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Design and Build a Bee House

Bee exiting a bee house

Bee exiting a bee house (Bananebrei, Pixabay)

Bee exiting a bee house

Bee exiting a bee house (Bananebrei, Pixabay)

Format
Video Text Images
Let's Talk Science

How does this align with my curriculum?

Students will learn about the human impacts on bee populations as they design, test, build and observe a structure for solitary bees.

Overview

Activities Timing Student grouping Description
Minds-On: 
Research and Understand the Problem

20 - 30 minutes

Large group

Students will observe bee homes and discuss the need for solitary bee houses.
Action: Design, Build and Test a Prototype

40 - 60 minutes

Small group Students design, build and test a structure that solitary bees can nest in.
Consolidation: Communicate the Solution

20 - 30 minutes

Individual Students document and share images of their completed bee houses.

This lesson can be done over a few days.

Students will

  • Learn how bee houses solve a real world problem
  • Use an engineering design process and associated skills to design and build structures for solitary bees
  • Follow established health and safety procedures during science and technology investigations

Students will:

  • Understand how bee houses are a way for people to reduce negative impacts on bee populations
  • Design, build and test a structure for solitary bees to live in
  • Use tools and materials safely and appropriately

Observations

  • Observe and record anecdotally students ability to actively listen during large group discussions (Minds-on, Consolidation)
  • Observe and record using audio or video how students plan to go about building their bee houses (Action) 
  • Students test their bee houses against the class criteria and record successful completion on a checklist (Action)
  • Observe and record students’ safe use of tools and materials (Action)

Conversations

  • Listen to and record students as they share ideas for the criteria of the bee houses (Action)
  • Have students communicate their thoughts about their design sketches. Encourage students to describe their sketches in words and explain how their ideas meet the design criteria (Action)
  • Have a conversation with each student about the process of building the bee house including challenges they encountered and how they overcame them (Consolidation)

 Products

  • Students could make labelled drawings of their bee houses on the Build a Bee House Design Sketch and Plan reproducible (Action)
  • Students could submit their completed Build a Bee House Design Sketch and Plans (Action)
  • Students could submit drawings or photographs of their bee houses once hung up (Consolidation)

Materials and Preparation

Material/Technology/Setting

Quantity

  • Designing and recording tools (e.g., pencils, erasers, coloured pencils, paper, science notebooks, cameras, sticks, rock, dirt, etc.)
  • Measuring tools (e.g., rulers)
  • Fasteners (e.g., tape, glue, string, elastic bands, twist ties)
  • Cutting/punching tools (e.g., scissors, hole punch, awl, hand drill)
1 set per group
  • Recycled container (e.g., 500 mL water bottles, milk cartons, 4-6” plastic plant pots, yogurt containers)
  • Roof material (e.g., plastic container lid, wood, tree bark)
1 per student
  • Tube-shaped objects (e.g., paper or plastic drinking straws of various diameters, paper rolled into tube-shapes, hollow plant stems.
10 to 20 (will depend on size of container)
For teacher use
  • Collect the materials that students will use to construct the bee houses.
  • Pre-cut any materials that are not safe or practical for students to cut in the classroom.
  • Set up material sourcing stations, organized by type of material. Alternatively, organize an assortment of materials to be provided to each student or work group.
  • Demonstrate how to safely and correctly use all the tools that are provided.
  • Familiarize yourself with the Design & Build (Engineering design) process.
  • Review instructions for participating in outdoor activities.
  • Check your school library for books on bees.
  • Encourage students to have family members share stories of bees.
  • Familiarity with basic tools (e.g., scissors), fasteners (e.g., tape, string, glue) and materials (e.g., wood, bamboo sticks) and how to use them.
  • Some familiarity with the basic needs of living things.
  • Familiarity with bees.

Teaching and Learning Activities

Minds-On: Research and Understand the Problem (20-30 mins)

Instructions Teaching Tips

Take students to an outdoor space. 

Review instructions for participating in outdoor activities.

Activate prior knowledge by having students share what they already know about bees and where bees live. Alternatively, do the Bee Helpers lessons before this lesson.

two line drawings of speech bubbles

Discussions

Discussion prompts can include:

  • What do bees look like?
  • Where have you seen bees?
  • What do you think bees eat?
  • Where do you think bees live?

