Sandy Benton, Jennifer Beno
Environmental Literacy and Sustainability, Life Science
Material Type:
Unit of Study
Upper Primary
  • Environment
  • Environmental
  • Inquiry
  • Inquiry-based Instruction
  • Life Science
  • Nature
  • Near Nature
  • Observation
  • Outdoors
  • Place-based Education
  • Plants
  • Pollination
  • Pollinator
  • Questioning
  • Science
  • Second Grade
  • Wonder
  • at home
  • at-home
    Creative Commons Attribution
    Media Formats:

    Education Standards

    Plant and Animal Interdependence

    Plant and Animal Interdependence


    This series of 5 high-quality, standards-aligned, inquiry-based activities and one STEM challenge have been field-tested by secong grade students and families of Wequiock Children's Center for Environmental Science during Safer At Home orders. These activities encourage students to use natural areas around their homes and in their neigbhorhoods as they improve their science and engineering skils relating to plant and animals interdependence. Created as a part of a WISELearn OER Innovation project, Connect, Explore, and Engage: Using the Environment as the Context for Science Learning was a collaboration of the Wequiock Children's Center for Environmental Science and the Wisconsin Green Schools Network. One of the goals of the project was to create standards-aligned lessons that utilize the outdoor spaces of the school (as well as those of the students' homes).  

    These lessons were created to take place during the spring. However, some of the lessons could be conducted during the fall. Cut flowers from a florist may be used in place of ones found living outdoors.

    The title image was used with permission and is courtesy of Joe Riederer. The observation protocol "I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of, I Think Maybe" has been adapted from that of the BEETLES Project.

    Activity 1: Seed Walk

    Essential Question: In what ways do plants and animals depend on one another in nature?

    Location: Outdoors and Indoors

    Materials/Resources needed: Internet, pencil, notebook or paper, a magnifier if you have one, a small bag or envelope for collecting, over-the-calf adult socks (old and mismatched are the best!). Adults might like to print a pocket-sized copy of I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of

    Time required: 30 minutes or longer (depending on your interest)

    Many, but not all plants, start growing from seeds. Seeds are full of energy--that’s why people and animals often eat them. Have you eaten seeds or anything made from seeds? Maybe you enjoy tree nuts like almonds or cashews. These nuts were inside a tree seed. Maybe you put out sunflower seeds at your bird feeders or even corn. Sunflower seeds and corn are seeds, and animals like squirrels and birds eat them from feeders and gardens. Sometimes seeds are inside fruits or cones of plants--like pine cones, watermelons, apples, raspberries, green beans, peppers, and tomatoes. Along with all of the energy in seeds is the very start of a plant--an embryo!

    To start this activity, put the socks on over the top of your shoes, tucking your pants legs inside the socks if you can. You may need to throw these socks away after this activity, so it’s okay if they already have holes in the feet.

    On the walk you are going to look for seeds to collect and place in your bag or envelope.  Places to look could be on the ground, attached to dried, dead flowers, attached to trees, under trees, floating in water, or flying in the wind. When you find a seed, see if you can tell what parent plant the seed came from. How far from the parent was it? How do you suppose it moved to its new spot? 

    When you are done collecting, take a look at your socks.  Do you have any seeds stuck to them? Gently pull these seeds off, and add them to your collection. You may remove your socks to do so.

    Sort your seeds into categories making observations using the I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of strategy.  You might say, “ I notice that this seed is heavy compared with others.” “I wonder if gravity pulls this seed to the ground because it's heavy?” “It reminds me of an apple seed..or it is the shape of a mini football!

    Were most of the seeds you found directly beneath the parent plant? Was there evidence that young plants grew only underneath the parent plant? Think about why plants need their seeds to be dispersed, or spread away from the parent plant. 

    Reflect: What surprised you about the number and kinds of seeds you collected? What did you enjoy about this learning experience? How do you think this might be different if you tried this again in another location or time of year? 

    Save your seeds for Activity 2. You may want to save these seeds for Activities 2 and 3. Talk with your grown-up on what to do with those socks after you are done with this activity!

    Activity 2: I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of Hike

    Essential Question: In what ways do plants and animals depend on one another in nature?

