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Why Are Flowers So Different?

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Why Are Flowers So Different?

Biology Crosscutting Concepts Disciplinary Core Ideas Is Lesson Plan Life Science NGSS Phenomena Science and Engineering Practices Elementary Grade 2

Sensemaking Checklist

Welcome to NSTA's Daily Do

Teachers and families across the country are facing a new reality of providing opportunities for students to do science through distance and home learning. The Daily Do is one of the ways NSTA is supporting teachers and families with this endeavor. Each weekday, NSTA will share a sensemaking task teachers and families can use to engage their students in authentic, relevant science learning. We encourage families to make time for family science learning (science is a social process!) and are dedicated to helping students and their families find balance between learning science and the day-to-day responsibilities they have to stay healthy and safe.

Interested in learning about other ways NSTA is supporting teachers and families? Visit the NSTA homepage.

What Is Sensemaking?

Sensemaking is actively trying to figure out how the world works (science) or how to design solutions to problems (engineering). Students do science and engineering through the science and engineering practices. Engaging in these practices necessitates that students be part of a learning community to be able to share ideas, evaluate competing ideas, give and receive critique, and reach consensus. Whether this community of learners is made up of classmates or family members, students and adults build and refine science and engineering knowledge together.


When we look around, we can see many different types of flowers. Have you ever wondered why? In today's task, Why Are Flowers So Different?, students and their families engage in science and engineering practices and use the thinking tool of structure and function (crosscutting concept) to make sense of the science ideas that some plants depend on animals for pollination and have specialized features for reproduction.

This activity is adapted for online learning from the California Academy of Sciences lesson Flowers Seeking Pollinators, curated by NGSS@NSTA Connection.

The Beauty of Pollination

In the The Beauty of Pollination video, students observe the variety of flowers and the different pollinators that they attract. Music accompanies the video without any explanation. Show the video once, then ask students to discuss their observations with their peers, siblings, or you. Then play the video a second time and ask students to write down their thoughts about the flowers and the animals that come to visit different flowers. This Science Journal Page has been included to aid students with journaling. After their discussion, ask, "Do you see a relationship between flower structure and the pollinator?" Have students quickly write their answer on the journal page.

Introductory Activity: Parts of a Flower


Student Directions

  1. Take a walk outside and find a flower. Look for a flower that has both male (stamen) and female (pistil) parts, also known as a perfect flower. Examples of perfect flowers include lilies, irises, daffodils, tulips, gladiolas, crocuses, pansies, geraniums, hibiscuses, poppies, nasturtiums, buttercups, and crocosmias. (Don't worry if you can't find a perfect flower. You can still do the dissection.)

  2. On the back of the flower dissection worksheet, draw your flower.

  3. Using the flower dissection worksheet as a guide, identify and remove the parts of the flower and glue or tape them in the appropriate box.

"Take a Flower to Pieces" provides additional guidance for dissecting flowers.


If flowers are not available, or you are just looking for more information, you might choose to watch and/or share these videos with students.

Teacher Note: You will need a flower for this first activity. It is simpler to identify flower structures if you use “perfect flowers” that contain both male and female structures, such as lilies, hibiscuses, tulips, or irises. (“Imperfect” flowers such as cucumbers and melons contain only male or female structures.) Using compound or composite flowers such as daisies and sunflowers, which are composed of many small flowers appearing as a single bloom, will make it more difficult for students to identify the different parts.

Activity One: Pollinators



  1. Assign each small group (groups may be virtual with peers or consist of family members) a pollinator: bee, bat, bird, butterfly, moth, or fly. Students can draw a name out of a hat, or you can assign them a pollinator.

  2. Share the Flowers Seeking Pollinators Data with each student. Students should take time to read the descriptions of all the flowers and look at the data before answering the following questions (on the back of the handout or plain paper).
  • Who is your pollinator?
  • Which flower (number) did your pollinator visit the most?
  • What are the three flower traits you think attract your pollinator?

Tell students they are beginning to construct explanations about what flower features attract their pollinator. Their explanations right now are only based on observations in the field, which is exactly how research scientists begin to build their explanations. In the next step, students will receive more information about their pollinator to modify or strengthen their explanations.

Journaling. Go outside and find pollinators, hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, etc. Then record the pollinator and the type of flower it is visiting (describe in words and pictures). Why do they seem to work out well together? Why are they a good fit?

Activity Two: Flowers Seeking Pollinators



  1. Share the Flowers Seeking Pollinator Constructing Explanations Sheet (1 per student) and the Pollinator Profile cards.

  2. Each student group needs the Pollinator Profile card that corresponds to their pollinator from Activity One. Teacher tip: If you are fortunate to have a larger group, it may be helpful to have more than one set of Pollinator Profile cards to make it easier to share.

  3. Once students have read their Pollinator Profile, ask them to identify and record three flower traits that are attractive to their pollinator on the Constructing Explanations Sheet. This time, they will have more data to use, so remind students to consider the following:

    1. Compare the data in your pollinator profile to the data gathered from pollinator observations. Did you identify the same three flower traits as you did in Activity One? Which flower traits may not contribute to attracting pollinators?

