Target Grade Level / Age Range:
K-2 nd Grades
Students will learn about pollinators and pollination by pollinating paper flowers as they answer trivia questions.
For the flowers:
- 3-9 empty and clean soda pop bottles (2 liter bottles will make larger flowers)
- White spray primer paint
- Bailing or floral wire
- Floral foam blocks
- Rubbing alcohol
- Clay/plastic flower pots
- Acrylic paint (for painting the flowers)
- Tempura paint (for the stamps)
- Glitter (optional)
- Yellow, small-pored sponges
- Cotton balls
- Floral tape
For the bees & flower wristbands:
- Clothespins (one per student)
- Cotton balls (one per student)
- Bee pictures (hand drawn, photographs, or clip art)
- Flower pictures cut into circles (one per student – see file attached)
- Elastic hair ties (optional - one per student)
Suggested Companion Resources:
- The Life and Times of a Honeybee by Charles Micucci
- The Life Cycle of a Honeybee by Bobbie Kalman
- Hooray for Beekeeping by Bobbie Kalman
- pollination: the transfer of pollen from the anther to the stigma of a plant
- pollen: a fine, powder-like material produced by flowering plants
- nectar: a sweet liquid secreted by flowers
- hive: a home to a colony of bees
Background – Agricultural Connections:
Pollinators are a very important part of agriculture. Some studies say that pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of food taken. Pollinators are especially important for pollinating plants that produce fruits that we eat, such as cucumbers, tomatoes and watermelons.
There are a variety of different animals and insects that carry pollen, which is necessary for flowers to fruit. Bats, honeybees, butterflies, ladybugs, hummingbirds and flower flies are all responsible for pollinating. Many of these pollinators drink the nectar from the flowers, and pollen from the stamens of those flowers attach to the fine hairs on the legs, body, and wings of the pollinators.
- 75% of flowers are pollinated by animals.
- Bees must visit two million flowers to make a gallon of honey.
- Apples and tomatoes are two types of foods that may be mechanically pollinated.
- Honeycombs have six sides; they are hexagonal.
- Mechanical pollination is an alternative to insect pollination, which requires pollen to be sprayed from an aircraft or hand pollination by humans using paintbrushes or other small devices.
- Honeybees carry pollen in baskets on their hind legs.
- The bees that go out to collect pollen are called Field Bees, and they collect pollen from flowers and store it in pollen baskets on their back legs. When the baskets are full, the bees return to the hive and store the pollen in food cells as a protein source.
- Melons and Kiwifruit are pollinated by bees.
- Bees pollinate plants by accident.
- They intend to collect pollen to bring it back to the hive, but pollen sticks to their body hairs and antennae, and is transferred to all the other plants a honeybee visits.
- Flower flies:
- Flower flies look like a wasp, but cannot sting or bite. They are hairy with just one pair of wings, and are considered a significant pollinator. They visit a wide range of crops and flowers, and their larvae eat aphids and scales.
- Corn plants are not pollinated by pollinators.
- Rather, they are pollinated by wind, which causes pollen from the tassel to fall onto the silks. Insects are not necessary!
- Soybeans and peas are examples of self-pollinating plants. The stamens and pistils of these plants contact each other, and through that pollination occurs.
- Bats can pollinate up to 30 flowers per night.
- The worldwide honeybee population isn’t decreasing.
- In fact, according to FAO statistics, the bee population is actually increasing steadily, with 10 million more beehives today than there were in 2000 – that’s an increase of 13.2%.
- Neonic pesticides aren’t the sole cause of honeybee health issues.
- Neonicotinoids are a seed coating used on crops like soybeans to protect the seed. As the plant germinates and grows, it draws in the pesticide. Very little of that pesticide makes it all the way to the pollen of the plant, so bees are getting a very small dose of them.
- The evidence from a 2012 by the University of Pennsylvania in conjunction with the French National Institute for Agricultural Research and the University of Exeter suggests that bees are not harmed by these small doses from real-world situations.
- A study funded by government and nonprofits by Lund University in Sweden suggested that wild bees but not honeybees were harmed by neonics.
- In addition, France has banned neonics since 1999, and hasn’t seen a significant improvement in honeybee health.
- Dust from air pressurized planters may blow the neonic dust through the air, which can cause bee kills. Engineers are working to create a venting systems on planters to remedy this issue.
- According to beekeeper and biologist Randy Oliver, “The sky-high application rates of neonics for landscape uses (turf, ornamentals, homeowner use) and on flowering trees, and the resulting runoff into surface waters, is of legitimate concern.”