    Location: Indoors, and outdoors when you are ready

    Location: Outdoors (water and seeds may create a bit of a mess) and Indoors (for Internet)

    Materials/Resources needed: Internet, pencil, notebook or paper, a magnifier if you have one, seeds (collected in Activity 1), balloon, large tablecloth, bedsheet or open pavement area . Adults might like to print a pocket-sized copy of I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of

    Time required: 30 minutes or longer (depending on your interest)

    Seeds sometimes need animals as partners to disperse their seeds and sometimes other forces of nature help them disperse as well. Seeds are dispersed in five main ways: Wind, water, gravity, animals (eating and passing seeds through scat), or force (popping of pods), or a combination of these. Take a look at your seed collections.  How do you think your seeds dispersed? Remember, humans are animals. Did you carry seeds away on your socks and clothes? Use a magnifier if you have one to look closely. What are the features that you observe that might help the seed disperse through wind, by animals, etc.? Dandelion and seeds

    How could you test your ideas? Watch this video to learn about how you might experiment with ways that your seeds could be dispersed.

    Go outside  if you haven’t already. Stand on pavement (or on a light colored surface such as a large tablecloth, sheet, or blanket) in an open area that is. Place about 1 Tablespoon of seeds (Saving several seeds for Activity 3, this can be a mixture of different seeds.) and put them in a new balloon. Inflate the balloon with the seeds inside. Tie the balloon closed with a knot.  Set the balloon down in the middle of your selected surface, pop the balloon with a pencil point, or a stick, and observe where you find seeds after the balloon bursts. Where are the seeds? Is there a pattern of where you find the seeds? Did all types of seed follow the same pattern? How can you explain what you are observing?

    Reflect: What did you notice about the seeds you collected and the ways each could be dispersed? Are there advantages for a plant species to be able to be dispersed in more than one way? Did the seeds remind you of anything in your personal life?

    Extension: Choose one seed to do a close-up sketch.  Label the parts and write about how the structure and features of the seed helps it to be dispersed.

    Be sure to save seeds for Activity 3, and pick up and throw away broken pieces of the balloon.

    Activity 3: Germination

    Essential Question: In what ways do plants and animals depend on one another in nature?

    Location: Indoors

    Materials needed: Clean self-sealing bag (a used one will be fine), paper towel, sticky tape, science journal and pencil

    Time required: 30 minutes or longer (depending on your interest)

    Spring is the time of year when many families start garden plants from seeds.  Maybe some of your favorite foods are ones that you can grow from seeds in a garden. Beans are plants that are easy to grow from seeds. Pumpkins can also be grown from seed. Wild plant seeds, like many that you collected in Activity 1 can be grown from seed. 

    Think about things that plants need to grow.  If you said water and light, you are right! Most plants grow in water, but we’ll get to that in later activities.

    Spring is a time when many seeds begin the process of growing into a plant.  This is called germination. Using the steps below, you may be able to observe some, if not all, of the different types of seeds begin this process.

    Before starting the experiment, soak your seeds overnight in water.  Drain the seeds and use a hand lens or magnifier to examine the seeds. Using your senses, make observations using “I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of.” Pay attention to what the seeds look like after being soaked, the texture, even the smell. Dampen a paper towel and fold it into the bag.

    Germination Station Set Up Instructions

    Step 1: Depending on the number of seeds that you would like to germinate, and if you would like to keep the seed species separate, dampen one paper towel for each bag used.

    Step 2: Slide the wet paper towel, with the seeds on just one side, into the bag. Seal the bag tightly to keep moisture in the bag. 

    Step 3: Tape the sealed bag, with the seed side next to the window glass. 

     Keep a daily journal to sketch and keep track of observations. Your journal entry should contain sketches, numbers, and words to record your “I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of” thinking.  Draw the best you can as a scientist. (Note to grown ups: Please do not comment on the artistic quality--positively or negatively--of children’s sketches. Instead focus your comments on their observations, I noticed that you used yellow to match what you observed when the first leaf emerged. I noticed that you drew the crack in the seed where the first root came through.)

    Your first journal entry for this experiment may include predictions of the seeds that you think will germinate first along with your science reasoning. You might want to predict how long it will take for some seeds to germinate. Some seeds might not germinate at all!

    Make sure that the paper towel stays moist. If it’s too wet, mold might start to grow. If that happens, try opening the bag for a day to dry the inside of the bag a bit. 

    Keep observing the seeds and seedlings across the next days and even weeks--as long as they are growing and are not creating difficulties in your home. Do you notice some plant parts that you can identify? We will be studying plant parts in Activity 3.

    Some of the seeds might grow into plants that our parents would call “weeds,” so we might not want to plant them outdoors later, but should put them into a garbage can for the landfill instead.

    Reflect: Were there any patterns that you noticed? Were there similarities and differences in the seeds and the germinating plants? How did you feel when you checked in on these plants? Did you find that your patience was sometimes tested? 