    2. Look beyond the flower your pollinator visited the most: Do you see any patterns when you look at all the flowers your pollinator visited? For example, bees went to Flower 2 the most, but they also went to Flower 6; do Flowers 2 and 6 have anything in common?

Journaling. What if we had only bees (only hummingbirds, only butterflies, etc.) to pollinate all flowers? Why are there so many types of flowers?

Activity Three: Imaginary Garden



  1. Set up an Imaginary Garden using the Imaginary Garden Cards. Teacher tip: This could be done virtually, around the classroom, or around the house.

  2. Have the students look at all the Imaginary Garden Cards. Tell them that their job is to find one flower that their pollinator would be most attracted to, based on their observation data and the data in their Pollinator Profile card. It is important that they look not only at the picture of the flower, but also the traits (smell, when it blooms, etc.) listed on the card.

  3. Each group or individual should select one flower that their pollinator would be attracted to. Once they have selected their flower, they will take it back with them.

  4. On their Flowers Seeking Pollinator Constructing Explanations Sheet, they will circle which flower they chose and write one sentence describing why that flower would attract their pollinator.

Journaling. Why are there so many types of flowers?


Final Journaling

After looking at how successful pollination depends on both the pollinator and flower type, how would a flower look that depends on wind for pollination? Or that depend on water for pollination?

Background for Educators (Teachers and Families)

Journal writing is the process of recording personal insights, reflections, and questions on assigned or personal topics. Journal projects assigned in class may include your thoughts about daily experiences, reading assignments, current events, or science experiments. The important thing here is that the more you write down your observations and/or answer questions, the easier journaling becomes.

Journal Writing Exercises for Kids provides more guidance for supporting your students with journal writing.

Review this Flower Diagram and keep it on hand as you explore pollination.

Scientific Terms used in this task are:

  • perfect flower—contains both male and female structures such as lilies, hibiscuses, tulips, or irises;

  • pollen—a powder-like substance in a flower (or cone) that is made up of grains. Each grain functions as a capsule for carrying the male gametes (sperm cells) of the plant;

  • pollination—a necessary step in the reproduction of flowering plants; the process by which pollen is transferred from the male stamen to the female stigma, thereby enabling fertilization and sexual reproduction; and

  • pollinator—an animal (e.g., insect, bat) that involuntarily transfers a flower’s pollen from male reproductive organs (stamen) to female reproductive organs (pistil).

With younger children unfamiliar with these terms or how they are used to describe pollination, you may choose to watch this Pollination of Flowers for Children video together.


What Is Pollination?

Pollination occurs when pollen lands on the stigma of a plant. It then travels down to the ovary and it's here that the ovules are fertilized. Most plants have flowers with the male and female parts present in each flower. Mostly, plants rely on insects, such as bees, to take the pollen from the anthers to the stigma.

  • Pollination by insects. An insect can pollinate flowers accidentally when the pollen is rubbed off from the body of the insect. Plants can produce nectar, a sugary liquid, within flowers, which many insects feed on. Pollen is a useful source of protein for some insects, such as bees. Insects are attracted to the flower by scent, colors, and nectar. They carry pollen from flower to flower, while collecting nectar and pollen for themselves. After pollination, the plant produces a seed, which mostly grows protected inside the plants' ovaries.
  • Pollination without insects. It's not always insects that pollinate the flowers; plants may use the wind, birds, or even bats as pollinators! With wind-pollinated plants—such as grasses, cereals, and some trees—the flowers are simple, with no bright colors or nice smells as they don't need to attract the insects. These plants have both male and female reproductive parts.


Interesting Flower Facts

  • Most plants grow flowers each year, but some take much longer. The century plant or agave grows only one flower after many years, and then it dies! Even more amazing is a rare plant called Puya raimondii from the Andes in South America; it doesn't grow a flower until it is 150 years old! (After that, it dies, too.)

  • The smallest flowering plant in the world is thought to be a floating duckweed called common watermeal. Its leaves are only 1mm wide!

  • Bamboo plants have amazing flowering habits. There are many different sorts of bamboo, and they have different flowering cycles. A few flower each year, but most wait much longer. What is amazing is that all the bamboo of the same species will flower at the same time, wherever they are growing! Nobody knows how they manage to do this.

  • The flowers on the European edelweiss are covered with a thick coat of hair to protect them from the hot sun and the drying winds.

  • The flowers of the Caucasian lime, which can grow in Britain, are poisonous to bees. They can often be found on the ground underneath the trees.

  • Hummingbirds hover in front of flowers while they collect nectar. They use so much energy to do this that it would be like a human needing to eat 300 pounds of hamburgers every day!

  • The white flower of the Amazon water lily is the size of a football and turns purple after it has been pollinated.

NSTA Collection of Resources for Today's Daily Do

NSTA has created a Why Are Flowers So Different? collection of resources to support teachers and families using this task. If you're an NSTA member, you can add this collection to your library by clicking Add to My Library, located near the top of the page (at right in the blue box).

Check Out Previous Daily Dos From NSTA

The NSTA Daily Do is an open educational resource (OER) and can be used by educators and families providing students distance and home science learning. Access the entire collection of NSTA Daily Dos.

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