A Sense of Place: Unit Outlines

Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of content in this issue of Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears? Not sure where to begin? We’ve created unit outlines for Grades K-2 and 3-5 using some of the resources found in the issue titled A Sense of Place. Rather than be a rigid and prescriptive unit plan, the outlines are meant to spark your creativity and help you integrate these resources into your own particular teaching situation.The unit outlines follow the 5E Learning Cycle model – engage, explore, explain, expand, evaluate.

GRADES K-2 UNIT OUTLINE

Summary of Purpose for the Unit

This unit is designed to introduce students to the Arctic or Antarctica. It uses text, multimedia, and hands-on experience to answer this question: What would it be like to travel to the Arctic (or Antarctica)?

Note: Teachers should select one of the two polar regions to study. Each region has interesting characteristics, but there are significant differences between them that may influence this decision. Antarctica, a continent surrounded by an ocean, is probably more familiar to students, but few plants and animals live on the land. However, quite a few marine species can be included in a study of Antarctica. On the other hand, the Arctic is an ocean surrounded by land, and may be more difficult for students to identify. Nevertheless, the Arctic tundra is home to quite a few plant and animal species. Of course, polar bears are found in the Arctic while penguins are in Antarctica (and the Southern Hemisphere). For more information about the two regions and their differences, please see our article Developing Your Own Sense of Place About the Polar Regions.


Standards Alignment

National Science Education Standards: Science Content Standards

Science content standards are found in Chapter 6 of the National Science Education Standards.

Standards addressed by this unit vary depending on the activities selected. In general, a unit on the polar environment will address the following content standards:

Science as Inquiry (Grades K-4)

  • Ask questions about objects, organisms, and events in the environment
  • Use data to construct a reasonable explanation
  • Communicate investigations and explanations

Life Science (Grades K-4)

  • Characteristics of organisms
  • Organisms and environments

Earth and Space Science (Grades K-4)

  • Changes in the earth and sky

If a study of polar explorers or researchers is included, the unit also aligns with the following:

History and Nature of Science (Grades K-4)

  • Science as a human endeavor

IRA/NCTE Standards for the English Language Arts

View the standards at http://www.ncte.org/standards.

1 – Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts.

3 – Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.

4 – Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

5 – Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

8 – Students use a variety of technological and information resources to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

11 – Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

12 – Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes.


Unit Outline

Engage

Read How Big is the World? (from the Sense of Place virtual bookshelf) aloud and ask students to share their experiences on trips. Where have they traveled? How did they get there? You may wish to use a map of the United States (or world) and mark or point to the locations students name. Be sure to point out your current location as well.

Next, ask students if they have heard of the Arctic (or Antarctica, depending on which region you choose to study). Students might be familiar with the terms “North Pole” and “South Pole,” and you may wish to use them in discussion — even though the regions encompass much more than these points. Use the world map to locate the region, and compare its location to your own. Use the discussion to elicit prior knowledge, using questions like:

  • How do you think you would get there?
  • What might you need to pack?
  • What might you see while you were there?

Student responses to these questions will help you plan the unit accordingly.

Explore

During this phase of the unit, students engage in activities that will help them gain an understanding of the location, weather and climate, animals and plants, and other features of either the Arctic or Antarctica. This may be accomplished through a series of whole-class activities or learning centers, or a combination of the two.

What types of activities can help students develop this understanding?

  • Read-alouds. A few titles from our Sense of Place virtual bookshelf include North Pole, South Pole (Nancy Smiler Levinson), Way Up in the Arctic (Jennifer Ward), Land of Dark, Land of Light: The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Karen Pandell), and Hooray for Antarctica! (April Pulley Sayre).
  • Mapping activities. Students might color maps or create salt-dough maps of the region. Find additional mapping activities in our blog post Mapping the Polar Regions.
  • Weather and climate activities. The class might track the temperature for a location in the Arctic (or Antarctica) for a period of time, and compare that data to the local weather. Or use the book Arctic Lights, Arctic Nights (Debbie Miller) as a read-aloud and discuss the seasonal changes in daylight and temperature in the Arctic.
  • Plant and animal activities. The Scholastic article Life in the Arctic Tundra has many ideas for activities. Others (including ones about Antarctic life) may be found in our articles about mammals, birds, plants, the tundra, and oceans.
  • Iceberg/glacier activities. Students can model the formation of glaciers and simulate glacial movement with the activities in our article Hands-on Lessons and Activities about Glaciers. Activities from our article Using Icebergs to Teach Buoyancy and Density can be used to create model icebergs that students can observe.
  • Activities about polar explorers and scientists. In Getting Ready to Go!, students plan an expedition to Antarctica (including the route, transportation, provisions, and research topics). Students may also explore the work of polar researchers (scroll down to find three lessons appropriate for grades K-5). Learning about how scientists deal with polar environments can enrich students’ understandings of the environments themselves.
  • Activities about the aurora. This colorful phenomenon occurs in both the Arctic (aurora borealis) and Antarctica (aurora australis). Books and art activities can introduce primary students to the aurora.
  • Multimedia. Photos and video clips can help students develop an understanding of the polar environment in ways that other activities cannot.