    Activity 4: Parts of a Flower

    Essential Question:  In what ways do plants and animals depend on one another in nature?

    Location: Indoors/OutdoorsFlowers

    Materials needed: Flower Parts diagram , nearby flowers found outdoors, hand lens, science journal and pencil

    Time required: 30 minutes or longer (depending on your interest)

    People often plant tulips and daffodils to brighten their yards with colorful blooms in early spring. These flowers are very interesting for us to observe because their parts are large and easy to identify. You will be heading outdoors to explore areas where you find flowers and then when you do, you will study the flower parts.

    Here's a video to show how you can dissect, or take apart a plant flower to observe its parts. This diagram Flower Parts has the parts labeled for you to use when you go outside exploring.

    Look for flowers in the lawn, up along buildings, between cracks in pavement, and on trees. Some flowers will be very large and have colorful petals. Some may have a beautiful smell. Others may be sticky to the touch! The flowers must be open for you to see the male and female parts of the plant. On your walk, be sure to use “I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of.” For example, you might say, “I notice that there are a LOT of dandelions with flowers on them in the front yard, but there are only a few in the backyard. I wonder if there is more sunlight in the front yard than in the back? I notice that some trees have flowers on them, but other trees do not. I wonder if they get flowers at different times of the year?  These remind me of the special eyes of my stuffed animal.” 

    With your grown-up, talk about patterns of where you found flowers. What do you think are the best places for dandelions to grow well? What do these places have in common?

    Let's take a look at one flower. Study the parts, can you find the petals, ovary, stamen, pistil? What purpose does each of these parts have for the plant? Are there any animals, such as insects, on the flower? If so, what do you notice that the insects are doing?

    In your science journal, sketch your observations of one flowering plant, bush or tree. Be sure to use numbers, words and sketches to record your observations and thinking. Use all of your senses, except maybe taste, to make your observations. Use a hand lens if you have one.

    Reflect: Pollen grains are tiny, but they are powerful! Think about how pollen of certain plants can cause people with allergies to sneeze or how tiny pollen grains of an oak tree are responsible for making acorns which can grow into big, tall trees! What other things in nature are very small, but are very important? 

    Activity 5: Finding Pollen

    Essential Question: In what ways do plants and animals depend on one another in nature?

    Location: Indoors/Outdoors

    Materials needed: Flower Parts diagram, Flower Pollination Diagram, nearby flowers found outdoors, cotton swabs, white index card or small pieces of paper, transparent tape, hand lens, science journal and pencil

    Time required: 30 minutes or longer (depending on your interest)

    Do you find that you are sneezing and have itchy, watery eyes every spring or fall? Maybe someone you or someone you know suffers from seasonal allergies. Tree pollen (most common in spring) and grass pollen are often the cause of these symptoms.  Sometimes we can see the yellow dust coating of pollen on car windows and house windows and screens. While pollen seems annoying for some of us, it is very important to the plants and to us too! Pollination is part of the reproduction process for most plants--it’s how they produce seeds for new plants to grow.

    The foods we eat such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds are only possible because plant flowers are pollinated. That is, the pollen grains from the stamen, or male flower part, are spread to the pistil, or female flower part, of the same species of plant. This process is called pollination. This diagram shows the process of pollination.

    Pollination causes the ovary (attached to the pistil) to swell to protect the developing seeds. For example, when an apple blossom is pollinated, the petals of the flower will drop away and the ovary will swell into a tiny apple that will grow larger through the summer to protect the apple seeds inside it.

    Dandelions are plants that grow in many places at this time of year.  For this activity, you are going to go around your yard, or an area in your neighborhood with an adult, to look for places where dandelions are growing.  In this image of dandelion flower heads from different stages of the plant’s life cycle (left to right), you will notice how the plant parts change as the bud becomes a blossom that is pollinated, seeds form, and seeds are dispersed away from the parent plant.Dandelion Life Cycle

    Now it's time to explore flowers and pollen outdoors! Grab your journal, a pencil, tape, index cards, cotton swabs, and hand lens.  Depending on the wishes of your grownup, you may either pick the flower or leave it attached to the plant. 

    Observe each lower carefully. Do you think the flower can be pollinated by the wind or will it need pollinators, animals or insects, to help it? The shape of the flower structures may determine whether the plant is pollinated. Think about the size of an animal or an animal’s body part that would allow it to reach the pollen. Use a hand lens to look closely at the flower parts and pollen.

