Arctic and Antarctic Birds: 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 Polar Birds issue. Rather than a prescriptive unit, the outlines are intended 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.

Have another idea for a Learning from the Polar Past unit? Share it with us – and other teachers – by leaving a comment below!


GRADES K-2 UNIT OUTLINE

Summary of Purpose for the Unit

This unit of study was developed to provide students with opportunities to study the life cycle and adaptations of Adelie penguins. It is based on the Cape Royds Nest Check, a real-data project from Penguin Science, a research study examining penguin response to climate change.


Standards Alignment

National Science Education Standards: Science Content Standards

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

Science as Inquiry (Grades K-4)

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

Life Science (Grades K-4)

  • The characteristics of organisms
  • Life cycles of organisms
  • Organisms and environments

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

Begin the unit by asking students to share what they know about penguins. Record student ideas on chart paper, or begin a KWL chart (or one of its variations).

Print pictures of a variety of penguin species – there are 17 species located across the Southern Hemisphere – and distribute them to students. (Find pictures of penguins in our photo gallery and at the United States Antarctic Program photo gallery, or use the line drawings on the penguin cards in SeaWorld’s Penguins Teacher’s Guide.) Ask students to carefully observe the pictures and sort them into groups. Allow students to share their grouping strategy and rationale.

While there is no “correct” way to group the penguins, the activity should help students begin to understand that there are many different species of penguins. It also provides an opportunity for students to practice making careful observations and classifying objects based on their characteristics.

Next, use the lesson “A Body of Geography” from the SeaWorld Penguins Teacher’s Guide (page 10) to illustrate where penguins live. You may wish to simplify the activity by limiting the number of penguin species used. If you do so, make sure to include both the emperor penguin, with which students are most likely familiar, and the Adelie penguin, the focus of this unit.

Explore

Read A Penguin’s World by Caroline Arnold (from our Arctic and Antarctic Birds virtual bookshelf) aloud. Discuss the text with students, and update the KWL chart as needed. Tell students that they are going to follow Adelie penguin families as they build nests and raise their chicks. Also tell students that they will keep track of their observations in a journal, just as scientists do. You can find instructions for a Nesting Time journal at the Cape Royds Nest Check site, or you can modify the field journal described in the ReadWriteThink lesson Writing in Science Field Journals.

The bulk of the Explore phase is dedicated to collecting data from the Cape Royds Nest Check page. From November through January, researchers will post daily pictures and updates on pairs of Adelie penguins as they brood, hatch, guard, and fledge their chicks. You might assign each student or small group of students a single penguin pair to follow. You can find additional information to share with the students at the Cape Royds Journal page. Again, students should record information in their journals daily, and discuss the updates with small groups or with the class as a whole.

You may also wish to supplement the data collection with shorter lessons and activities to teach students about the Adelie penguin’s characteristics and adaptations. Some ideas include:

  • “Black and White Buddy” in the SeaWorld Penguins Teacher’s Guide (page 12). This craft activity can teach students about how countershading helps disguise penguins in their natural habitats.
  • Penguin adaptations. This page contains a large number of images that can help students understand the adaptations that enable Adelie penguins to survive in the harsh Antarctic environment.
  • “Penguin P.E.” in the SeaWorld Penguins Teacher’s Guide (page 17). In this kinesthetic activity, students mimic the movement of penguins and other Antarctic species.
  • Other activities from the Penguin Science web site include browsing images, generating explanations for penguin behavior, posting questions for the researchers, and making a penguin cartoon.

Students might add extra pages to their journals to record what they’ve learned from these activities.

Explain

In this phase, students further develop their understanding of Adelie penguins and their characteristics, adaptations, and life cycles. Read alouds, small group reading, or independent reading of books about the penguins (such as the titles found in our Arctic and Antarctic Birds virtual bookshelf) can provide opportunities to deepen their knowledge. The web site Penguins Around the World also contains a page devoted to Adelie penguins that can serve as a valuable source of information.

