Pollinator STEM Stations
Target Grade Level / Age Range
35 minutes (not including the creation of the flowers)
Students will explore the science, technology, engineering, math and agriculture behind pollinators.
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
- Clothespins (one per student)
- Cotton balls (one per student)
- Bee cake picks (for decoration; optional)
- Flowers cut outs cut into circles and taped to hairbands OR a flower card each student simply holds
- Super glue
- Hot glue gun
- Brown paper bags
- Zip ties
- Pom poms
- Pipe cleaners
- Googley eyes
- Plastic beads
- Other craft/office supplies for students to build with
- Scale to weigh the supplies used and the end product
Suggested Companion Resources
- Robotic “bees” videos:
- Bee’s Amazing Adventure by Bonnie Apperson and Terri Mainwaring
- Hooray for Beekeeping by Bobbie Kalman
- The Beeman by Laurie Krebs
- The Lifecycle of a Honeybee by Bobbie Kalman
- Stamen: the male reproductive part of the flower, which produces pollen
- Pistil: the female reproductive part of the flower, which receives the pollen
- Pollinator: an animal or insect which transports the pollen from stamens of flowers onto the pistils of other flowers.
Background – Agricultural Connections
Pollinators are a very important part of agriculture. Some studies say that pollinators are responsible for 1 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.
Activity 1: Not every plant requires a pollinator to produce fruit or to produce the part of the plant humans eat (leaves, stems, roots). There are many plants that are pollinated by wind (corn) or are self-pollinated (peas, soybeans). The flowers of crops that require pollinators for pollination and those that do not have some significant differences in structure.
Insect pollinated flowers most often have large and brightly colored petals as well as a sweet scent and contain nectar to attract pollinators. They have a moderate quantity of pollen that is sticky. The stamen, anthers and pistil of the flower are all held tightly within the flower.
Wind or self-pollinated flowers look slightly different. They usually have small, dull-colored petals and no scent or nectar. They produce large quantities of pollen to increase the odds of pollinating another flower. The male and female reproductive parts dangle outside the flower, to release the pollen and catch drifting pollen on the wind, respectively.
Wheat and corn, like most grains, are pollinated by wind. They are included as part of the activity, and though the fruit of the plant is eaten, they are not pollinated by pollinators. The male and female parts of the flower are on separate parts of the plant, and like with many wind pollinated plants, the male part of the plant is above the female part. In corn, this would be the tassel. The pollen will fall from the tassel and land on the silks of the ear to pollinate them. Students may be able to recognize the difference in these plants, but this point may need reiterated.
Self-pollinated flowers are often bright colored and the male and female parts are enclosed in the flower. This allows the stamens and pistils to touch or be very close and therefore transfer the pollen, as shown in the diagram below. Some self-pollinated flowers, like peas and soybeans, can be aided by pollinators, but do not require them for pollination. This may explain why some of these flowers are brightly colored and fragrant.
We eat different parts of different plants. Often, we eat the fruit, or the part of a plant that contains the seeds. Pollination is required for plants to produce a fruit, and most fruits we eat require pollination by pollinator. These include cucumbers and melons, tree fruits like apples and lemons, and berries like blackberries and blueberries. We also eat the roots, leaves and stems of plants, and these can be harvested without pollination. These include celery, leafy greens like spinach, and root crops like beets and carrots. These crops may require pollination to fruit, but do not require pollination for harvest. Finally, there are crops that require pollination to produce the part of the plant we eat, but do not require pollinators to deliver the pollen. Corn, soybeans, wheat, barley and rye are examples of plants that are self-pollinated or wind pollinated.
Bees use hexagons, or six-sided polygons, to create their combs. The hexagons are one of three shapes that can be placed side by side with no space between. Hexagons, as opposed to squares and rectangles, use the least amount of building material and provide the most amount of space to store honey. The hexagons are made of beeswax, and are very strong. Wild honeybees may use other shapes – pentagons, etc. – to fill in any gaps in irregular bases they build their combs on.
