Hands-on Science Activities for Your Polar Festival

Engaging, hands-on science activities are at the heart of a polar festival. This type of informal learning event lends itself well to simulations, kinesthetic activities, model building, and discussion.

Literacy can be easily incorporated into many activities by introducing a concept with children’s literature from our Virtual Bookshelf or Stories for Students articles. A poetry station also provides a creative means for students to demonstrate what they’ve learned about the polar regions. The article “Writing Science-Themed Poetry in the Elementary Grades” gives an overview of appropriate types of poetry and links to related lesson plans. Please note that all lesson plans would need to be modified to fit the informal nature of a festival.

Finally, students could keep a journal of their festival experience. This journal could have a page for each activity where students record notes, reflections, or pictures that document their learning.

We’ve included ideas for activities on a variety of topics: Polar Geography; Seasons, Weather, and Climate; Glaciers, Ice, and Snow; the Aurora; Polar Animals; and Peoples of the Arctic. Some ideas are presented in descriptive form while others link to formal lesson plans. Typically, lessons can be adapted to fit a festival format by modifying the written requirements or assessment ideas. These types of follow-up activities are not usually included in festival activities, which are similar to an informal learning event or workshop. While lesson plans are often written for either primary or upper-elementary grades, most can be used with all grade levels as long as questions and directions are modified accordingly.

For each science lesson, we’ve included the appropriate National Science Education Standards. You can read the entire National Science Education Standards online for free or register to download the free PDF. The content standards are found in Chapter 6.

You may choose to include activities from all of these topics, or select a single theme for your festival. For arts and crafts ideas to round out your festival, please refer to “Polar Arts and Crafts” in the Across the Curriculum department of this issue. The Virtual Bookshelf and Stories for Students articles provide ideas for content area reading.


Polar Geography

Salt Dough Maps
Groups of students create maps of the Arctic or Antarctica using homemade salt dough. Maps could be made prior to the festival and displayed before the event, or made during the event itself. Making the maps is fairly time consuming – make sure to allot enough time for this activity! If time is an issue, paper maps of the Arctic and Antarctica could be colored or labeled instead. This activity meets the National Science Education Standards: Earth and Space Science Content Standard.

Tortilla Map
In this lesson, students create a 3-D map of Antarctica using a tortilla and dough. (Scroll to the bottom of the web page for this lesson.) This activity meets the National Science Education Standards: Earth and Space Science Content Standard.


Glaciers, Ice, and Snow

The Center for the Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS) has developed many hands-on activities related to sea-level change, glacial dynamics, water (ice) properties, and global warming. We’ve highlighted a few below – find all of them on the Ice, Ice, Baby page.

How Do Snowflakes Become Ice?
Students model the formation of ice with marshmallows or, if it is available, snow. Lesson extensions suggest using snow cones or shaved ice to model the difference between snow, firn (an intermediate stage between snow and ice), and glacial ice. This lesson meets the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry Content Standard, the Physical Science Content Standard, the Earth and Space Science Content Standard, and the History and Nature of Science Content Standard.

Blue Ice Cube Melt
Students experiment with blue-colored ice cubes and learn that ice can melt under pressure. This lesson meets the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry Content Standard, the Physical Science Content Standard, the Earth and Space Science Content Standard, and the History and Nature of Science Content Standard.

Floating a Bergy Bit
Students observe a simulated “bergy bit” (an iceberg the size of a small house) and discuss how much of the iceberg is above and below the water’s surface. This activity meets the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry Content Standard, the Physical Science Content Standard, and the Earth and Space Science Content Standard.

The following activities are not from the CReSIS web site, but they also provide excellent experiences with snow and ice.

Modeling Glacier Dynamics with Flubber
This hands-on activity simulates glacial flow. The students use a glacier-modeling compound made from glue, water, and detergent (“flubber”) to predict and observe glacial flow. The students discuss with the teacher how scientists determine glacial flow with real glaciers. The link opens a zipped file that contains three documents: the teacher’s guide, notes, and a worksheet. To adapt this activity to a festival format, omit the worksheet and lead the class in appropriate discussions while conducting the experiment. This activity meets the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry Content Standard, the Physical Science Content Standard, and the Earth and Space Science Content Standard.

