Polar Mammals: 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 Mammals 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 is designed to provide primary students the opportunity to investigate the characteristics and adaptations of polar mammals. It uses hands-on experiences and nonfiction text and focuses on the marine and terrestrial mammals of the Arctic. Students share their knowledge through the creation of a class book, blog, or VoiceThread.


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
  • Communicate investigations and explanations

Life Science (Grades K-4)

  • The characteristics of organisms
  • Organisms and their 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.

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

Read Way Up in the Arctic by Jennifer Ward (from our virtual bookshelf) and introduce the topic of polar (Arctic) mammals. Next, point out the Arctic region on a world map or globe and use the lesson Polar Caps (see page 10 of the SeaWorld Teacher’s Guide Arctic Animals) to help students locate the Arctic and identify its geographic features. Finally, ask students to name animals that live in the Arctic. List these on the board or on chart paper prominently displayed in the classroom.

Note: Students may name animals that are not mammals or do not live in the Arctic. Accept all answers at this point in the unit. For more information about the defining characteristics of mammals and examples of Arctic mammals, please see What Is a Mammal? Answers from Ross MacPhee.

Explore

Begin this phase of the unit with the list of animals that students brainstormed during the Engage phase. Ask students to use children’s literature, reference books, or student-friendly web sites (such as NatureWorks) to research the animals and confirm that they do live in the Arctic. Revise the class list as needed.

Next, explain to students that not all animals are mammals. Share defining characteristics of mammals with students (backbones, four legs, hair, feed from mother’s milk), or ask older students to help you list the characteristics. You could also read What is a Mammal? by Lola M. Schaefer (from our virtual bookshelf), which introduces students to the defining characteristics of mammals. Create a large matrix on chart paper (like the one shown in Figure 1) and use it to determine whether the remaining animals on the list are mammals. Students may need to consult children’s literature, reference books, student friendly web sites, or pictures.

Backbone Four legs Hair Mother’s Milk
Animal 1 X X X X
Animal 2 X X

Figure 1. Use a matrix like this with students to determine whether the animals they listed are, in fact, mammals. In this example, animal 1 is a mammal but animal 2 is not.

Again, revise the class list so that it now includes only the animals that live in the Arctic and are mammals. You may wish to add more Arctic mammals to the list. You can do so by distributing Arctic Animal Cards (see pages 7-9 of the SeaWorld Teacher’s Guide Arctic Animals) and inviting students to decide if the animal on their card is a mammal by using the matrix. You might also allow students time to browse children’s literature (including titles from our virtual bookshelf) and identify additional Arctic mammals to add to the list.

Next, introduce the unit question to students: How are polar mammals adapted to survive in the Arctic environment? Tell students that they will be investigating several adaptations that help mammals survive in the Arctic. We’ve paired each adaptation (see below) with one or more Arctic mammals, and listed them in no particular order. The investigations can be conducted as whole class activities or small group activities. Because we’ve paired read-alouds with each investigation, we don’t recommend using the investigations with learning centers unless you have adult volunteers to assist you. Note: This is not a comprehensive list of adaptations, nor are these the only Arctic mammals that make use of them!

Arctic Hares and Arctic Foxes – Camouflage

Read Arctic Hares by Helen Frost and Arctic Foxes by Emily Rose Townsend (both are listed in our virtual bookshelf) and discuss the animals and their characteristics. Pair these books with the lesson What’s for Dinner (see page 20 of the SeaWorld Teacher’s Guide Arctic Animals), in which students explore the concept of camouflage. In a whole class discussion or a journal entry, have students consider how camouflage helps these animals survive in the Arctic environment.

Seals, Whales, and Walruses – Blubber

Read any of the titles from the Marine Polar Mammals section of our virtual bookshelf, or read selections from a few. Discuss the marine animals and why they are, in fact, classified as mammals. Pair these books with the activity Rubber Blubber Gloves, in which students test the insulating properties of blubber by creating a shortening-filled “glove” and placing their hands in a bucket of cold water. Invite students to consider, in a whole class discussion or journal entry, how blubber helps these animals survive.

Note: Polar bears also depend on an insulating layer of blubber. The lessons Polar Bears: Keeping Warm at the Arctic and Polar Bears and Their Adaptations involve similar procedures, but use plastic bags instead of rubber gloves. Either one of these lessons can be easily modified to focus on seals, whales, and walruses.

