Wild Explorer > Lesson Plans > Polar Bears > Traditional Knowledge

Polar Bears Traditional Knowledge
Lesson Plan and Activity Ideas


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


Guiding Questions

  • How have the Iñupiat lived and interacted with polar bears through history?
  • How do modern people, both Iñupiat and non-Iñupiat, live and interact with people today?
  • What does a person need to know to live among polar bears?
  • How might a person interested in recording animals prepare for a recording fieldtrip?

Enduring Understandings

  • The Iñupiat of Arctic Alaska have a deep knowledge of polar bear natural history and behavior based on more than a thousand years of observation.
  • All humans who venture into polar bear country deal with the bears' presence and habits, though their methods vary depending on experience and the reasons for being there.
  • We can learn about the natural environment and its creatures by close observation, accompanied by research.

Concepts

  • Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK)
  • Predation

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.5-8.7 HISTORY AND NATURE OF SCIENCE: As a result of activities in Grades 5-8, all students should develop understanding of

  • Science as a human endeavor
  • Nature of science

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:

  • Diagrams a food web that includes and describes the role of producers, consumers, decomposers and descries or identifies the energy source.
  • 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:

  • Analyzes the differences in various scientific explanations and model
  • Researches how resources are used in the local environment and allocated across competing groups
  • 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 activities
  • Describes how local knowledge, culture, and technologies of various activities are influenced by scientific knowledge

9th grade

  • Describes the scientific principles as they apply to subsistence activities.

10th grade

  • 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
  • Describes the role curiosity, creativity, imagination, and a broad knowledge base play in scientific advancements


11th grade

  • 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 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 program
  • 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. Alternatively, start a KWL chart before hearing the program the first time and have students listen with a purpose.
  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. Have the class check facts and enlarge their knowledge by dividing the topics up so each student has a specific assignment. Students should investigate resources on the website and, if available, the book Hunters on the Northern Ice, written by Richard Nelson. Topics might include:
    1. Special knowledge the Iñupiat have about polar bears
    2. Ways that Iñupiaq knowledge has helped scientists understand polar bears
    3. Special ways the polar bears use when hunting seals
    4. The methods humans use when they hunt polar bears
    5. How the Iñupiat (and other people) have made use of polar bear meat, fur, claws, teeth, and other parts
  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. Richard Nelson asks the same question several times during the program: "Did the Iñupiat learn some hunting techniques from polar bears?" Discuss. How would students answer this question?
  7. After listening to the program and reading the text on the website, discuss 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?
  8. 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.
  9. Discuss how students would prepare for a polar bear hunt. What skills would they need? What gear would they take? Who would they go with? What would they wear? How would they transport the bear after the hunt? How long would the hunt take? Have students write a story about a polar bear hunt they might take.
  10. The website lists five terms for polar bears at various times during their lifecycles: Nanuq, the general term for polar bear, Nanuayaaq—a small cub; Atiqtaq—a second year cub still traveling with its mother; Avinnaq—a young bear recently independent from its mother; and Atiqtagrualik—a mother with full grown cubs. If an Iñupiaq speaker is available, ask him or her to help students learn to say, spell, and use the words.
  11. Richard Nelson describes some of the messages Iñupiat can "read" from polar bear tracks in the snow. For additional information on the topic, refer to his book Hunters of the Northern Ice, pp. 191-193.
  12. For images of polar bear and tracks or other Arctic animals, refer students to http://www.alaskastock.com/resultsframe.asp?gs=1&txtkeys1=Animal+and+Track. Do an inventory of the different tracks on the website. With younger students, you might draw life-size tracks on paper, as well as students' own footprints, to compare various animals' tracks. Depending on where you live, consider taking a fieldtrip to find to identify tracks in the snow or mud near your school. What were the animals doing when they made those tracks? Were they running, walking, or standing, for instance?
  13. Students of all ages can illustrate the statement that tracks tell "Stories Written in Snow" by drawing a series of tracks, then writing a story based on that illustration. Students illustrations might be framed as mysteries: their readers (other students) are to decipher the stories told in the illustrations, then read the accompanying stories to see how closely they have been able to "read" the tracks.
  14. Have students explore the State of Alaska visual archive site, http://vilda.alaska.edu, to find images of encounters (directly or indirectly) between polar bears and people. Once on the VILDA site, type "polar bear" into the search box to find appropriate photographs. Guide students to use these primary documents to obtain information about Iñupiat and polar bears, through a five-part process:
    1. Students examine their chosen photographs and record what they see
    2. Students describe what they know, based on their examinations
    3. Students describe what they infer from the photographs
    4. Students list questions that the photographs and their inferences raise
    5. Students conduct research to find answers to those questions
  15. If available, read the story of the ten-legged bear (see Additional Resources) and discuss its content and messages.
  16. Richard Nelson tells many hunting stories that reveal Iñupiaq polar bear knowledge. Have each student choose one of those stories and do one of the following with it:
    1. Write the story in their own words
    2. Compose a graphic novel based on the story
    3. Draw or paint a representation of the story
  17. Students who live in North Slope villages can conduct interviews with residents about encounters with polar bears. To frame questions to ask, decide on what the students would like to know. Devise a survey instrument and a permission form for both student interviewers and their interviewees. Determine how to distribute the survey (e.g., online as a Survey Monkey, house-to-house interviews, sent home with students to their parents and grandparents). Sample survey questions might be:
    1. How often do people meet polar bears?
    2. What do people do when they encounter polar bears?
    3. What do the bears do when they encounter people?
    4. Are polar bears more or less commonly seen nowadays than in the past?
    5. What theories do the interviewees have to explain any changes?
    6. How do or have people used polar bear fur or meat?

Additional Resources

  • Burkher, Pauline C. and Pupils, The Ten Legged Bear and Other
          Barrow Eskimo Stories, illustrated by Wallace Itta. 1989.
  • Nelson, Richard K., Hunters of the Northern Ice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1969.
Encounters |