Throughout these activities, teachers should use purposeful questioning techniques and structured conversations to help students make meaning from their experiences. Student understandings and questions can be recorded on chart paper and displayed prominently in the classroom for the remainder of the unit.

Explain

In this phase of the unit, students share what they’ve learned and answer the question What would it be like to travel to the Arctic (or Antarctica)? Ask students to imagine that they have taken a trip to the region (either a vacation or a scientific expedition) and that they are going to write about their journey. Student work may take several different forms, depending on student ability:

  • In Drawing a Story: Stepping From Pictures to Writing, students draw a series of pictures that tell a simple, sequential story. They “read” their story to others, transcribe their oral story into writing, and create an accordion book with drawings on the front side and writing on the back. This activity is particularly useful with students in kindergarten, as it supports the transition from oral to written storytelling.
  • Students might write a journal or diary chronicling their journey. It may be helpful to discuss the format of a diary or journal before students begin writing. Having children’s literature written in that format available can be a useful reference for students as they organize their own writing.
  • Students might create a series of postcards from their journey. The large-sized index cards work well for postcards. Students could draw a scene on one side and write a corresponding note on the back.

Expand

Teachers might choose to have students repeat the unit, focusing on the polar region not studied the first time. Or, student questions and interests might point to an in-depth exploration of the plants and animals, glaciers, aurora, or other topic. See our issue archive for a complete list of topics that could be studied after developing a broad understanding of the polar environment.

Assess

This unit provides opportunities for both formative and summative assessment.

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment is conducted throughout the unit. Observation of students’ participation in class activities throughout the unit will provide insight into their current understanding and engagement with the topic.

Summative Assessment

Summative assessments occur in the Explain phase of the unit. Students’ stories, diaries, or postcards provide evidence of student understanding of the characteristics of the polar environment. Student work can be assessed using a rubric.

GRADES 3-5 UNIT OUTLINE

Summary of Purpose for the Unit

This unit is designed to introduce students to the polar regions and their characteristics. It uses text, multimedia, and hands-on experience to answer the question How are the polar regions alike? Different?


Standards Alignment

National Science Education Standards: Science Content Standards

Science content standards are found in Chapter 6 of the National Science Education Standards.

Standards addressed by this unit vary depending on the activities selected. In general, a unit on the polar environment will address the following content standards:

Science as Inquiry (Grades K-4 and 5-8)

  • Ask questions about objects, organisms, and events in the environment
  • Employ simple equipment and tools to gather data and extend the senses
  • Communicate investigations and explanations

Physical Science

  • Properties of objects and materials (Grades K-4)
  • Properties and changes of properties in matter (Grades 5-8)

Life Science

  • The characteristics of organisms (Grades K-4)
  • Organisms and environments (Grades K-4)
  • Regulation and behavior (Grades 5-8)
  • Populations and ecosystems (Grades 5-8)

Earth and Space Science

  • Properties of earth materials (Grades K-4)
  • Earth’s history (Grades 5-8)

IRA/NCTE Standards for the English Language Arts

View the standards at http://www.ncte.org/standards.

1 – Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts.

3 – Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.

4 – Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

5 – Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

7 – Students conduct research on issues and interests.

8 – Students use a variety of technological and information resources to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

11 – Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

12 – Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes.


Unit Outline

Engage

Introduce the polar regions and locate them on a world map or globe. Have students view photos of the Arctic and Antarctica from our polar photo gallery. Ask them to talk about what they already know about the two places, including any similarities or differences that students might offer. Record student ideas on chart paper, and display this chart prominently in the classroom throughout the unit. Students should be able to refer back to their prior understanding to confirm or revise as needed. Alternatively, students can complete a graphic organizer individually by recording prior knowledge and questions.

Introduce the unit’s guiding question, How are the polar regions alike? Different?

