Solo bee exiting a bee house (photo by Bananebrei Pixabay)

Setting the Stage

Carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica) (photo by Daniel Schwen via Wikimedia Commons)

Prior Skills and Knowledge:

To successfully participate in this Design & Build, students should be able to work with basic construction tools (e.g., scissors, hacksaws, miter box), fasteners (e.g., tape, wood glue, finishing nails) and materials (e.g., wood, bamboo sticks) as well as have an understanding of the basic needs of living things. Tools and materials options are provided. Students should understand that people and technology can assist in helping animals get what they need to grow and thrive. It is highly recommended that students conduct the Inquiry Needs of Animals prior to completing this Design & Build challenge.

Context

Mason Bee apartment building (photo by stanze via Wikimedia Commons)

There are many types of bees in the world. Social bees like honey bees and bumble bees live in communities in hives, but many of the bees in our local habitats are solitary bees. In Canada, there are approximately 300 different species of bees and the majority (about 90 percent) is solitary or solo bees. Solitary bee species have fertile females that lay eggs and 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. There is a need to protect these 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.

In this Design & Build challenge, students will design and build a bee house and test it to demonstrate that it will support at least one solo bee once it is established in a spot outdoors. Students will track bee activity around the bee house to test its effectiveness as a nest for solo bees.

This design and build could begin from:

    Cover of What is an Insect? by Let's Talk Science (image by Let's Talk Science)

  • Reading a book such as What is an Insect? by Let's Talk Science. Discuss using questions such as:
    • "What are some things that make an insect an insect?"
    • "What other things do you know about insects that are not in the book?" (e.g., some insects, like ants, live in communities where they support and protect each other. These are called social insects.)
    • "Are all insects social insects? Why do you think this is?"
    • "How would the life of a social insect differ from that of an insect that is not a social insect (a solitary or solo insect)?"
  • Questions and/or comments from students about bees, wasps and other pollinators they see on flowering plants outside in the school yard or at home. Discuss using questions such as:
    • "Where do the bees and wasps we see outside live?"
    • "Why do humans sometimes build structures or homes for insects like the honey bee?"
    • "Where do other types of bees live?"
    • "What is a solitary (or solo) bee? Based on its name, how would you predict solitary bees are the same or different from honey bees?"
    • "Where do you think solitary bees live? Why do these bees need a place to live/nest?"
    • "How might humans help solitary bees?"

    Screenshot from Build a Beehouse! (SciShow Kids) (image by Let's Talk Science from Youtube)

  • Watch a video like Build a Beehouse! (SciShow Kids) that illustrates one method to build a solitary beehouse. Discuss using questions such as:
    • "What materials could we use to build a bee house?"
    • "What features does a solitary bee house need to have? How could this be created using everyday materials?"
    • "What types of materials will be strong enough to hold together in different weather conditions and throughout the winter?"

Design Criteria:

As a class, students brainstorm criteria that their prototype bee house must meet. Educators may choose to add other criteria that are curriculum-specific, such as using joiners/fasteners, measuring, using specific materials, etc.

Design criteria examples:

  • Bee house should include 10-20 holes of at least 3 different sizes (2-10 mm diameter)
  • Tubes should measure 13 - 15 cm (~5-6 inches) in length
  • Tubes or holes must be open on one end to allow bees to enter; the other end should be closed
  • Tubes must be secure inside the outer structure, so they will not fall out if the structure is tipped
  • Bee house must have a mechanism to attach it to a tree or another solid structure so that it does not move
  • Bee house should be mounted in a south-facing location about 1 metre off the ground
  • Outer structure should be weather-resistant
  • Use only the materials provided

Materials and Preparation (Click to Open)

Materials:

  • Drawing paper or science journals
  • Measuring tools such as rulers, metre sticks, measuring tapes
  • Designing and recording tools such as pencils, erasers, paper, science notebooks, cameras or handheld electronic devices

Materials Option A: Using simple tools and materials

  • Paper straws, various diameter
  • Recycled paper and magazines, for constructing paper tubes
  • Recycled plastic water bottles, cans, milk cartons, 4-6" plastic plant pots and/or cardboard mailing tubes (cut to about 18 cm lengths)
  • Recycled cardboard or plastic cardboard
  • Scissors
  • Masking tape, duct tape
  • White glue and/or hot glue

