Wild Explorer > Lesson Plans > Polar Bears > Natural History

Polar Bear Natural History
Lesson Plan and Activity Ideas


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


Guiding Questions

  • How are polar bears adapted to life on the Arctic sea ice?
  • What habitats do polar bears depend on?
  • Why are polar bears important?
  • How might a person interested in recording animals prepare for a recording fieldtrip?

Enduring Understandings

  • Polar bears are uniquely and completely adapted to life on the Arctic sea ice.
  • Polar bears live in a part of the world that is more immediately affected by climate change than other parts of the world.
  • We can learn about the natural environment and its creatures by close observation, accompanied by research.

Concepts

  • Adaptations
  • Ecosystems
  • Climate change
  • Habitat
  • Life Cycle
  • Food web

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

  • Biological evolution
  • Interdependence of organisms
  • Behavior of organisms

Alaska Grade Level Expectations

5th grade:

  • Identifies inherited traits and those that are not inherited.
  • 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

8th grade:

  • Researches how resources are used in the local environment and allocated across competing groups
  • Describes that genes pass on traits from parents to offspring
  • Describes that each parent contributes genetic information equally
  • Describes behaviors of most organisms as either inherited or learned
  • 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
  • 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 activitie
  • 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 structure and function in body systems
  • 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
  • Describes the role curiosity, creativity, imagination, and a broad knowledge base play in scientific advancement


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 structure and function in body systems
  • Describes the behaviors that must be learned for living organisms to meet the requirements of life.
  • 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
  • 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

Assess student engagement with the enduring understandings and guiding questions according to the specific activities you choose and appropriate rubrics you devise. Examples of assessment instruments include:

  • Six Trait Writing Assessments for written work
  • Engagement in higher level thinking skills during student-conducted research and class discussions
  • Evidence of an understanding of the main ideas of the programs
  • Skills in conducting group and all-class work
  • Research skills as appropriate to students' grade levels

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. Ask students to describe how they think Richard Nelson is feeling as he describes the polar bears. What evidence do they have for their answers?
  4. Make a KWL chart. (Alternatively, do a KWL chart before hearing the program the first time and have students listen with a purpose.) Have the class check facts and enlarge their knowledge by dividing the topics up so each student has a specific assignment. Student topics might include:
    • Description of the polar bear, including its adaptations to the Arctic
    • Life cycle
    • Food web and what polar bears eat and what eats them
    • What a habitat is and a description of the polar bear habitat
    • Issues related to the health and wellbeing of polar bears
  5. Listen to the broadcast a second time, this time taking notes on students' assigned topics. Have students conduct research to fill in the blanks on the KWL chart. Refer to other resources on the website, particularly the text at http://www.encountersnorth.org/wildexplorer/polarbears/naturalhistory.html. Note the many links provided on that page
  6. Alert students that the second time they listen, they should attend to sound effects such as the wind or crunching snow or bears chomping on bones. Discuss: How can a radio program provide mental pictures to help the listener see what Richard Nelson is seeing? What comparisons does he make between polar bears and listeners' common knowledge to make his information vivid?
  7. (Optional) An alternative activity as students listen to the radio broadcast a second time is for them to draw what they're hearing.
  8. Check for understanding: Review the definitions of "habitat," "food web," "life cycle," "adaptation," and "yearly cycle."
  9. Have students design Jeopardy questions for their fellow students on their chosen topics. Put all questions together and play the game as a class.
  10. As an alternative to Jeopardy, you might have students compile an FAQ list about polar bears.
  11. Discuss with the class how students would prepare for the polar bear expeditions that Richard Nelson went on. Who would they go with? What would they wear? What equipment would they have with them? What escape route or vehicle would they have handy?
  12. 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.
  13. Have students conduct research on another local species and record a program about that species. Offer suggestions for novel ways to present the facts: for instance, "a female bear weighs as much as ten average fourth graders," or "the fur of the ___ animal constitutes 30% of its volume," or "it would take the ____ animal four months on a Weight Watcher's diet to lose all its body fat." In other words, encourage them to use comparisons with everyday items or facts to describe the animal in their broadcast. Students can link their recordings to the website www.echospace.org (a site produced by a consortium of museums and culture centers in Alaska, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Mississippi) as an example of student-produced work.
  14. Writing activities: The polar bear programs provide a number of writing prompts, both fiction and nonfiction. For instance:
    • Factual reports on various aspects of polar bear natural history
    • Poems expressing the feelings of the humans as they observe the bears in their natural habitat, or word pictures of the setting
    • A short story in which the student encounters a polar bear
    • The story of one polar bear and her cubs throughout the year
    • A letter to the government of the state or nation expressing concern for and solutions to the threats to polar bears' continued health in the Arctic
  15. Have students design and produce posters working singly, in groups, or pairs. Each poster should be about 24" x 30", in color, with drawings, photographs, graphs, maps, or other visuals. The only words should be the titles. Suggestions for poster topics are:
    • Food web and threats to polar bears
    • Habitat
    • Life cycle
    • Yearly cycle
    • Adaptations to the Arctic
    • The evolution of the polar bear
  16. Students duplicate outlines of the poster images on 8.5" x 11" paper, and distribute copies of these pages to those students who are not in their groups. The recipients in turn label the outlines to show their understanding of the messages and information depicted on the posters.

Additional Resources

Encounters |