Bee Colonies - Exploring Nature's First Condo

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Students will create a model to identify elements of a bee colony.

Big Idea

What makes a bee colony important to the environment?


5 minutes

I ring my chime to get the class’s attention.  I announce that we were about to begin the fifth Science lesson in our unit about animal habitats.  I ask them to return to the carpet squares and ‘Show Five’.

Once seated, I show them a medium cardboard box.  Then I ask for one volunteer (or a Daily Helper if there are too many volunteers!) to climb inside.  “Take a look at this.  What would it be like if your home was a snug box, the place where you cooked, ate, slept, and socialized?”  I give them 20-30 seconds to explore this idea before I get their attention with the ring of our chime.

Whole Group Instruction

20 minutes

Since my goal is always to find ways to open the students’ eyes to the entire world around them, I want to take a minute to integrate a little Social Science into the lesson.  I add, “There are many places in the world where people do live like this, one family all in one house..or even room.  Sometimes this is a choice and sometimes it is a cultural practice.”   “People choose this?”  “Sometimes.  Sometimes, they don’t.  However people live, it's up to everyone to find ways to contribute, help out.”  While I often integrate community service in my lessons, I want the focus to on Science knowing I’ll revisit this subject in the future. 

I make a quick transition back to the bees.  “Who has ever seen a bee?”  “Me!”  “Who has ever seen the place where bees live?”  “I saw one in the museum.”  “Most of the time, bees live in places where we don’t see them.  Based on what we learned about other animals, does anyone have an idea why this would happen?”  “To keep away from the predators.”  I was happy to hear this answer because so much of what we learned to this point has revolved around the places that animal safely live.  “Today, we’re going to study about the place where bees live, eat, and take care of their community.  It’s called a colony.  We’ll learn ways that we can help protect these colonies so the bees are able to thrive and contribute to our environment.”  As I bonus, I share "I have a friend who works at a place where they keep bees.  He brought me a piece of the honeycomb, which is the structure of the bee colony.  I'm going to pass it around so you can take a quick look.  If you don't see it for long, don't worry.  I'll leave it on my desk so you can look at it later."  Adding a visual is a great way to make the information concrete.  You can always be creative about resources.  I found this honeycomb through a friend of a friend of a friend.  Ask around at farmers markets, petting zoos, hobby groups, neighborhood e-groups, etc.  People love to share their interests, especially with teachers!

I move on to read an amazing book called The Bumblebee Queen, by April Sayre.  It has gorgeous illustrations and gives a great description of the scope and sequence of a queen bee’s life (those hard working mamas!).  It has simple, explanative text, along with empirical information that you can chose to interpret, read, or skip depending on the attention span of your class at that moment.  As I read, I stop to highlight some key points, “The queen bee begins the year alone.  She’s in charge of finding and creating a colony for her family.  She collects nectar and pollen from flowers and blossoms to make food for the colony.  She also works with drones to spread pollen and help other plants stay healthy and grow better.  Any place that is sheltered, private, and cool can be a bee colony.  Can anyone think of why these things are necessary?”  I like to give students opportunities to access prior knowledge, so I use times like this to see what they remember and apply to another animal.  “To protect them (selves).  “To stay healthy”  “To find food”  “All those ideas make sense.  Bumblebees do need a safe place to grow their family- their colony- that is near a food source.”   I took a break to show them a beautiful picture that I downloaded from the internet showing a bee collecting nectar.  Sometimes, I like to both give them a visual and help them see nature as art, all by itself.