Students should create some sort of project to share what they’ve learned about their specific penguin pair through the Cape Royds nest check and about Adelie penguins in general. Some ideas for projects include:

  • A poster. Students could create a scientific poster to be shared at a mock scientific convention. Families and other students could serve as an audience.
  • A question-and-answer book. Students could write questions and answers about Adelie penguins, or respond to teacher-generated questions. Younger students might contribute a single page to a class book, while older students might create their own books individually. The ReadWriteThink lesson Creating Question and Answer Books through Guided Research provides an instructional procedure for creating these books with primary students.
  • An alphabet book. Students could work as a class to create an alphabet book sharing their knowledge of Adelie penguins. The ReadWriteThink lesson Our Community: Creating ABC Books as Assessment can be adapted for use with any topic of study, including penguins!

Technology can be used as well – blogs, virtual posters, VoiceThreads, and digital stories are just a few of the options.

Expand

Ideally, student questions and interests drive this phase of the unit. Some possibilities include:

  • Compare and contrast Adelie penguins with another penguin species, such as emperor penguins.
  • Ask students to apply their knowledge of penguins to critically analyze cartoons and animated films depicting penguins. How are the cartoons accurate? How are they not?
  • Learn more about penguins that live in Africa and other warm locations. What adaptations enable them to survive in those environments?

Assess

This unit provides opportunities for both formative and summative assessment.

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment is conducted throughout the unit. For example:

  • Observation of students’ participation in class activities throughout the unit will provide insight into their current understanding and engagement with the topic.
  • Ongoing completion of the KLEW chart will allow teachers to modify the unit accordingly.
  • Field journals, used during the Explore phase, can serve as an additional source of formative assessment.

Summative Assessment

Summative assessment occurs during the Explain phase, as students work on the class book (or similar technology project). Student work can be assessed using a rubric.


GRADES 3-5 UNIT OUTLINE

Summary of Purpose for the Unit

This unit of study was designed to provide students an opportunity to investigate the concepts of migration and adaptation. It uses a multigenre, nonfiction text set and inquiry to answer the question How can an animal’s adaptations enable it to survive in two very different environments? The unit focuses on the sanderling, a migratory shorebird of North and South America. Sanderlings winter along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts from Canada to Argentina and migrate to the high Arctic in the spring and summer to breed.


Standards Alignment

National Science Education Standards: Science Content Standards

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

Life Science (Grades K-4 and 5-8)

  • The characteristics of organisms (Grades K-4)
  • Organisms and their environments (Grades K-4)
  • Regulation and behavior (Grades 5-8)
  • Populations and ecosystems (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 sanderlings by using the first six pages of the electronic book version of the Feature Story, The Dance of Life. You might choose to display the book on an interactive whiteboard and conduct a whole class “read-aloud,” or have students listen to and read the first six pages at individual computers in the computer lab. If computers are not available, you could also use the illustrated book version instead. Just be sure to stop at the appropriate page (in this case, page 5 of the illustrated book)! Note: This text is also available at a reading level appropriate for students in Grades 2-3. If using this modified version, read through page four of the electronic book or page seven of the illustrated book.

Discuss the text with students, answering any questions and re-reading, if necessary, to clarify or build understanding. Introduce the unit question, How can the sanderling’s adaptations enable it to survive in two very different environments? Allow students to share ideas, and record them on chart paper or on the board.

Next, ask students to study a picture of the sanderling, such as the one shown on page 4 of the electronic book. Ask them to describe the shape of the sanderling’s beak (long, thin, and pointed). Why might the shape of the bird’s beak be important? Read Beaks! by Sneed Collard aloud, and discuss how a bird’s diet is related to the shape of its beak. Tell students that they will be investigating the kinds of foods that a sanderling can eat using its beak.

Explore

Begin this phase by asking students to describe the beach environment in which sanderlings live. What is the beach like? What kinds of living things do you find along the shore? What kinds of things might the sanderlings eat? Record student ideas on chart paper or on the board.

Next, have students participate in a “shore feast” simulation. This is best conducted as a small group activity. For each group, partially fill a square, 8-inch aluminum cake pan with sand, and add a variety of items to represent food for the sanderlings. Items might include walnut pieces to represent mole crabs, shells for various mollusks, wood beads for insects, and wooden flower shapes to represent sand dollars. Students use forceps to imitate the sanderling’s beak and snatch up food items from the pan. By doing so, students learn what the sanderling could and could not eat. A class discussion after the simulation allows students to compare their findings with those of their classmates.