    Are there insects or animals coming to the flowers while you observe? Can you see pollen on the bodies of the animals/insects? What are the features of these body parts that allow the insects to carry pollen? If you touch the pollen with your finger? Does the pollen stick to you? Why do you think that it is sticking (or not sticking) to you? Use your strategies of “I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of” to record our thinking in your journal. Use sketches, words, and numbers to show your observations and thinking.

    Try collecting the pollen these ways, in this order. If one way doesn’t work, try the next.

    • Hold the flower blossom upside down with the index card underneath it by a half-inch or so.  Gently shake the blossom to release pollen grains. If this works, use a piece of transparent tape to fix the pollen grains to the card.

    • Touch one end of a cotton swab to the end of the flower stamen; wipe the pollen onto the card. Tape the pollen grains to the card.

    • Use the sticky side of transparent tape to collect pollen grains from the flower stamen. Press the tape to the index card.

    On each card, write the name of the flower (or describe the flower) and where you found it.  Use your hand lens to look closely at the pollen. What do you notice, wonder, or are reminded of? You may want to tape these cards into your journal.

    Reflect: What discoveries did you make about flowers and the pollen in the areas you explored? Was it easy or difficult to get at the pollen in the flowers you observed? Did all of the plants you studied need pollinators to spread the pollen? Could the same kind of pollinator get to the pollen of each of the flowers you studied? Why or why not? What makes a good pollinator? Think about this. You will be trying to pollinate plants in the STEM Challenge.

    STEM Challenge

    Adapted from Faber, J. (2014, November 24). Building and Testing Our Vanilla Plant Pollinator. Retrieved from

    Essential Question: In what ways do plants and animals depend on one another in nature?

    Location: Indoors and Outdoors

    Materials: Internet (indoors) for the video, Pollinator Profiles, hand lens, pencil, science journal, repurposed--try not to buy anything new--items (craft pom poms of various sizes, cotton balls, cotton swabs, sticky dots, toothpicks, straws, aluminum foil, wires, rubberbands, wooden beads, popsicle sticks, tape, chenille stems, newspaper, and anything else you can think would work well)

    Time: 60 minutes or more, depending on your interest

    Watch The Beauty of Pollination. First watch the whole thing because it is so beautiful and exciting to see. Then watch it again to share observations of the pollinators and the ways that they use their body parts and how they move to pollinate flowers in this video. Pause the video after observing each pollinator. Use “I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of” to talk about and/or write in your journal about your thinking.

    In the video you may have noticed some of the pollinators in these profiles. These profiles show the animals’ body parts up close and lists how the animal is attracted to flowers. You may find this helpful in the following STEM challenge.

    Your challenge is to create the best hand pollinator--a tool that people could use to pollinate flowering plants by hand. Here are the criteria for your hand pollinator.

    • It may not harm the flower.

    • It must be well-constructed (does not fall apart over multiple trials).

    • It needs to collect and carry pollen to another flower. 

    Optional: Part of the pollinator must touch the area where nectar is stored in the flower.

    Part 1. Test items for pollen pick up and transfer. Find plants that are in flower. Test each of your collected items to see which ones will pick up and hold pollen. Can you move your collected pollen and place it inside the flower of the same kind of plant? Which ones worked well to pick up and hold the pollen? What features do each of these items have? What body parts of animal pollinators do these items mimic?

    Part 2. Draw your design. Use what you discovered about materials that pick up and hold pollen, what you observed in the pollination video, and create a labeled sketch of your hand pollinator in your science journal. Your sketch should show the materials (see the materials list above for ideas) you will use, how they go together, and where the pollen will stick. Share your thinking with someone else in your house. Revise your design if you discover new ideas.

    Part 3. Build your hand pollinator. Collect household items and assemble your hand pollinator. Did your hand pollinator turn out like your design? Why or why not? Did you decide to modify your design as you were building it? Give your pollinator a name. Names can relate to the job the pollinator does, the person who designed it, the animal(s) it mimics, or a combination of these ideas.

    Part 4. Test your hand pollinator.  Find flowering plants to test. In your science journal record the following:

    Name or Description of Flower

    Reached the Nectar Area?

    Yes or No

    Collected Pollen?

    Yes or No

    Transferred Pollen to a New Flower?

    Yes or No


    How did it go? What worked well? What could work better? It’s okay if your hand pollinator did not work as you had hoped.  You have learned so much by trying your design.  What could you do to improve your hand pollinator?

    Reflect: What are the advantages of human-designed hand pollinators? What are some of the disadvantages? What did using a hand pollinator help you to understand about animal pollinators? What did you learn about engineering and design through this process? What did you enjoy about this challenge? After doing all five activities and this challenge, how has your thinking changed about plants and pollinators?