up their hive to remove the smell.
  • Lavender contains a compound that will calm bees and reduce their aggressiveness.
  • Bee genes are responsible for controlling the bee’s abilities to making memories.
  • Honeybees perform more than 80 percent of all pollination of cultivated crops.
  • More than 100 important crops are pollinated by honeybees.
  • In the U.S., the production of crops that depend on pollinators generates more than $50 billion a year.

Extension Activities

  • Have a beekeeper come in to present to students and describe bee keeping. Or conduct a virtual field trip with a beekeeper.
  • Contact your library, extension office, or STEM hub office to see if they have Bee Bots and mat sets available for checkout. 

Suggested Companion Resources



Will Fett

Organization Affiliation

Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation

Agriculture Literacy Outcomes

  • T4.3-5.c. Identify examples of how the knowledge of inherited traits is applied to farmed plants and animals in order to meet specific objectives (i.e., increased yields, better nutrition, etc.)

Iowa Core Standards


  • 3-LS2-1. Construct an argument that some animals form groups that help members survive.
  • 3-LS3-2. Use evidence to support the explanation that traits can be influenced by the environment.
  • 3-LS4-2. Use evidence to construct an explanation for how the variations in characteristics among individuals of the same species may provide advantages in surviving, finding mates, and reproducing.
  • 4-LS1-2. Use a model to describe that animals receive different types of information through their senses, process the information in their brain, and respond to the information in different ways.

Computer Science

  • 1B-AP-11 Decompose (break down) problems into smaller, manageable subproblems to facilitate the program development process.