The "shore feast" simulation

Now turn students’ attention to the tundra. Ask them to discuss the following questions: What is the tundra like? What would you find there? What might sanderlings eat? Again, record student ideas from this whole class discussion on chart paper or on the board. Most students will probably be less familiar with the tundra environment than with the beach. Tell them that they are going to spend some time learning about the tundra before focusing specifically on what the sanderlings might eat there.

Next, conduct an idea circle – a cooperative learning activity similar to a literature circle. The difference is that in an idea circle, small groups of students each read different texts on the same topic. They discuss their texts and generate a shared body of knowledge about the topic. To facilitate an idea circle, provide a large selection of nonfiction books about the tundra at a variety of reading levels and in different formats. One good place to start when looking for titles is our Tundra virtual bookshelf.

Students each select a text (ideally, no text is repeated within a single group) and read it to gather evidence to answer the question What is the tundra like? Group members share information as they read, completing a graphic organizer to record their shared knowledge. Once all groups have finished, conduct another whole class discussion in which groups can share what they learned about the tundra and make predictions about what sanderlings might be able to eat. Students will test their predictions in the next activity: a “tundra feast.”

The “tundra feast” is similar to the “shore feast” – students use forceps to simulate the sanderling’s beak and attempt to pick up (“eat”) a variety of objects representing organisms in the tundra. This activity again utilizes the square, 8-inch aluminum cake pans, but this time filled with Spanish moss to represent the low-lying plant life of the Arctic. Objects representing food might include gummy worms to represent insect larvae, black pompoms and foam insect cutouts to represent adult insects, wood beads to represent beetles, and wood knobs to represent lemmings and other rodents. Pebbles and rocks can be used as nonfood items. Small groups of students interact with the materials and then share their experiences in a class discussion following the activity.

 

The "tundra feast" simulation.

Finally, return to The Dance of Life and finish reading or listening to the text. This allows students to confirm their findings from the hands-on experiences and texts used during this phase of the unit.

Explain

During this phase of the unit, students draw from their experiences with the feasts and the texts to explain how the sanderling’s adaptations allow it to survive in both environments. First, ask students to organize their thinking using a traditional Venn diagram, allowing them to refer back to the texts and experiences as necessary.

Next, present students with a choice of two writing prompts:

  1. You are a sanderling. Write a diary for your children in which you describe how you are able to survive in the tundra and on the shore.
  2. You are a researcher who studies sanderlings by observing them in the wild. Write a journal for other researchers that describes your observations of the behaviors that help sanderlings survive in these two different environments.

Discuss the prompts with students, answering questions as needed. It may be helpful to share examples of diaries and journals, such as Red Knot: A Shorebird’s Incredible Journey by Nancy Carol Willis and Looking for Seabirds: Journal from an Alaskan Voyage by Sophie Webb. (Find both of these books, and others, in our Arctic and Antarctic Birds virtual bookshelf.) These texts can serve as “mentor texts” and help students organize their own writing into the appropriate format.

Expand

Ideally, the content of this phase is determined by student interests and questions. Some possibilities include:

  • Tundra food webs. See our issue Tundra: Life in the Polar Extremes for information and resources.
  • Other birds and mammals that migrate to and within the tundra.
  • Different types of bird beaks. The unit Amazing Birds includes a lesson on beak types.
  • Other ecosystems and biomes.

Assess

This unit provides opportunities for formative and summative assessment.

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment is conducted throughout the unit. For example:

  • Observations of students and their participation in the shore and tundra feasts provide insight into their engagement and developing understanding.
  • Student responses during whole class discussions provide insight into their thinking and current understanding.
  • Student completion of the idea circle graphic organizer and Venn diagram can show understanding or indicate the need for clarification or reteaching.

Summative Assessment

Student responses to the writing prompts serve as a summative evaluation for the unit. A rubric can be used to evaluate student writing based on the scientific content, use of scientific vocabulary, and use of evidence from the texts and hands-on investigations.


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

Copyright February 2009 – 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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