- GMOs aren’t killing the bees.
- Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) genes in transgenic crops only target specific insects – Lepidoptera, which are primarily caterpillars. A study from the USDA in partnership with the University of Maryland found that bees are not harmed or altered in any way from feeding on GMO pollen. In fact, bees may benefit from the reduction in pesticides related to the cultivation of GMO crops.
- Herbicides are killing milkweed, an important plant for butterflies.
- Monarch butterflies lay their eggs in milkweed, so the plant is an incredibly important part of their life cycle. Unfortunately, milkweed can also cause a huge weed problem in soybean fields, which are an important Iowa and Midwestern crop, and farmers have to use herbicides to remove it and other weeds from their fields.
- Variable Rate Technology allows farmers to apply herbicides to their fields only where needed by using GPS technology. Farmers and agronomists scout and map their fields for weed pressure, and only apply chemicals in areas where they are really needed, rather than across the whole field. This technology can help save milkweed growing alongside fields that would otherwise most likely be killed by herbicides.
To make the flowers:
- Remove the labels from the bottles. Use rubbing alcohol to remove any ink or remaining labels on the bottle.
- Use scissors or an Exacto knife to cut the bottle, all the way around, at the top ring, separating the top of the bottle (with the cap) from the bottom of the bottle. Recycle the bottom portion of the bottle.
- Create 5 evenly spaced vertical cuts in the bottle top, reaching from the edge to near the cap. After 5 cuts have been made, invert the plastic flaps. These will be the petals.
- Use scissors to round the edges of each petal.
- Remove the cap from the bottle. If there is a small ring that holds the cap in place, cut it off. Screw the bottle cap back on.
- Spray the flowers with white primer and let dry.
- Paint the flowers using the desired color(s) of acrylic paint. Let dry.
- Cut sponges into small squares. Fold the corners of the sponges over, so the sponge resembles a 3-D circle. Superglue it into the center of the flower, ideally resembling a realistic flower.
- Wrap floral wire around the bottle in the space between the cap and the bottle (where the ring used to be). Use the floral wire to attach the flower to a baling wire rod. Secure with floral tape.
- Cut the floral foam down until it fits snugly inside the flower pot. Stick flower stems into the foam. Super or hot glue into place so flowers do not spin.
When ready to use, mix glitter with tempura paint (optional) to look like pollen grains. As needed, pour paint over the center of the flower to act as ink in a stamp pad.
Note: Simpler flowers can be made by cutting flower shapes out of construction paper. Place the flowers on a table and put a small blow in the center of each flower to hold a paint-soaked sponge.
To make the bees & wrist bands:
- Glue or tape the one bee picture to each clothespin.
- Put a cotton ball in the end each clothespin.
- Create the bee wrist band by attaching an elastic hair tie to the back of each flower circle with a small piece of tape.
For the activity:
- Print and cut out the Pollinator STEM Question cards and shuffle them.
- Print out the pollinator pictures and place them on the desk with the flowers.
- Distribute a wristband or flower card to each student.
- Have students draw a card from the deck of Pollinator STEM Questions. They must answer the question to the best of their ability to you.
- After students have answered their question to the best of their ability, discuss the correct answer and the importance of pollinators with them.
- Invite students to select a “bee” (clothespin & cotton ball) and “pollinate” their flower wristband by stamping “pollen” from the center of the flower to their wristband.
- If time allows, students can cross-pollinate other students’ flower wristbands by answering additional questions. Use different colored paint/glitter for each flower. This will make cross-pollination more obvious as students stamp their flowers.
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents):
- Flower cutout.docx
- Pollinator Pictures.docx
- Pollinator Questions.docx
- Pollinator Question Key.docx
- Pollinator Talking Points.docx
Did you know? (Ag facts):
- Iowa’s number one crop (corn) and number two crop (soybeans) do not require pollination to produce fruit. Corn is pollinated by wind and soybeans self-pollinated, though insects can help them with the pollination process.
- There are many crops that are grown in Iowa, such as watermelons, green beans and tomatoes, which require pollinators.
Kelsey Faivre and Cindy Hall
Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation
Agriculture Literacy Outcomes:
- T1.K-2.c. Identify natural resources.
Iowa Core Connections:
- K-LS1-1. Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive.
- 2-LS2-2. Develop a simple model that mimics the function of an animal in dispersing seeds or pollinating plants*
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.