What's Going On?

Bonkers conkers

Activity overview

15 mins
Ages 7 – 9

Science topics:


Take a slo-mo look at a horse chestnut dropping its seeds – it’s sure to spark a conversation! This activity is great for describing observations and applying ideas in unfamiliar contexts.

Run the activity

1. You’re going to watch a short video. The aim isn't to find right answers, it's to explore ideas and find out what they know.

  • Do they know what might happen based on the image?

2. After you've watched the video, lead a discussion with your class:

  • Have your pupils all seen a conker before?
  • Do they know that a conker is a seed?
  • Can they think of any other methods of seed dispersal?
  • What are conkers used for?

3. Ask the class to describe what they saw using only one word.

Background science

Conkers, or horse chestnuts, are the seeds of the horse chestnut tree. This deciduous tree is found all over England, but is not native to England. You’ll find them planted in parks and towns but not in woodland or rural locations. This is because they were brought to the UK in the early 17th century as a decorative tree for parks and gardens.  

The tree flowers in spring and sports orange and red leaves throughout autumn. The flower of the horse chestnut will develop into a conker when it is pollinated by bees or other insects. During September you’ll start to see spiky green seed cases, which reveal the shiny brown conkers when they fall to the ground. The conkers, or seeds, roll away from the tree and then can germinate into another tree – this is just one method of seed dispersal.

Conkers are inedible and poisonous to many animals, including humans, if eaten. The chestnuts that we can eat are called sweet chestnuts and are very different to horse chestnuts even though the name is similar. 

Take it further

Have a look at a year in the life of a horse chestnut with this time-lapse video. Or, take a closer look at some more seeds and find out more about the difference between horse chestnuts (not edible) and sweet chestnuts (edible) with Maddie Moate! If the season is right, collect some conkers and take a closer look – what do your pupils notice. A fun fact: if you put some conkers in a bowl of water the rotten ones will float to the top!
Explore more about trees and seeds with this Odd One Out of three different types of seed, or this Big Question exploring if we need big seeds to grow big plants.


Thumbnail: Hans via Pixabay CC0;

Videos: Paul J Lilley via Getty RR / Paul J Lilley via Getty RR;

Music: Volcanic Spring by Lincoln Grounds (PRS), via AudioNetworks;