Lesson Plan

The Bean Lab: Elementary Lesson

The Bean Lab in Practice
Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Science,Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
90 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
2.RI.1, 2.RI.3, 2.RI.7, 3.RI.1, 3.RI.3, 3.RI.7, 4.RI.1, 4.RI.3, 4.RI.7, 5.RI.1, 5.RI.3, 5.RI.7
State Standards:
Arizona State Standards
Social Studies Cross Grade Standards: S1C1, S1C2, S4C2, and S4C5.
Science Cross Grade Standards:  S1C1, S1C2, S1C3, S1C4, and S3C1.
Thinking Skills:
Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.

Essential Question

How does variation of soils within the three monuments affect the success of crop growth?


Students will plant and grow Hopi Black Beans in soil types taken from Walnut Canyon National Monument, Wupatki National Monument, and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. All materials will be supplied to interested teachers. By the end of the lab, students will be able to answer the 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?


This lesson is designed to help teachers bring a little part of the National Park Service and its unique monuments into the classroom, and hopefully inspire young students, their classes, and families to come and visit these parks. After completing this lesson, teachers have the opportunity and are encouraged to plan a field trip to one of the National Monuments highlighted here.

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.

This lesson should be used as a map to guide instruction; it is up to each individual teacher to dictate how deep the lesson may go. If the lesson is followed exactly, it will provide a great overview of farming, soil comparisons, and cultural understanding, with plenty of room for the teacher to delve deeper into each subject and extend the learning opportunities.

It is suggested that you plan at least three weeks for measurable rate of growth to occur. There are many opportunities for extension, and the lesson may be extended depending on what your desired outcome is. Growth rates may be affected by available sunlight, water pH, and humidity.

Note: In accordance with Federal Law, it is illegal to take any resources from National Park Service land. As such any soils used for this activity are only representational to the kinds of soils found within the monuments.


To Acquire Soil Samples

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.

  • The representative Walnut Canyon soil is lighter in color, and is derived from Kaibab Limestone.
  • The Sunset Crater Volcano soil is a coarser black soil that is indicative of eroded cinders from the cinder volcano’s eruption.
  • The Wupatki soil is redder in nature from the sedimentary Moenkopi Formation in the area.
  • 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.
  • You may also consider looking at the soils around the National Monuments in your area and contacting the appropriate Land Management Agency that controls the lands surrounding those monuments in order to obtain permission to collect the soils and adapt this lesson to fit your own local parks. Or just look at three geologically different soil compositions from around your area and compare them that way

Preparing Materials

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) - Contact the Monuments at FLAG_information@nps.gov to have beans mailed to you. 
  • Approximately 4 cups or 946 grams Walnut Soil
  • Approximately 4 cups or 946 grams Wupatki Soil
  • Approximately 4 cups or 946 grams Sunset Soil
  • Needle or pin to puncture the bottom of each cup (3 holes in the center of the cups)
  • Sunlight/Solar Plant Lab (optional 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.
  • Make one copy per student of the background information, Lab Data Journals, and summary sheet. for each student.
  • It is suggested that you use colored construction paper as a cover for the journal, but it is not a requirement.


Make one copy per student for use in the hook.

Download Ancestral Puebloan Background Information

Make one copy for student for use in the lab.

Download Bean Lab Summary Sheet

Make one copy per student for use in the lab.

Download Data Lab Journal

Lesson Hook/Preview

*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.


1. 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 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.)

2. 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 Lab Data Journal on the first page.

3. 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).

  • 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.
  • Each cup should then be filled 3/4’s of the way with the student’s assigned soil type.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

4. Data/Measurements: Have students record their first day data in their Lab Data 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 #.

5. 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 Lab Data Journal to help with this. Suggested extension: Have the students graph their results for each soil type and compare those graphs.

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

Possible Results for Teacher's Knowledge: The beans should start sprouting between 5-8 days after planting. During a trial run of this experiment, the Wupatki soil grew the fastest, while the Walnut Canyon soil took longer. This could possibly be related to the amount of clay that exists in the Walnut Canyon soil. Once the plants were able to fully sprout with leaves above the soil, the growth rates increased. Initial growth may be measureable multiple times in the first few days when the sprouts are first breaking soil; it is up to the teacher to decide what time each day measurements should be made, and it is recommended that that time remain consistent.


  • Soil - the upper layer of earth in which plants grow, a black or dark brown material typically consisting of a mixture of organic remains, clay, and rock particles.
  • Pueblo - an American Indian settlement of the southwestern US, especially one consisting of multistoried adobe houses built by the Pueblo people.
  • Ancestral - of, belonging to, inherited from, or denoting an ancestor or ancestors.
  • Hypothesis - a proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation.
  • Arid -  having little or no rain; too dry to support vegetation.

Assessment Materials

Reflection on Bean Lab

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 Lab Data Journals to reflect on what they observed and expected. Please see the attached Lab Data 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.

Supports for Struggling Learners

  • Teacher-chosen heterogeneous groups for the lab. 
  • Highlighted and annotated copies of the background information that could also be read aloud as a group. 

Enrichment Activities

  • 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.

Related Lessons or Education Materials

Suggested Park Visit

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. You may also contact the monument directly to see if there is any availability for a Ranger lead program that could focus on plants and farming at that monument. 

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Last updated: January 16, 2024