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Polar Bears and Climate Change
Lesson Plan and Activity Ideas


Encounters - Polar Bears
Introduction | Natural History | Climate Change | Traditional Knowledge


Guiding Questions

  • How is the earth's climate changing?
  • Why is the earth's climate changing?
  • How do changes in climate affect polar bears?
  • How and why do human interests sometimes conflict with polar bear interests?
  • How might a person interested in recording animals prepare for a recording fieldtrip?

Enduring Understandings

  • The earth's climate is becoming, on average, warmer.
  • Changes in the earth's climate are at least in part the effects of human activity.
  • Because of the polar bear's fine-tuned adaptations to the Arctic sea ice, changes in this environment have profound effects on polar bears' survival.
  • The needs of animals such as polar bears and those of humans are sometimes in conflict with each other.
  • We can learn about the natural environment and its creatures by close observation, accompanied by research.

Concepts

  • Adaptation
  • Greenhouse effect
  • Cyclical climate change
  • Ecology
  • Ecosystems
  • Habitat

National Science Standards

NS.5-8.1 SCIENCE AS INQUIRY: As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop

  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
  • Understandings about scientific inquiry

NS.5-8-3 LIFE SCIENCE: As a result of their activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop an understanding of

  • Structure and function in living systems
  • Reproduction and heredity
  • Regulation and behavior
  • Populations and ecosystems
  • Diversity and adaptations of organisms

NS.9-12.3 LIFE SCIENCE: As a result of their activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop an understanding of

  • Interdependence of organisms
  • Behavior of organisms

National Geography Standards

NSS.G-K-12.5 ENVIRONMENT AND SOCIETY: As a result of activities in grades K-12, all students should

  • Understand how human actions modify the physical environment
  • Understand the changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources.

NSS-G.K-12.6 THE USES OF GEOGRAPHY: As a result of activities in grades K-12, all students should

  • Understand how to apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the future.

Alaska Grade Level Expectations

5th grade:

  • Makes a food chain including the sun.

6th grade

  • Identifies statements as either factual or statement of opinion or interpretation of facts.
  • Describes basic behaviors organisms use to meet the requirements of life
  • Diagrams a food web using familiar plants and animals.
  • Collaborates with peers to demonstrate different ways to investigate and evaluate multiple pathways to solve a problem.
  • Describes how scientific knowledge is influenced by local knowledge, culture, and technologies of various activities.
  • Describes how local knowledge, culture, and technologies of various activities are influenced by scientific knowledge

7th grade:

  • Compares or explores the results of mutations to identify that some mutations result in adaptations which are beneficial to a species, some have no apparent effect, and some are harmful.
  • Diagrams a food web that includes and describes the role of producers, consumers, decomposers and descries or identifies the energy source.
  • Identifies the sources of scientific statements and evaluates the sources
  • Collaborates with peers to demonstrate different ways to investigate and evaluate multiple pathways to solve a problem.
  • Describes how scientific knowledge is influenced by local knowledge, culture, and technologies of various activities
  • Describes how local knowledge, culture, and technologies of various activities are influenced by scientific knowledge
  • Designs and conducts a simple investigation about the local environment

8th grade:

  • Analyzes the differences in various scientific explanations and models
  • Researches how resources are used in the local environment and allocated across competing groups
  • Describes that energy flows and matter cycles but is conserved within an ecosystem
  • Organizes a food web that shows how matter cycles within an ecosystem
  • Identifies local issues and the role of public policy
  • Evaluates and discusses the evidence presented by stakeholders who support or oppose public policy
  • Designs scientific and technological solutions to a local problem
  • Collaborates with peers to demonstrate different ways to investigate and evaluate multiple pathways to solve a problem.
  • Describes how scientific knowledge is influenced by local knowledge, culture, and technologies of various activities
  • Describes how local knowledge, culture, and technologies of various activities are influenced by scientific knowledge

10th grade

  • Describes how natural selection leads to speciation and extinction.
  • Describes the relationship between the carbon cycle and global climate change
  • Investigates interactions in a system
  • Describes human impact on the climate
  • Collaborates with peers to demonstrate different ways to investigate and evaluate multiple pathways to solve a problem.
  • Describes how scientific knowledge is influenced by local knowledge, culture, and technologies of various activities
  • Describes how local knowledge, culture, and technologies of various activities are influenced by scientific knowledge
  • Researches and analyzes how resources are used in the local environment and allocated across competing groups
  • Analyzes whether data supports a conclusion
  • Describes the role curiosity, creativity, imagination, and a broad knowledge base play in scientific advancements


11th grade

  • Evaluates the credibility of sources of scientific information when conducting a scientific investigation
  • Researches how the processes of natural selection cause changes in species over time
    Describes the relationship between the carbon cycle and global climate change
  • Analyzes the potential impacts of different changes, such as climate change or habitat loss, within an ecosystem
  • Researches how social, economic, and political forces strongly influence which technology will be developed and used
  • Collaborates with peers to demonstrate different ways to investigate and evaluate multiple pathways to solve a problem.
  • Describes how scientific knowledge is influenced by local knowledge, culture, and technologies of various activities
  • Describes how local knowledge, culture, and technologies of various activities are influenced by scientific knowledge

Authentic Assessments

  • An excellent rubric to assess the development of a student's investigation was developed by the Iowa Pathways and Iowa Public Television and is available on this website through a link to http://www.julenereed.com/Julene_Reed/CBL_%26_Curr._Standards.html. To download a pdf of that rubric, click on the highlighted first sentence of the third paragraph.
  • In addition, see Item #14 below for an example of items to assess in a student project. Design a four-point rubric based on these items.