As a class, look at the images of different types of homes for social and solitary bees using the Bee Homes slides [Google slides] [pptx] [PDF] or similar images. 

examples of social bees living together in hives
Examples of social bee homes (©2022 Let’s Talk Science).
Image - Text Version

Shown are two colour photographs.

The photo on the left is a colour photograph of a half-circular structure, covered with insects, hanging from a tree branch.

The tree branch stretches across the photograph. There are smaller branches with bright pink flowers in the background. The half circle is so thickly covered that it almost appears to be made of insects.

The photo on the right is a colour photograph of a beekeeper wearing protective clothing, lifting a frame covered in wax and bees from a hive.

The beekeeper has a large cream hat with netting that covers their face. They wear matching overalls with long sleeves. With bare hands, they hold a long rectangular wooden frame filled with beeswax. Dozens of bees cling to the wax, especially in the bottom right corner. In the background is a green field dotted with yellow flowers, below a cloudy sky.

Solitary bees living alone in holes
Examples of solitary bee homes (©2022 Let’s Talk Science).
Image - Text Version

Shown are four colour photographs of wooden structures with many small holes in their surfaces.

The left photograph shows a house-shaped box divided into six sections. Each section contains a different material filled with holes. The top centre photograph shows a log with round holes drilled into the cut surface. The bottom centre shows many different materials, with different colours and textures, all filled with tiny holes. The photograph on the right shows two logs with round holes drilled into the bark and outer layers of each.

line drawing of person on a computer screen with video icon

Images and Videos

For students with visual impairments, use the descriptions provided in the alt text to describe the images. You can also support students using manipulatives of shapes and figures.

Explain to students that sometimes solitary bees have trouble finding places to live. This is why students will design and build houses for solitary bees.

Have students identify what the human-made solitary bee houses have in common. This will form the basis of their design criteria.

two line drawings of speech bubbles

Discussions

Discussion prompts can include:

  • What shapes do you see?
  • What materials were used to make the bee house? (e.g., wood logs, wooden tubes)
  • Why do you think people used these materials?

 

Action: Design, Build and Test a Prototype (20-30 mins)

 

Instructions Teaching Tips

As a class, have students co-construct design criteria that their prototype bee house must meet.

Note:

To maximize the chances of having bees use the houses, each bee house should have

  • at least 10-20 holes of at least 3 different sizes (2-10 mm diameter)
  • the holes or tubes should measure 13 – 15 cm (~5-6 inches) in length
  • the tubes or holes must be open on one end to allow bees to enter and closed on the other end
  • a roof or similar structure that keep the tubes dry
  • a way to hang the house above the ground (you may need to demonstrate what this means)
line drawing of person on a computer screen with video icon

Discussions

Question prompts can include:

  • What parts does a bee house need? (i.e., tubes or holes, a roof to keep the house dry)
  • What materials would be good for something that will be outside for the winter?
  • What will keep the bee house dry? (e.g., wood or plastic container or housing and roof)
  • How could you hang the bee house?

Encourage supportive listening and building on the ideas of others during brainstorming.

Have students individually visualize what the solution might look like and make labelled sketches based on their visualizations on the Build a Bee House Design Sketch and Plan reproducible [Google doc] [Word doc] [PDF].

line drawing of a chalkboard with "abc" on it.

Language

Students could copy words for various materials from the Design Plan (second page of the reproducible). The words could also be added to a Word Wall.

Build a bee house reproducible page 1
Page 1 of the Build a Bee House Design Sketch and Plan reproducible (©2022 Let’s Talk Science).
Image - Text Version

Shown is a colour image of a worksheet for students. At the top it says, "What is the problem?" Below is an empty box labelled "My Design Ideas".

The document is letter-sized with blue and green printing on a white background. The "My Design Ideas" section takes up most of the page.

Line drawing of two gears next to each other

Connections

Encourage students to think about other homes they have seen, including animal homes and their own homes for inspiration.

Have students create a Design Plan. They could do this by circling the key tools and materials on the Build a Bee House Design Sketch and Plan reproducible [Google doc] [Word doc] [PDF].

Build a bee house reproducible page 2
Page 2 of the Build a Bee House Design Sketch and Plan reproducible (©2022 Let’s Talk Science).
Image - Text Version

Shown is an image of a worksheet for students. The document is letter-sized, with green and blue printing on a white background.

