Lesson Plan

The Bean Lab: Grades 2-5

Hopi Black Bean Seedlings
Photo by Amanda Stalvey (Teacher Ranger Teacher)


In "The Bean Lab", students will compare how native food plants grow at three culturally historic places near Flagstaff, Arizona.  Students will plant and grow Hopi Black Beans in three different soil types taken from areas near Walnut Canyon National Monument, Wupatki National Monument, and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. All materials will be supplied to interested teachers.


Guiding Question: How does the soil type at Walnut Canyon, Wupatki, and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monuments affect the growth rate of the Hopi Black Bean?

Critical Content: Learn how the three geologically different areas affected farming by the Ancestral Puebloans.

Students will …

  • develop an experimental hypothesis based on observations and background information
  • carry out an inquiry experiment, and collect qualitative and quantitative data
  • reflect on their predictions compared to experimental outcome
  • reflect on the impacts that abiotic factors (soil type) has on the growth rate of native plants


The purpose of this lesson is to provide a hands-on inquiry lesson focused on comparing how native food plants grow at three culturally historic places near Flagstaff, Arizona. Students will plant and grow Hopi Black Beans in three different soil types taken from areas near Walnut Canyon National Monument, Wupatki National Monument, and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. Students will take qualitative and quantitative data on the growth rates and productivity of each soil sample, and compare that to the history of farming in each monument, and the cultures that lived there.

This lesson is designed to be a multi-week lesson, with only a small portion of each day actually dedicated to taking data. There are three major learning events within this lesson: 1) The background and setup of the lab; 2) The collection of data and observations; 3) A discussion and reflection on the results.

Schools Residing in Arizona:
We are able to provide the list of materials from the “Classroom Materials Kit” to you at your classroom via mail or if you reside near the Flagstaff Area National Monuments headquarters office you are welcome to come pick it up in person. Please contact Holly Richards at Wupatki National Monument (928) 679-2365, or by email at Holly_Richards@nps.gov to make arrangements.

Schools Outside Arizona:

Unfortunately, due to Department of Agriculture restrictions in each state, we are unable to mail any organic lab materials outside the state of Arizona. We are happy to send the rest of the kit to your classroom, and provide directions for adapting this lesson to fit your class and area. The Hopi Black Beans may be purchased commercially; however, obtaining the soil for your area may require a little more creativity.

Suggested Modification: It is suggested to contact one of the commercial soil distributors or quarries in your state, and find out if they carry any soils similar to our three monuments in Arizona. Walnut Canyon soil is Limestone derived, Wupatki is derived from eroded Moenkopi Formation (in a pinch you could use a soil derived from red sandstone), and Sunset Crater’s soil is actually small sized black cinders ~ 6mm or less, the smaller the better.  


Classroom Materials Kit: (Set for 35 students)

  • 35 (5oz) clear plastic cups (1 per student)
  • 10 plastic spoons (approx. 5 mL each)
  • 70 Hopi Black Beans (2 beans per cup)
  • Approximately 4 cups or 946 grams Walnut Soil
  • Approximately 4 cups or 946 grams Wupatki Soil
  • Approximately 4 cups or 946 grams Sunset Soil

Teacher Provided:

  • Needle or pin to puncture the bottom of each cup (3 holes in the center of the cups
  • Sunlight/Solar Plant Lab with UV lights?
  • Water
  • Rulers
  • Marker or Sharpie for labeling
  • Trays for placing cups and water drainage

Before Getting Started:

  • Double check that you have all materials.
  • Photo copy the background information, and support materials.
  • Photo copy and make Lab Data Journals for each student.

* It is suggested that you use colored construction paper as a cover for the journal, but it is not a requirement.


Background information. As a class, read about the Ancestral Puebloans who lived near or around Sunset Crater Volcano, Wupatki, and Walnut Canyon (see appendix). As a class discuss what plants need to grow and what was grown.