Teaching Strategies and Ideas

  1. Introduce the program by comparing a political or topographic map of the Arctic with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's polar bear range map at http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=polarbear.rangemap. Point out Kaktovik, Alaska, Churchill, Manitoba, and other communities that are in polar bear territory. Compare the polar bear range map with the home territories of the Iñupiaq or Inuit people, whose traditional settlements are depicted on a map at http://www.uaf.edu/anlc/resources/anlmap/ and http://www.uaf.edu/anla/collections/map/.
  2. Listen to the broadcast. The first time you play the program, have students listen for enjoyment and information. Consider projecting the fifteen photographs that are on the www.encountersnorth.org/wildexplorer/polarbears/ page as the audio is playing. Afterward, place students in pairs or groups of up to four to talk about what they remember from the broadcast while a recorder takes notes in each group. After students have listened to the program, compile a jigsaw list of what they learned.
  3. As a class, decide which facts the students want to expand on. Divide the topics up so each student or small group of students has a specific topic to investigate, such as:
    1. How is the earth's climate changing?
    2. Why is the earth's climate changing?
    3. How do changes in climate affect polar bears?
    4. How and why do human interests sometimes conflict with polar bear interests?
    5. How have polar bears adapted to life on the Arctic ice?
    6. What is habitat?
    7. What is threatening the polar bear habitat?
    8. What can humans do about it?
    9. How likely is it that Alaska's polar bear population will become as stressed as the polar bear population of Churchill in Canada?
  4. Listen to the broadcast a second time, this time taking notes on chosen topics.
  5. Alternatively, do a KWL chart before hearing the program the first time so students listen with a purpose.
  6. Check for understanding of the concepts of adaptation, habitat, ecosystem, the greenhouse effect, and climate change.
  7. For a lesson on questions a-d posed in #3 above, see http://www.julenereed.com/Julene_Reed/Challenge_One_Exemplary_Lesson.html. Note the carbon dioxide lab experiment on the site.
  8. For a visual of ice cap changes from 1979 to 2008, see http://www.julenereed.com/Julene_Reed/CC_and_PBears_Ice_Age_Video.html. A scientific site operated by the National Snow and Ice Data Center shows daily updates at http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/.
  9. There are also a number of resources on polar bears at http://www.julenereed.com/Julene_Reed/Guiding_Resources_for_CBL_1,_2,_and_3.html
  10. Talk about how Richard Nelson conducted his research. See http://www.encountersnorth.org/bio.htm for information on the topic. Refer also to the Background About the Recordings section above.
  11. The Encounters website contains a great deal of information about polar bears beyond the three highlighted radio broadcasts, including complementary essays that accompany the programs, a slide show, and other Encounters broadcasts. Refer students to those resources. In particular, the class might listen to "Russian Polar Bears," "Patch Dynamics," and "Ice Algae".
  12. This website also includes a number of links to other sites with resources about polar bears. To familiarize students with the various options, allow time for them to explore the website on their own. Each student should find at least three pages from three different links that he or she finds especially interesting. Have students share their finds in small groups, allowing them time to explore each other's discoveries.
  13. Have students define an issue related to polar bears and/or climate change that they want to explore. Topics might include
    1. evidence of polar bear distress;
    2. evidence of changing climates;
    3. evidence that climate change is due at least in part to human behavior and activity;
    4. mathematical models that show how polar bear populations are changing and are likely to change in the future;
    5. descriptions of the various interconnected parts of the Arctic environment that are changing and how this affects polar bears;
    6. why and how polar bears' very successful adaptation to living on the sea ice might actually be a contributing cause to its eventual extinction;
    7. a discussion of how changes in polar bear behavior and populations might affect humans.
  14. Students undertake additional research on their chosen issue. They can work individually or in groups. The result is a poster session similar to a science fair project with visuals and explanatory text or oral presentation. The teacher can determine how elaborate the report and presentation must be, but one example is:
    1. Must include library, internet, or archival research
    2. May include information from an interview with a local polar bear hunter, someone who has had personal experiences with a polar bear, or a wildlife biologist
    3. May include personal observations of the Arctic environment or of polar bears
    4. May involve gathering data about other factors related to climate change (such as the extent of sea ice through the years)
    5. May include maps, charts and graphs illustrating the data
    6. May include experiments such as production of CO2 (see the link for a lesson plan on this topic at http://www.julenereed.com/Julene_Reed/Challenge_One_Exemplary_Lesson.html).
    7. Must include a plan for decreasing the degree of climate change the world is now experiencing, or for disseminating information about the issue to other students and decision-makers.
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