I continue on with the book and stop when necessary to clarify important points.  This book explains the life and habitat in such a Kindergarten friendly way that the instruction goes very quickly.   I added a few interesting facts, “When I started reading about bee colonies, I found out a few things.  First, bee families start with the queen.  She lays eggs in the colonies, near the center because that’s the safest place for the new eggs and keeps them away from predators.  All these eggs will eventually become a family that lives in this same structure, designed to be unique, just right for them.  These new bees may become worker bees, whose first job is cleaning the hive.  They are also responsible for feeding the eggs so they will grow.  Other eggs become drone bees.  They are male (boy) bees, responsible to collect the nectar and help the queen spread pollen to make food for their bee family and help other flowers survive.  The best thing that I learned is that drones do something special when they find nectar.  Guess what it is?”  “Yell?  Fly fast?”  “No, they do a special wiggle dance to show other bees where the nectar is located.  Isn’t that cool that they share their discovery to benefit everyone?  Can we take a minute to practice that ‘wiggle dance’?”  I give them a moment to wiggle, not only to reinforce the important detail, but also to allow them a short movement break.  This was a packed section and some movement will help improve their attention.  Although it gives additional information on the life cycle, my focus is the habitat so I stick to that emphasis and move on to the next part of the lesson.


Small Group Instruction

20 minutes


• Egg cartons, cut into sections

• Paper tray (like a hot lunch box) (optional)

• Oval shapes, yellow (optional)

After the whole class instruction finished, I tell them “It’s time for us to be engineers and design a colony for a bumblebee.  The queen does most of the work and the workers and drones help.  So today, we are going to be queens, workers, and drones.  Each table will have someone who gathers the materials, another that directs the construction, and others who create the structure and help clean up.  Make sense?”  “I want to be Queen!”  “Lots of people think they want to be in charge.  A successful colony or community, for that matter needs all types of roles, right?”  I use name cards to randomly yet strategically to choose a queen at each table.  Basically, I choose a name and quickly decide if that student is ready to take on a leadership role.  Sometimes, students will surprise you.  Other times, the pressure is too much and it’s best to choose another for the job.  As I select the name, I ask the student “Are you comfortable with the responsibility?”  As soon as the roles are established, I move to some explanation on colony creation. 

1. Definite pattern, meaning a pod shape that happens over again

2. Enough space for the food to be stored and create more bees. 

I use the chime to dismiss the students by groups back to the tables. When they are all seated, I continue with the instruction. “Since we don’t have wax in our tummies to construct, we are going to use glue and egg cartons.”  I show them two very basic pictures of a bee colony structure.  While there are some amazing photos out there, I often prefer to use realistic drawings or simple photos rather than more complicated pictures because the detail is more apparent to our students, plus it refers back how naturalists record what they observed.  

"Examine the pictures of the bee colony.  What shape does this remind you of?  “Circle"  "Square”  I realized that I had an opportunity to connect this to the CCSS, so I asked, “Let’s count the sides together.  One..two..three..four..five..six.  The cells of the colony have six sides.  That makes it a hexagon.”  Packing a lesson doesn’t always mean you add more stuff; you just take advantage of the teachable moments as they arise before you move on.  

1. Study the model to get ideas.

2. Plan the kind of structure you think would best support your colony.  

3. Collect your materials.  Use the egg carton as a whole or in pieces and some glue to create the colony.  

As an element of visual interest, I found some foam shapes at the Dollar Store.  I previously picked out all the yellow ovals to represent (yes, you guessed it!) bees and handed them out to the groups as they finished construction of their colony.  I circulate among the students as they complete this assignment to spend adequate time listening to their comments (“The colony needs more rooms for the workers to work.”  “I’m putting in more doors.” and ask for clarification (“Tell me more about that.”) when necessary.  

Wrap Up

5 minutes

After the bee colonies designs were complete, I use a chime to single the end of this lesson piece.  I ask the Daily Helpers to collect designs so they could be displayed and had the remaining students buzz like bees back to their carpet squares.  To act as a whole class recap, we gather again to share out the features of the bee colony. “Our colony had lots of rooms.”  “I put room in mine so they could move better”.  “I wanted mine to collect food.”  The dual goals were to combine recent instruction and design thinking lessons to design a habitat for the bees and to help the students better realize the value of everyone’s role in a community, a small yet important task in Kindergarten!