States of Water: A Snow Mobile
Students create a mobile on which they record facts about the solid, liquid, and vapor forms of water. The template provided is best used with upper-elementary students. Other activities are available on the Explore: Ice Worlds! page. This activity meets the National Science Education Standards: Physical Science Content Standard.

Frozen In Time: Ice Cores
In this lesson, students observe and measure ice cores to simulate the study of ice cores by glaciologists. They will count the number of years of snow accumulation represented by their cores and graph their data to discover trends of annual snowfall. (Scroll to the bottom of the web page for this lesson.) This lesson meets the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry Content Standard, Physical Science Content Standard, Earth and Space Science Content Standard, and History and Nature of Science Content Standard.

Snow Density
If you are lucky enough to have snow, take students outside to collect snow and measure how much water is contained in snow. This lesson meets the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry Content Standard and Physical Science Content Standard.


Seasons, Weather, and Climate

Seasons by the Sun
This free article from the NSTA journal Science and Children describes science lessons that incorporate trade books for students in grades K-3 and 4-6. The 4-6 activity, based on Arctic Lights, Arctic Nights, is most appropriate for a polar festival. Students in grades K-3 could read the same book, but draw pictures of the various seasons instead of recording data and creating a graph (the activity for students in grades 4-6). This activity meets the National Science Education Standards: Earth and Space Science Content Standard.

Greenhouse Effect in a Baggie
Students simulate the greenhouse effect with a baggie. This activity could be used to introduce the concept of global warming before playing the game Polar Bears Go With the Floes (see below). This activity meets the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry Content Standard, Physical Science Content Standard, Earth and Space Science Content Standard, Science in Personal and Social Perspectives Content Standard, and the History and Nature of Science Content Standard.


Aurora

The Aurora: Inspiration for Art and Poetry Integration
This article from the May 2008 issue of Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears includes links to video clips of the aurora, nonfiction articles for students, and several art projects that could be used as a festival activity.


Polar Animals

Polar Bears

Polar Bear Story
Students listen to a story about a polar bear who changed his colors many times before deciding that white was just right. This activity could be combined with Why Polar Bears Are White. This activity meets the National Science Education Standards: Life Science Content Standard.

Why Polar Bears Are White
Students learn about camouflage as they study polar bears and their habitat. This activity could be adapted for other animals, such as caribou and seals. This activity meets the National Science Education Standards: Life Science Content Standard.

Polar Bears and Their Adaptations
Students create a “blubber glove” with plastic bags and a shortening product, such as Crisco, and test its insulation properties in ice water. The written explanation and assessment sections of the lesson can be omitted for use as a festival activity. This activity meets the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry Content Standard and Life Science Content Standard.

Polar Bears Go With the Floes
Groups of students play a game that builds an understanding of polar bears’ dependence on sea ice and how human actions impact climate change. This activity meets the National Science Education Standards: Life Science Content Standard, Science in Personal and Social Perspectives Content Standard.

Penguins

Move Like a Penguin
This page includes suggestions for many different activities. Look for the Motor Development, Creative Movement, and Penguin Waddle Relay sections. These activities would be best conducted in the school gymnasium. This activity meets the National Science Education Standards: Life Science Content Standard.

How Do Penguins Keep Warm in Cold Climates?
Students use a Ziploc bag filled with air to simulate a penguin’s down feathers. This activity meets the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry Content Standard and Life Science Content Standard.

How Do Emperor Penguins Keep Their Eggs Warm?
Students simulate a male emperor penguin’s brood patch. This activity meets the National Science Education Standards: Science as Inquiry Content Standard and Life Science Content Standard.

Penguin Unit: Teacher’s Guides

K-3 Teacher’s Guide

4-6 Teacher’s Guide
These Teacher’s Guides from the Sea World Education Department include a variety of activities (science, math, art, geography, and literature) about penguins. While these units were designed for use in a classroom, individual activities could be used as festival activities. These activities meet several of the National Science Education Standards, including the Science as Inquiry Content Standard and Life Science Content Standard.


Peoples of the Arctic

Traditional Inuit Games
The Inuit people of the Arctic developed games and sports that often included skills needed to survive in the harsh environment. The web site includes instructions and pictures of eight traditional games. Set up stations in the gym and allow students to try each game. Ask students to reflect on how the skills in each game would have been needed for survival.

Many other activities relating to Peoples of the Arctic can be found in the “Polar Arts and Crafts” article in the Across the Curriculum department of this issue.


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

Copyright November 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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