Activity 3: Robotic bees have been designed by Harvard University to accompany or replace traditional bees as pollinators. These bees are the smallest robots ever created, and don’t look much like bees. They are capable of many functions, such as search and rescue, environmental monitoring, along with the typical pollination functions. Currently, the bees must be attached to an energy source to function, but with more engineering work, could change the way plants in this country are pollinated.
This activity requires that each student has a brown paper bag stocked with various things they can use to engineer a product. These bags will need to be pre-packed and ready using the material ideas listed above.
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 x-acto 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.
Setting up for Stations:
- Have flowers placed in three corners around the room. If multiple adults are available to help, they can man one of the flower stations to help facilitate discussion and answer questions. Have tempura paint placed nearby the flowers or where all adults know where it is so students can refill the paint in the center of the flowers as needed. If you choose not to make the pop-bottle flowers, you can put paint on a sponge placed in a bowl.
- Give each student a cutout flower wristband or one to hold.
- Break students into three equal-sized groups.
- Send one group to each of the three stations. Tell students they have to complete the activity and get that station’s stamp before it is time to rotate stations.
Activity 1: Science
- Print, cut and laminate (optional) the Activity 1 Science Diagrams and Activity 1 Science Sorting Cards.
- Explain to students that there are many types of pollinators, like bees and bats that transfer pollen from the male part of one flower to the female part of another. This pollen is needed for the flower to produce fruit. Ask students if they have any ideas about why some plants require pollinators to transfer pollen, and some do not.
- Have students research what the differences between wind, self and pollinator pollinated crop flowers are, including differences in shape, size, location of male and female reproductive parts, fragrance and color. Ask students to think about why these differences occur.
- Show students the Science Diagrams of the flowers. Ask them to observe any differences, and guess which flower requires pollination, and which does not.
- After students guess, explain that flowers that do not require pollination look a lot different. They are less colorful and smaller, have more pollen, and more dangly male and female reproductive parts.
- Lay out the Science Sorting Cards on the table in a random order. Have students work together to sort out the produce they believe require pollinators from the produce that does not. If students are struggling, hint that some of the produce items are not the fruits and therefore do not require pollination.
- After students have sorted the cards, go through them with students. Explain the reasoning behind the placement of the fruits and ask them to think about any patterns in the sorting they may see.
- After students have completed the activity, give each student a clothespin holding a cotton ball (these will have to be passed from student to student). Allow students to “pollinate” their cutout flower by stamping the cotton ball on the center of the pop bottle flowers and then transferring the “pollen” to their cutout flower.
Activity 2: Math
- Cut out the 20 Activity 2 Math Question Slips. Give one to each student or pair of students.
- Instruct students to do the math required to answer the question on their slip individually, without talking. Once they have their answer, they are to move to the far side of the classroom. There, the teacher should check their answers.
- After student answers are deemed correct, they should fold their slips of paper on the grey dashed lines. The paper will fold into a hexagon and can be taped in place.
- Students can combine their hexagons to make a comb.
- Discuss with students the reasons that bees use hexagons to create their comb.
- Be sure to talk about how hexagons are strong, can be made with little wax, and can store a large amount of honey.
- Dismiss students to “pollinate” their flower cutouts upon the completion of the activity.
Activity 3: Technology & Engineering
- Package a variety of materials in a brown bag for each student.
- Introduce the idea of a robotic bee to students with the “Harvard Engineers Build Flying Robotic Bee” video.
- Pass out a brown bag of materials to each student. Instruct them to build a device that can pollinate crops remotely. The device should meet the following criteria:
- Be able to stand level on its own,
- Be able to transfer pollen from one flower to another,
- Possibly serve one other purpose (surveillance, search and rescue, environmental monitoring, etc.)
- It needs to be light weight (less than 5 grams) so that it doesn’t crush the flower.
- Device must have wings that if powered would allow it to fly.
- Note: With the materials provided, the device/bee will not be able to fly, but in lieu of no locomotion, the device should be able to accomplish the other objectives. Have students think about how bees collect pollen (in the hairs on their legs). How could a robot collect and spread pollen? Would the robot need to land on the flower? Encourage students to be creative.
- Give students 5-6 minutes to create, and then ask students to share their pollination device with the group.
