Lesson Plan

Day 4 of Biodiversity Bee Week: Engineering a Bee

A bee pollinates a cream-colored flower.

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Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Lesson Duration:
60 Minutes
Additional Standards:
Next Generation Science Standards:
ETS1.B: Developing Possible Solutions (MS-ETS1-4)
ETS1.C: Optimizing the Design Solution (MS-ETS1-3)
ETSC1.C: Optimizing the Design Solution (MS-ETS1-4)
Thinking Skills:
Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Creating: Bring together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for NEW situations.


If you were an engineer, how would you create a “bee” to help pollinate plants?

Students will
• analyze parts needed by a robotic bee to operate efficiently
• describe different structures and functions of their robotic bee
• create a robotic bee that would be able to accomplish pollination


In the mid to late 2000’s, beekeepers noticed a problem with their bees. Bees were leaving the hives during the day and not returning. Their hives were not thriving. Thousands of bees were dying, threatening the livelihood of many beekeepers and the pollination of thousands of plants, including crops upon which we rely for food. Scientists investigated the die-off of the bees, calling the problem “Colony Collapse Disorder” (CCD). Unsure of the cause(s), scientists collected data on the numbers of bees being lost each year. The numbers were staggering: 2006-07 saw a 32 percent decline in bee numbers, 2007-08 saw a 36 percent decline in bee numbers, and 2008-09 saw a 29 percent decline in bee numbers. There has been an overall decline or leveling off in the percent of bee losses through the years, with the losses at 23.2 percent for winter 2013-14. Beekeepers consider 18.9 percent as a level that is acceptable for bee loss each year in order to sustain their populations (Kaplan, 2014).

We are dependent upon bees for our own survival. Members of the Apidae family (honeybees, bumblebees, carpenter bees, etc…) are the “pollinators of the agricultural world.” Bees are vital to the health of our food supply and also wild plant pollination. Their bodies are covered with hair which allows them to pick up pollen and transfer it from plant to plant to promote pollination. Bees are responsible for pollinating one third of the food that we consume on a daily basis; their loss would mean that our food supply would be dramatically reduced. Also, pollinators are very important for maintaining and creating our wild plant populations, basic habitat for wildlife, and to support crops that feed grazing animals, such as cows (Michigan, 2014; Tucker, 2014).

Currently, bee decline appears to have leveled off, but the causes still remain unknown. There are many theories about the reasons for the decline in bee populations. Ideas include global warming, causing flowers to bloom at different times; loss of habitat and diversity in pollen sources due to development; pesticide use on farms; parasites, such as mites; or perhaps a combination of these factors (Sass, 2011).

This one-week module is designed to expose middle-school students to the issue of Colony Collapse Disorder and to give them background knowledge to help understand this problem. Knowledge is the first step towards understanding and becoming an agent of change to help solve this problem.


Gather simple building materials such as toothpicks, pipe cleaners, etc.

Download lesson plan, then print out and copy the worksheet for each student.


Students will design a robotic “bee” that would have the potential to pollinate our crops in place of a native bee.

Download Worksheet: Engineering a Bee

Printer-friendly lesson plans for all days of Biodiversity Bee Week (a middle school curriculum and activity guide for Bee Awareness).

Download Biodiversity Bee Week Curriculum

Lesson Hook/Preview

Robert Wood is an electrical engineer participating in National Geographic’s Emerging Explorers program. This short video clip (3:01) shows the potential of how robotics can impact our lives in the future.


Students will “engineer” a bee using different building materials such as pipe cleaners, toothpicks, etc. and reflect back on the adaptations honey bees have in order to survive and accomplish pollination.


engineer, pollinate

Assessment Materials

3-2-1 Ticket

In pairs, students will brainstorm three things their “engineered bees” need to be effective pollinators; two problems with releasing engineered bees into nature; and one way to solve a problem that may result from releasing engineered bees into nature.

Additional Resources

Download the lesson plan for additional resources and links.

For other education resources, webcasts, and webinars, Pollinator LIVE: a distance learning adventure is a great website, and is sponsored by federal and private partners. 

Related Lessons or Education Materials

This is Day 4 of 5 in the Biodiversity Bee Week curriculum for middle school students.

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Last updated: June 30, 2015