End the engage phase by discussing one similarity between the two regions – ice. If students have not included ice in the previous discussion, ask them to share what they know about ice. Allow sufficient time for a hands-on experience with ice, such as the one described in the ice balloons activity or in the lesson Do-It-Yourself Iceberg Science. Use purposeful questioning techniques to guide students to wonder how the presence of ice impacts other characteristics of the polar regions, such as climate and living organisms.

Explore

In this phase of the unit, activities should help students develop an understanding of the two environments and their characteristics. You may wish to help students focus by providing a list of testable questions – or you might generate a similar list through conversation with students. Questions might include some or all of the following:

  • How are the geography and landforms of the polar regions similar? Different?
  • How does the climate of the polar regions compare?
  • How does the amount of various types of precipitation compare between the polar regions?
  • How does the average monthly temperature compare between the polar regions?
  • How do the types of animals that live in the polar regions compare?
  • Do animals that live in the Arctic have different adaptations than those that live in the Antarctic?
  • How does energy flow through the polar ecosystems?

Students might begin by creating salt-dough maps of the region as described in the article Taking a Sense of Place Beyond Geography and Science. Other mapping activities can be found in our blog post Mapping the Polar Regions.

The majority of this phase will necessarily be spent in research, as firsthand experience in the polar regions is not possible. You may wish to conduct the research portion of this phase as a jigsaw activity. In this unit, students would begin in cooperative groups (often called “home groups”). They leave their home group and meet in an “expert group” in which they research a specific subtopic such as climate, geography, plants, or animals. Experts then return to their home group to share what they learned and to learn from the other experts in their group.

Children’s literature, including titles from our virtual bookshelves, will be a primary source of information for the jigsaw. Student-friendly web sites and multimedia resources, such as photos, video clips, and webcams, can also be used to make observations of the environments.

As students explore, they should record information on a graphic organizer. This three-column matrix asks students to compare the Arctic, Antarctica, and their hometown across a number of characteristics. If you conduct this portion as a jigsaw, students would use the matrix in their expert group to record information about their particular characteristic (geography, climate, plants, animals, and so forth). They would then add information about the remaining characteristics back in the home group. Finally, the home group could work together to add similarities and differences between the polar regions and their hometown.

Explain

Introduce compare-contrast text structure using a lesson such as Exploring Compare and Contrast Structure in Expository Texts. Students can practice working with compare-contrast text by reading either The Arctic and Antarctica: Are They the Same, or Different? or The Top (and Bottom) of the World. These articles are available as text-only documents, full-color illustrated books, or electronic books. After reading and discussing the text and its structure, students can return to their graphic organizer and add or revise information as needed.

Next, students share their understanding of the similarities and differences of the polar regions by writing their own compare-contrast essay. This may take the form of a traditional essay, a book (either created by individual students, small groups, or the class), or a multimedia project (such as a VoiceThread or digital story). No matter which format is selected, students should use signal words and the text structure studied in class to present the information they gained throughout the unit. Teachers may wish to provide additional support during writing by using the lesson Teaching the Compare and Contrast Essay Through Modeling.

Students needing additional challenge could write an essay (or create a project) identifying similarities and differences between the two polar regions and their hometown.

Expand

Students could expand on their study by learning what others know about the two polar regions. In the lesson What Do People Know About the Arctic and Antarctic?, students interview people to learn what they think and know. Creating poll questions requires students to draw upon their new understanding of the similarities and differences between the polar regions. It also provides an opportunity for metacognition and reflective thought, as students can base their poll questions on their understanding of the regions at the start of the unit. Collecting and analyzing data also provides an authentic connection to the math curriculum.

Finally, students might design an exhibit or polar festival to teach other students and family members about the polar regions, using the poll data as a guide. An entire issue of the Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears magazine is dedicated to polar festivals. The ANDRILL project provides resources for middle school and high school students to create a “Flexhibit” about Antarctica. The exhibit or festival might be held during a school day or as a family science night. During this process, students might need to research topics in greater depth. See our issue archive for a complete list of topics that could be studied after developing a broad understanding of the polar environment.

Assess

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment is conducted throughout the unit. Observation of students’ participation in class activities throughout the unit will provide insight into their current understanding and engagement with the topic.

Summative Assessment

Summative assessments occurs in the Explain phase of the unit. Students’ compare-contrast essays provide evidence of student understanding of the characteristics of the polar environments as well as the compare-contrast text structure. Student work can be assessed using a rubric for both scientific information as well as the organization of the essay. Student poll questions and exhibit/festival design (in the Expand phase) would provide additional opportunities to assess the depth of student understanding of the similarities and differences between the two regions.


This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Jessica at beyondpenguins@msteacher.org.

Copyright March 2008 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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