- Ask students:
- What were some of the challenges of building a pollinator?
- What were some of the things you considered?
- What part of the bee is used for pollination? What part(s) serve other purpose(s)?
- What other materials did you wish you had?
- How can your prototype be improved or tested?
- Dismiss students to “pollinate” their flower cutouts upon the completion of the activity.
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
- Activity 1 Science Diagrams.docx
- Activity 1 Science Sorting Cards.pdf
- Activity 2 Math Question Slips.pdf
- Flower cutout.docx
- Video: Harvard Engineers Build Flying Robotic “Bee” https://youtu.be/XXF5_gybhMM
Did you know? (Ag facts)
- Iowa’s top crops, corn and soybeans, do not require pollinators for pollination. Corn is pollinated by wind, and soybeans are self-pollinated. Alfalfa is one Iowa crop this is pollinated by insects.
- There are many orchards and produce farms in Iowa that rely on pollinators. Some crops that are produced include: watermelon, tomatoes, cucumbers and green beans.
Have students create the flowers as part of the lesson, focusing on engineering principles. Have students compete to have the most creative/sturdiest flower. Then have students describe if the flowers would need pollinators and if so, how it would attract pollinators.
Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation
Agriculture Literacy Outcomes
- Agriculture and the Environment Outcomes:
- T1.3-5.e: Recognize the natural resources used in agricultural practices to produce food, feed, clothing, landscaping plants and fuel (e.g.. soil, water, air, plants, animals, and minerals)
- Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics Outcomes:
- T4.3-5.b: Describe how technology helps farmers/ranchers increase their outputs with fewer inputs while using the same amount of space
- T4.3-5.d: Provide examples of science being applied in farming for food, clothing and shelter products
Iowa Core Standards
- 3-5-ETS1-1. Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.3-LS2-1. Construct an argument that some animals form groups that help members survive.
- 4-LS1-1. Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.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.
- Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
- 5-LS2-1. Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.
- 3-5-ETS1-1. Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
- 3.OA.B.5: Apply properties of operations as strategies to multiply and divide.
- 3. OA.B.6: Understand division is an unknown factor problem.
- 3.OA.D.8: Solve two-step word problems using the four operations. Represent these problems using equations with a letter standing for the unknown quantity. Assess the reasonableness of answers using mental computation and estimation strategies including rounding.
- 3.NF.A.1: Understand a fraction 1/b as the quantity formed by 1 part when a whole is partitioned into b equal parts; understand a fraction a/b as the quantity formed by a parts of size 1/b.
- 4.OA.A.2 Multiply or divide to solve word problems involving multiplicative comparison, e.g., by using drawings and equations with a symbol for the unknown number to represent the problem, distinguishing multiplicative comparison from additive comparison.1
- 4.NBT.B.4 Fluently add and subtract multi–digit whole numbers using the standard algorithm.
- 4.NBT.B.5 Multiply a whole number of up to four digits by a one–digit whole number, and multiply two two–digit numbers, using strategies based on place value and the properties of operations. Illustrate and explain the calculation by using equations, rectangular arrays, and/or area models.
- 4.MD.A.2 Use the four operations to solve word problems involving distances, intervals of time, liquid volumes, masses of objects, and money, including problems involving simple fractions or decimals, and problems that require expressing measurements given in a larger unit in terms of a smaller unit. Represent measurement quantities using diagrams such as number line diagrams that feature a measurement scale.
- 5.NBT.B.7: Add, subtract, multiply, and divide decimals to hundredths, using concrete models or drawings and strategies based on place value, properties of operations, and/or the relationship between addition and subtraction; relate the strategy to a written method and explain the reasoning.
- 5.NF.A.2: solve word problems involving addition and subtraction of fractions referring to the same whole, including cases of unlike denominators, e.g., by using visual fraction models or equations to represent the problem. Use benchmark fractions and number sense of fractions to estimate mentally and assess the reasonableness of answers.
- 5.NF.B.6: Solve real world problems involving multiplication of fractions and mixed numbers, e.g., by using visual fraction models or equations to represent the problem.
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