The Buzz on Bees – Activities

FOCUS:  Honeybees are social insects, living in colonies of many thousands of bees. Working together in a highly organized way, honeybees accomplish remarkable feats of construction, navigation, decision-making, defense, and honey making – far beyond what an individual insect could do on its own.  Many fascinating adaptations, both physical and behavioral, are important in the life and work of these busy, buzzy insects.

Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about bees.

Give each child a dead honeybee worker in a jar lid to examine using a hand lens. Ask children what they notice and wonder about the bees.

Materials: dried, dead honeybee workers in jar lids, one per child; magnifying lenses.

Objective: To examine closely and compare different types of honeybees and their cousins.

Ahead of time, contact a local beekeeper and obtain some dead bees, both workers and drones, if possible. These should be dried completely and stored in a shallow cardboard box. Before class, place bees in jar lids, one for each child.

Have students work in small groups and provide each group with bees to examine, including both workers and drones, and the Honeybee Anatomy poster. Encourage children to use magnifying lenses to look closely at the different parts of a honeybee.

Bees are insects. Can they distinguish three body sections – head, thorax, and abdomen? Describe the bee’s body. Do they count six legs? How many wings do they observe? Where on the bee’s body are the legs and wings attached? Can they see the compound eyes? Examine the bee’s legs and feet. Can they find they see the bee’s long, brown tube-like tongue (proboscis)? Ask children what other characteristics they notice. What features help to distinguish worker from drone?

For older children, have them look closely at the legs with magnifying lenses to see the antenna cleaners on the first pair of legs, wax spur on the middle legs, and pollen combs and pollen basket on the back legs, consulting the Honeybee Anatomy poster to see what each looks like.

If available, give students other native bees and wasps to examine. What features distinguish honeybees from other kinds of bees and wasps?

Materials:  for each pair: Honeybee Anatomy poster, dried, dead honeybee – worker and drone, if possible; screw jar lid, magnifying lenses; optional: specimens of other kinds of bees and wasps.

Objective: To review the jobs of honeybees and identify the physical adaptations that help them perform these duties.

Begin by repeating these lines from the puppet show, “Hilloway, holloway, willowy wee,” then add, “Let’s make the teacher a honeybee!” Ask the children what physical attributes the teacher will need in order to be a worker bee that is able to carry out the different hive chores. Guide the children by asking questions such as: How many body parts will our teacher bee need? (Three – the teacher’s own head is the head of the bee, so hang the cardboard thorax-abdomen cut-out around the teacher’s neck.)

What does the bee need…

  • to fly from flower to flower? (Four wings attached to thorax.)
  • to crawl around in the hive and on flowers? (Six legs attached to thorax.)
  • to feel and hear? (Two antennae.)
  • to see flowers? (Two compound eyes.)
  • to see in the dark hive? (Simple eyes.)
  • to gather pollen? (Hairy bodies, pollen baskets, pollen combs, and brushes.)
  • to gather nectar? (Long proboscis.)
  • to carry nectar back to hive? (Honey stomach.)
  • to produce wax for the hive? (Wax glands.)
  • to protect the hive? (Stinger.)

Ask the children what other tasks must happen for the hive to survive and how bees accomplish this. (Shaping cells in the comb, measuring cell size, laying eggs, communicating with others, etc.)

Afterward, have older children work in pairs to label the various body parts on the Honeybee Anatomy poster.

Materials: bee costumecardboard cutout of a bee thorax and abdomen (long enough to cover the teacher’s legs), four paper-stuffed socks for legs (teacher’s arms are other two), pipe cleaners for antennae, eye glasses with sticky dots on lenses for compound eyes, three sticky dots to put on forehead for simple eyes, plastic wrap for wings; small hair brushes, combs and two miniature baskets for grooming and pollen gathering; party blower for proboscis, cooking baster for honey stomach, wax paper for wax glands, wooden skewer for stinger; Honeybee Anatomy poster; for older children, Unlabeled Honeybee Anatomy poster for each pair.