Materials Option B: Using technology tools

  • Bamboo reeds, various diameter
  • Cardboard mailing tubes and/or plastic pipe (cut to about 18 cm or 7 inch lengths)
  • Scrap wood (non-treated) and/or plastic cardboard
  • Construction tools such as hacksaws, miter box, drill, hammer and nails, wood glue

Preparation:

  • Determine the materials option you would like the class to use. Materials Option A offers simpler materials and tool requirements. Materials Option B is intended for a classroom that has access to technology tools.
  • Collect an assortment of recycled and/or new materials that students will use to construct the bee houses (e.g., wood scraps (non-treated), bamboo poles, large cardboard tubes, mailing tubes, plastic water bottles, cans, cardboard, plastic cardboard, wood, etc.)
    Note: For the health of the bees, any scrap wood used should not be chemically treated. When using recycled tin cans, make sure they have safe edges or ensure the cut edges are covered with duct tape to prevent students from cuts. Some newer can openers will leave a safe edge.
  • Pre-cut any materials that are not safe or practical for students to cut in the classroom. Cutting large cardboard tubes or wood may be best done with a table saw, prior to class.
  • Set up material sourcing stations, organized by type of material. Alternately, organize an assortment of materials to be provided to each student or work group.
  • Demonstrate how to safely and correctly use all tools that are provided.
  • Image from The Solitary Bees video (capture by Let's Talk Science)

  • Learn more about solitary bees by watching The Solitary Bees (17:04 min, YouTube). Although this video may be too long to keep the attention of young students, there are segments of this video that you may wish to show:
    • Segment up to 1:35 minutes - provides basic background information about solitary bees.
    • Segment from 8:34 - 10:51 minutes - shows how a Miner bee fills a nest tube with nectar and pollen.
  • Option: Provide students with a set amount of play money and set up a store' area where students can buy' their materials. This could be included in the design criteria (e.g., you must spend a minimum of $5 and a maximum of $10.). Click here for reproducible Let's Talk Science money.

What To Do

Students develop Design & Build skills as they design, build and test a prototype solitary bee house.

Students will follow the steps of the Design & Build process:

  • identify the problem to be solved/need to be met
  • brainstorm criteria that the prototype must meet
  • share their questions and ideas for a solution to the problem/need
  • discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each in order to select a potential solution to be tested
  • visualize what the solution might look like and make design sketches based on their visualizations
  • develop a design plan (e.g., identify the tasks or key steps involved in developing the solution, make decisions about tools and materials that will be needed, include labelled sketches)
  • build/develop the design idea based on the design plan
  • test their prototypes based on the design criteria
  • modify the prototype and retest it against the design criteria as necessary
  • reflect on their results and identify things that could be done to improve their prototypes

Assessment

Observe and document, using anecdotal comments, photos and/or video recordings, students' ability to:

  • Work Collaboratively - to complete a task and evaluate their group processes throughout the Design & Build process
  • Generate Ideas - use idea generation strategies, such as brainstorming, to identify possible solutions as well as make decisions about the pros and cons of each solution
  • Communicate - students communicate their thinking and learning in words and/or sketches and/or photos and/or videos, etc. (e.g., in design plans that include 2D design sketches, in outlines of key design steps/tasks, in lists of required materials/equipment/tools)
  • Work Safely - students demonstrate safe practices when using a variety of tools and materials while building/creating prototypes
  • Reflect - on the results of their prototype testing and suggest things that they might do differently to improve their prototypes

Co-constructing Learning

Students:
Saying, Doing, Representing

Educator Interactions:
Responding, Challenging

Students identify and refine the problem to be solved/need to be met.

  • "What is the problem to be solved?"
  • "What must the bee house do? How will the bee house meet the needs of solo bees? Why is this important to provide?"
  • "What are the basic outcomes that are required for the bee house?"
  • "How will you test the bee house? What are some ways you could monitor activity around the bee house? How will you record the data that you collect?"