At the top it says, "My Design Plan". The page is divided into two sections: "What materials will I need?" and "What tools will I need?"

In the section for materials are black and white labelled line drawings of materials students might use including paper, string, elastic bands, nails, a plastic container, a drinking straw, newspaper, hollow stems, a water bottle, wood and branches. It also includes the sentence, "Circle the materials you plan to use."

In the section for tools are black and white labelled line drawings of tools students might use including glue, a ruler, a push pin, scissors, a pencil, a hand drill, tape and a hammer. It also includes the sentence, "Circle the tools you plan to use."

Have students explain to you orally how they would go about building their bee house.

Once they are ready to build, enable students to gather the materials and tools they need.

line drawing of a light bulb

Idea

Remove the images from the Google doc or Word doc and have students draw in their own tools and materials.

For some materials and tools, it is easier if students work in small groups.

Have students build the design idea based on the design plan.

With each student, use a checklist that includes the design criteria that the class agreed to. Have each student test to see if each criteria has been met. For example:

  • The bee house has between 10 and 20 holes
  • The holes are between 13 and 15 cm deep
  • All of the tubes are open at one end and closed at the other end
  • The bee house has a roof
  • The bee house can be hung up so that the straws are horizontal to the ground

Encourage students to modify the prototype and retest it against the design criteria as necessary until all of the boxes on the checklist are ticked.

line drawing of an exclamation mark inside a triangle

Safety

Review how to safely use all provided tools and materials.

line drawing of a light bulb

Idea

If students need a more scaffolded experience, they could watch the video Build a Beehouse! from SciShow Kids that illustrates one method to build a beehouse upon which they could model their own bee houses. If using metal cans, make sure they are clean and dry and do not have sharp edges.

 

Consolidation: Communicate the Solution (20-30 mins)

 

Instructions Teaching Tips

Encourage students to bring their bee houses home and to find a sunny south-facing location on which to hang them. The houses could be hung alongside a house, on a tree in a forest or on a city street, a fence post, a mailbox, etc.

Have students draw or take pictures of their bee houses once hung up and share them with the class.

Student bee house exemplar
Example of a completed bee house tied to a tree branch (©2022 Let’s Talk Science).
Image - Text Version

Shown is a colour photograph of a bundle of tightly rolled materials, tied to a tree branch.

The rolls in the top half of the bundle are white, like rolled paper. The bottom half are pale beige, perhaps some sort of wood or cardboard. Each roll is tight so that the material forms a narrow tube. 25-30 tubes are tied together with a piece of clear plastic and red string. This string ties the whole bundle to the branch, so that the holes at each end of the tubes are exposed.

Line drawings of a large gear and a small gear

Connections

Send home drawing materials with students if necessary.

Students could put their bee houses up in a neighbourhood park.

Safety Icon

Safety

Putting up the bee houses should be done under adult supervision.

 

Background Information for Teachers

 

There are many types of bees in the world. Social bees like honey bees and bumblebees live in communities known as colonies. However, many of the bees in Canadian habitats are solitary bees. In Canada, there are approximately 300 different species of bees and the majority (about 90 percent) are solitary or solo bees. 

Solitary bee species have females that build their own individual nests. These bees are very efficient pollinators and can pollinate more plants per bee than domesticated honey bees. Examples of solitary bees include Mason, Leafcutter, Carpenter and Mining Bees

Carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica)/Abeille charpentière (Xylocopa virginica)
Carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica) on a lavender flower (Source: Daniel Schwen [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons).
Image - Text Version

Shown is a colour photograph of a large yellow and black insect landing on a stem of purple flowers.

In the foreground, one stem of flowers is in focus. An insect has landed on the left side. Its body is rounded into a C shape along the stem and its wings are stretched out behind it. The flowers are small, deep purple, and torpedo-shaped, closely stacked. Many other plants are out of focus in the background.

There is a need to protect solitary bee species because, like many wild animals, their natural nesting places are being replaced by human urban environments. These important pollinators are required for the production of food for humans and other domestic animals as well as for the survival of plant species.

A house for solitary bees provides nesting spaces in the form of tubes or holes in wood that bees can crawl into to stock with pollen and nectar (as food for bee larvae) and lay their eggs. These nesting spaces are usually located in a dry and secure sunny south or southwest spot that receives lots of sunshine to provide warmth over the winter. In the springtime, the new generation of mature bees exits the tubes.