PUPPET SHOW “It’s a Bee’s Life”
Objective: To learn about the role of honeybees as pollinators and the jobs of the different bees in a hive.

Perform the puppet show or have the children perform it for their classmates. Afterward, ask questions to review key details and vocabulary. Show children the Honeybee Forms poster of the three different castes. Ask the children to describe some of the different functions that worker bees perform and create a list of their jobs as they mature (cleaning the hive, feeding the queen, caring for the larvae, building comb, making honey, guarding the hive, gathering nectar and pollen). What is the role of the queen bee (laying eggs) and the drones (mating with queens)? What do bees get from flowers? (Nectar, pollen.) How do bees help flowers? (Pollinating them.)

Materials: puppets, script, Honeybee Forms poster, whiteboard and marker.

Objective: To observe bees outside and look for evidence of other pollinators on flowers.

Explain that many insects in addition to honeybees visit flowers and all are interesting to observe. Have children work in pairs, and give each child a Pollinator Observations page and pencil. Emphasize that students are to observe only, not collect.

Optional: Give each team a cotton swab to use to gather pollen from a flower, placing the cottony tip near the flower’s anthers. Look to see if it is dusted yellow. Now have them be pollinators: find another flower of the same kind and repeat.

Pollinator Observations

Find some flowers – in the lawn, on a tree, in a garden.

Describe them – color, location, smell.

Look for insects on or near the flowers.

What kinds of insects do you see?

Are they flying, jumping, or crawling?

How many different insects do you see on one flower?

Observe the behavior of one bee or other insect for several minutes:

Is the insect covered with pollen?

Is it visiting several flowers? If so, are they all the same kind?

Does it seem to prefer one type or one color of flower?

How long does the insect spend on each flower? (Count the seconds)

Sketch the scene and jot down some observations about the insect and its behavior.

What evidence did you find that flowers are important to insects?

What evidence did you find that insects are important to flowers?

Materials: Pollinator Observations page, clipboards, pencils; optional: cotton swabs.

Objective: To record observations about a bee.

Have the children find, watch, and sketch a bee and its habitat. Ask them to make some notes about what they observe the bee doing. If there are no bees but other pollinators are present, observe those. Afterward, have children share their observations with a partner or small group.

Materials: clipboards, journals or paper, pencils; optional: colored pencils.

Objective: To model the honeybee dance language and learn how bees use it to communicate about direction.

Ahead of time, arrange six clusters of six to nine pompoms, each cluster a different color (or use small painted rocks arranged in the same way). The different clusters should be placed in an arc, spaced roughly twenty feet apart and forty feet from a central gathering spot. Also nearby, hide a honey-based treat such as honey grahams, honey candies, or honey sticks, one for each child.

In a large group at the gathering spot, show posters and discuss how bees communicate the location of productive flowers through their movements, or “dances,” on the honeycomb in the hive. Demonstrate the Circle Dance performed by scout bees to direct other bees to flowers within 100 yards of the hive. Walk around in a small circle, first one direction and then the other. Have children follow the leader through a circle dance.

Next, point out the clusters of pompoms and tell children these represent flowers full of delicious nectar. Explain the Waggle Dance or figure-eight dance that a scout bee performs to indicate a food source farther from the hive. Demonstrate how the bee’s dance now suggests a flattened figure-eight with the centerline of the dance pointing to the food source. While making the centerline of the figure-eight, the scout bee faces the direction in which she wants the other bees to go to find the flowers and wags her abdomen. The closer the flowers are, or the better the nectar source, the faster she wags.

Divide class into small groups of three to five children. To begin, one child in each group will be the scout bee while the others are hive workers, standing in a close circle buzzing with eyes closed. The scout bee goes out to a cluster, picks up one pompom, keeping it hidden in his or her hand, and returns to the group. Now teammates watch their scout bee perform the Waggle Dance to show the direction of the cluster from which her pompom had come. All fly off to the cluster the scout bee was pointing to, and, once there, the scout bee opens her hand so all can see if the pompom is a match. Replace the pompom. Repeat until all have had a turn being the scout bee.