Divide the class into three equal groups, one for each monument. Have each group observe what they notice about the soil from around their monument, and draw or record what they see in their Data Lab Journals. Have them touch; smell and look at their soil, then, as a group, describe their soil to the whole class. (Refer to “The Soils” section from the lesson description and Background sheets for more information about how and where the soils were taken.)

Hypothesis. Have the students hypothesize (individually or as a group) which soil is going to grow the tallest beans in the shortest amount of time, and describe why. This should be recorded in their Data Lab Journal on the first page.

Set up. It is suggested that the teacher moistens the soil the night before the lab to help the soil absorb the water for the students (possible hydrophobic reaction).

  1. Each student will be responsible for growing their own bean plant. Pass out the cups to each student and have them label their cup with their name and soil type. There will need to be 3 tiny drainage holes at the bottom of each cup; this can either be done by the teacher or students with some tacks or pins.
  2. Each cup should then be filled 3/4’s of the way with the student’s assigned soil type.
  3. Each student will use their pencil to make a hole in the middle of their soil about 1 inch deep, and place 2 beans in the hole. They should fill in the hole to keep the seed covered.
  4. Place the bean cups on a lab tray to catch any water that trickles down, and for better storage. For the first day of watering, each student should add enough water to moisten the soil completely through. The black Sunset cinder soil will need the least, and the Wupatki Red Soil will need the most.
  5. All of the cups should be placed in the same place in the classroom, near sunlight or under a UV plant light. Water should be added about every other day, or enough to make sure the soil is DAMP. You do not want to over water the beans, or let them dry out too much.

Data/Measurements. Have students record their first day data in their Data Lab Journals. Each student should record how much water they used (in # of spoons or mL), if there is any growth, how much growth and if they see any leaves each day. Repeat this for as long as you run the experiment. Make sure to account for weekends on your Day #.

The length of this lab is suggested to be a minimum of 3 weeks long, but is left to the discretion of the teacher and the school's available time. At the end of the lab, the class should come together to compile the data and evaluate what the data means. There are questions at the back of the Data Lab Journal to help with this.

Have the students reflect on how the three different soil types would have affected life at each monument.

Other Observations to Be Made: Students may take notice how the water condenses on the sides of the cup each day, or how the roots grow. Other observations may include noting which soils take longer to absorb the water, and which soils have other organisms in them.


The assessment for this lab has room for adaptation and modification. This particular lesson involves a prediction and outcome analysis and reflection on results by the students. Students will use the questions at the back of their Data Lab Journals to reflect on what they observed and expected. Please see the attached Data Lab Journal in the appendix. Teachers for this grade range may also consider using the "Bean Lab Summary Sheet" in the appendix, or a modified set of questions.

Park Connections

It is suggested that classes visit one of the 3 monuments and compare what they saw in the lab to what they can see at the monument itself. Students can compare the soil they saw in class to what is around them at the monument. They can predict what vegetation they could see before their visit, and then compare it to what they actually see. There are many resources available at the monument, which may be made available for your visit.

Wupatki National Monument has its own vegetable garden for visitors to see. Students could compare what they see to what they saw in the lab, and then talk to a Park Guide to understand how the park compensates for the growing conditions at the park today.

Walnut Canyon National Monument is a great place to see how water was transported and moved over hazardous terrain, by imagining people climbing ladders and canyon walls while carrying large ceramic jars. You could have the students draw what they think life would have been like here, or make a storyboard.

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is a great place to see how natural disasters caused people to move and adapt. Check out a lava flow and see which plants have come back and taken root out of the lava flows.  


  • Soil nutrient rehabilitation. Students could use Miracle Grow to see how that affects the growth rates.
  • Vary the water amounts used to grow the beans.
  • Start a class garden.
  • Maintain the beans, and see how long they last.
  • Maintain the beans, and learn how to cook with them.

Additional Resources

This lesson plan was developed by high school teacher Amanda Stalvey, as part of the Teacher-Ranger-Teacher program.