Additional Resources

Reproducibles

Books

What is an Insect? (Interactive)

By Let’s Talk Science

How are insects similar to and different from humans? What makes an insect an insect? Learn about sorting & classifying, anatomy, and biodiversity while exploring the amazing world of insects in this book illustrated with beautiful photographs. This book is available to download in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

ISBN: 978-1-7753552-0-5 (English)

ISBN: 978-1-7753552-2-9 (Français)

Animal Architects: Amazing Animals Who Build Their Homes 

by Daniel Nassar and Julio Antonio Blasco

Look inside chimpanzee nests, beaver dams, termite mounds, stork nests and many more - and get to know the clever animals who build them!

ISBN: 9781780676548

Videos

Build a Beehouse! (2017)

This video (4:28 min.), from SciShow Kids, explains and demonstrates one method to build a beehouse for solitary bees.

Kids learn why bees are awesome (2015)

This video (2:02 min.) from National Geographic presents the Sweet Virginia Foundation, which aims to get children up close and interactive with bee populations.

Science

  • Students can explore photos or videos of other types of animal dwellings that humans make. Discuss using questions such as:
    • “What types of pet homes/animal dwellings are built by humans? Which kinds have you seen? (e.g., bird bath, bird house, bird feeder, bat house, toad house, dog house, animal park or preserve, zoo)
    • “Why are human-made pet houses/animal dwellings sometimes needed?”
    • “Why might it be desirable to attract or keep certain living things (e.g., bats, birds, bees) in an environment?” (e.g., bees and other pollinators help plants reproduce and grow, bats eat pests like mosquitos, zoos and animal preserves help protect and increase the number of endangered species)
    • “What things do you need to consider before building a house/dwelling for an animal?”
Wooden bat house on the left and wooden bird house on the right
Left: Bat house on a post (Source: Public domain image by Mark Buckawicki via Wikimedia Commons). Right: Western Bluebirds (Sialia mexicana) taking care of their nest (Source: Kevin Cole [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons).
Image - Text Version

On the left is a colour photograph of a shallow black box at the top of a wooden post.

The box has a sloped top, like a mailbox. The bottom appears to be open. In the background, bright blue sky and wispy clouds indicate the box is up high.

On the right is a colour photograph of a pale blue bird flying next to a wooden structure.

On the right is a square wood structure with a plank on top, like a roof. On the front is a wood square with a round hole in it. The bird appears to be flying away from this. The tips of its wings are blurred in motion, and its feet hang down from its body.

Literacy

  • Read a book such as Animal Architects: Amazing Animals Who Build Their Homes by Daniel Nassar and Julio Antonio Blasco, and explore the structures that animals build themselves.

Mathematical Thinking

  • Students could measure (e.g., the dimensions of the bee house, the length of pieces of material (cm), the time (mins., hours, days) it takes for a bee to discover the bee house).
  • Students could record data about how many solo bees come to the bee house in a chart.
  • Students could count the holes or identify shapes in the photographs used in the slide show.

Visual Arts

  • Students could develop the design of the bee house using a digital drawing program.
  • Students could use different art materials to represent their bee houses.

Computational Thinking

  • Create a picture-based algorithm to provide directions on how to build a basic bee house.

For the love of solitary bees and their impact on Canadian ecosystems (2019)
This article, by Grace Hunter for Cottage Life, discusses the BIMBY (Bees In My Back Yard) Project in Toronto and also offers some tips to cultivate healthy bee populations at the cottage. 

How to Keep Solitary Bees (2017)
This video (8:25) from Bee Built provides step-by-step guides on how to build habitats for solitary bees, what kinds of plants to sow in order to keep them healthy and happy, and how to harvest cocoons at the end of the season.

Bee Houses for Native Solitary Bees (2021)
This article, from Almanac.com, explains how to build a bee house (sometimes called a bee hotel) to encourage solitary bee populations to live and pollinate the flowering plants around your house.

Building and Managing Bee Hotels for Wild Bees.. (2017)

This article, from Michigan State University, provides a hands-on guide to building bee house habitats for solitary bee types in North America.

Baksh, M (Mar. 19, 2021). Twelve New Species Added to Federal Species at Risk List, Including More Bumble BeesOntario Nature

Edmonton & Area Land Trust (August 26, 2019). All About Solitary Bees.