Students brainstorm and record criteria for the bee house.

  • "What words could we use to describe some of the features the bee house must have to be effective?"
  • "How many holes does the bee house have to include?"
  • "Why would it be beneficial to have different sizes of holes in a house for solitary bees?"

Students visualize what the solution might look like and make design sketches based on their visualizations.

  • "Why do engineers label all of the parts of their design sketches?"
  • "How are you going to represent each part of the bee house in the design sketch?"
  • "How will you get the bee house to attach securely to another solid structure?"

Students develop a design plan (e.g., steps in creating a prototype, decisions about tools and materials).

  • "What connecting materials are you going to use?"
  • "What tools might you need for building the bee house?"
  • "How are you going to make the holes for the bees?"

Students build/develop and test the design idea based on their sketches and design plan (create the prototype).

  • "Which of the design criteria does your prototype meet? Which ones does it not yet meet? Why do you think this happened?"
  • "What problems did you have when you tested the bee house? What bee activity did you see in and around the bee house?"

Students modify the prototype and retest it against the design criteria as necessary.

  • "What changes in your bee house might improve your results in attracting solo bees?"
  • "How would you change your design to make it more wind-resistant?"

Students reflect on the results of their testing and identify things that could be done differently in the future.

  • "What materials worked best to create tubes for the bees? What materials did not work as well?"
  • "What challenges did your team encounter in working collaboratively to complete the challenge?"
  • "What did you learn about bees and designing and building for animals while making this a bee house?"

Cross-Curricular Connections

Literacy

  • Ask questions (e.g., "Why might solo bees need a bee house?" "How do bees and other pollinators help the environment?")
  • Communicate thoughts, feelings and ideas (e.g., talk about how the growth of urban environments has affected how bees find spaces to live; discuss how humans can assist living things, like bees and bats, to survive in urban environments)
  • Work collaboratively (e.g., to come up with possible solutions for construction challenges)

Mathematical Thinking

  • 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)
  • Record (e.g., data about how many solo bees come to the bee house in a chart)

Visual Arts

  • Develop the design of the bee house using a digital drawing program
  • Create an infomercial to promote the purpose and construction of bee houses to a wider audience

Computational Thinking

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

Extending the Learning

Bat house on a post (photo by Mark Buckawicki via Wikimedia Commons)

If your students are interested in learning more, the following may provoke their curiosity:

  • Exploring 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?"

    Western Bluebirds (Sialia mexicana) taking care of their nest (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

    Cover of What If There Were No Bees? by Suzanne Slade (cover image via Open Library)

  • Connect this Design & Build to understanding ecosystem interactions by reading a book such as What If There Were No Bees?: A Book About the Grassland Ecosystem (Food Chain Reactions) by Suzanne Slade. Discuss using questions such as:
    • "What is the role of bees in a grassland ecosystem?"
    • "What is a keystone species?"
    • "How do bees impact on other living things?"
    • "What things can humans do to protect bees?"

  • Reading a book such as, Animal Architects: Amazing Animals Who Build Their Homes by Daniel Nassar and Julio Antonio Blasco, and exploring the structures that animals build themselves. Discuss using questions such as:
    • "Which of these animal homes have you seen in our local environment?"
    • "What are some of the different uses/purposes for these animal homes? What happens inside different animal homes?" (e.g., storks build a nest to incubate eggs and feed and protect the chicks, a monarch butterfly builds a chrysalis to change from a caterpillar to a butterfly - for its metamorphosis)
    • "How do animals use construction materials in a way that is similar to humans?

      Cover of Flight of the Honey Bee by Raymond Huber (cover image by Let's Talk Science)

      What types of materials and building methods are different from what humans use/employ for building?"

  • Reading a book such as Flight of the Honey Bee by Raymond Huber to explore the activities and social structure of honey bee communities. Discuss using questions such as:
    • "What challenges do honey bees encounter in the environment?"
    • "What are some of the jobs/roles honey bees have in their community?"
    • "How is a community of honey bees organized/structured?"
    • "How is bee communication similar to or different from the way humans communicate? What is the purpose of a waggle dance?"