End with the leader being the scout bee for the whole group. Perform the Waggle Dance and have the children go and find the hidden honey snack to share!

Materials: six to nine pompoms in six different colors (or walnut-sized painted rocks); Circle and Waggle Dance posters and Bee Dance Descriptions; optional: snack such as honey and crackers for the whole group.

UPPER GRADES CHALLENGE (grades 5-6) – Honeybee Geometry
Objective: To practice using bee dance language and math skills.

Pick a location, such as a tree, to be the hive entrance. Fix a paper “sun” to a stake placed about twenty-five to fifty feet from the “hive entrance.” Now, standing in the hive entrance, use a protractor to determine the locations at which to place four markers (such as gym cones) representing patches of flowers, so that they are at least twenty-five to fifty feet from the hive entrance and in these positions:

Marker A = 30° to the right of the sun stake

Marker B = 60° to the right of the sun stake

Marker C = 45° to the left of the sun stake

Marker D = 90° to the left of the sun stake

Place a small card near each marker with the name of a type of flower that honeybees like (for example, white clover, apple, plum, cherry).

Have children work in small groups with a leader. Give each group one of the four Challenge Bee Dance diagrams and have children use a protractor to measure the angle between the sun on their diagram and the waggle-run of the dance.  Now, have the children take turns standing at the hive entrance and holding their diagram so the sun arrow is pointing towards the sun picture on the stake. The waggle-run on their diagram should now point to one of the flower patches. Have the children walk to the flower patch and check its label to see what flower it is representing.

Why might bees have evolved a symbolic language instead of just leading nest mates to the flowers? (Less energy expended, more efficient, safer, etc.) What new questions do you have about bee dance language from this exercise?

Materials: for each group: one of the four Challenge Bee Dance diagrams, pencil, clipboard, protractor; four markers such as gym cones or flags, picture of the sun on a small stake, four index cards with flower names.

Objective: To examine the construction of honeycomb and compare different possible cell shapes.

Ahead of time, cut out sets of Beehive Shapes, and Comb Shapes, for each small group. With children sitting in a circle, place paper or cardboard cut-outs of a triangle, square, hexagon, and circle in the center. Explain that one of these shapes is used by bees to form the cells in their hive. Show the children the larva cutout, placing it in each of the different shapes. Which shapes fit best around the “larva”? (Hexagon, circle.) Which would be easiest to clean? (Hexagon, circle.) To guide them in their answers, point out the unused corners and wasted spaces in the triangle and the square.

Now, with children in small groups, give each group eight paper hexagons and eight circles that are about three inches in diameter.  Ask them to use these shapes to create a hive made of many cells. Which shape fits together best? (Hexagon.) Which uses the bees’ resources most efficiently? (Hexagon.) Why? (The sides fit together, with no wasted space in between.)

*If available, show the children a sample of real honeycomb and observe how it is made of hexagonal cells.

Materials: Beehive Shapeslarge paper or cardboard cut-outs of a square, triangle, circle, hexagon, and honeybee larva; Comb Shapes – cut-outs of hexagons and circles; optional: a sample of honeycomb.

Objective: To closely observe bee life inside and outside a hive and then share thoughts and remaining questions about honeybees and their lives.

Play selected clips from Tales from the Hive, the NOVA video on honeybees. Afterward, ask students to write one thing they’ve learned and one question they still have about bees on hexagon-shaped pieces of paper. Have children share these with the group, completing the sentences:  “One thing I learned was…” and “I still wonder…” as they tape their hexagons in a honeycomb pattern on the wall.

Materials: NOVA’s Tales from the Hive video, projector, paper hexagons, tape.

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