Caribou – Migration

Read Reindeer by Emery and Durga Bernhard (from our virtual bookshelf) and discuss the animal and its characteristics. Pair this title with the lesson Caribou Migration. If you wish, you can also include the book Beluga Whales by Mary Berendes and the lesson Beluga Whales in the Ice in this part of the unit. This can help students understand that both terrestrial and marine mammals migrate. As a whole class discussion or a journal entry, have students consider how migration helps these animals survive.

Explain

In this phase of the unit, each student will apply his or her knowledge of the Arctic environment and adaptations to a single Arctic mammal. Assign animals to students, or allow them to select an animal on which they would like to focus. Aim to have as many different Arctic mammals represented as possible, but make sure that there are sufficient reading and research materials for the animals selected. Teachers of very young students may wish to select a single animal or one animal per small group to facilitate the reading and research needed during this phase.

Students may need time to build additional knowledge through repeated reading of the titles used in the Explore phase, or additional books on their selected animals. You may wish to supplement the titles in our virtual bookshelf with titles from your school and public libraries.

Students will contribute to a class book about Arctic mammals by writing about their animal and the adaptations that help it survive in its environment. Students should also draw a picture of their animal. Teachers wishing to incorporate technology may opt for blog posts or a VoiceThread in lieu of a book.

Expand

While student questions and interests often drive this phase of the unit, another option is to introduce the concept of food chains. The activity The Arctic Creature Mobile is one way to show how the mammals are connected to other animals and plants in a food chain or web. You can also listen to a podcast about the activity!

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.
  • Student discussion or journal entries during the Explore phase will provide insight into their current understanding of the science concepts.

Summative Assessment

Students’ pages for the class book (or technology-based assignment) serve as summative assessment for the unit. Student work can be assessed with a rubric that includes criteria for scientific accuracy, use of vocabulary, and overall quality of work.


GRADES 3-5 UNIT OUTLINE

Summary of Purpose for the Unit

This unit is designed to provide primary students the opportunity to investigate the characteristics and adaptations of polar mammals. It uses hands-on experiences and nonfiction text and focuses on the marine and terrestrial mammals of the Arctic. Students share their knowledge through the creation of a book, blog, or VoiceThread.


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
  • 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)
  • Diversity and adaptations of organisms (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 interests and issues.

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 Arctic region by reading a book like North Pole, South Pole by Nancy Smiler Levinson (from our Sense of Place virtual bookshelf). Next, point out the Arctic region on a world map or globe and discuss the geographic characteristics of the region. Finally, ask students to name animals that live in the Arctic. List these on the board or on chart paper prominently displayed in the classroom.

Note: Students may name animals that are not mammals or do not live in the Arctic. Accept all answers at this point in the unit. For more information about the defining characteristics of mammals and examples of Arctic mammals, please see What Is a Mammal? Answers from Ross MacPhee.

Explore

Begin this phase of the unit with the list of animals that students brainstormed during the Engage phase. Ask students to use children’s literature, reference books, or student-friendly web sites (such as Nature Works) to research the animals and confirm that they do live in the Arctic. Revise the class list as needed.

Next, explain to students that not all animals are mammals. Read one of the books about mammals from our virtual bookshelf to introduce defining characteristics of mammals (backbones, four legs, hair, feed from mother’s milk). Create a large matrix on chart paper (like the one shown in Figure 1) and use it to determine whether the remaining animals on the list are mammals. Students may need to consult children’’s literature, reference books, student-friendly web sites, or pictures. Older students may work in small groups or independently to complete a similar matrix.

Backbone Four legs Hair Mother’s Milk
Animal 1 X X X X
Animal 2 X X

Figure 1. Use a matrix like this with students to determine whether the animals they listed are, in fact, mammals. In this example, animal 1 is a mammal but animal 2 is not.

Again, revise the class list so that it now includes only the animals that live in the Arctic and are mammals. You may wish to add more Arctic mammals to the list. You can do so by distributing Arctic Animal Cards (see pages 7-9 of the SeaWorld Teacher’s Guide Arctic Animals) or browsing the book Polar Creatures by Benita Sen (from our virtual bookshelf) and inviting students to decide if the animals are mammals by using the matrix. You might also allow students time to browse other titles from our virtual bookshelf and identify additional Arctic mammals to add to the list.

Next, introduce the unit question to students: How are polar mammals adapted to survive in the Arctic environment? Tell students that they will be investigating several adaptations that help mammals survive in the Arctic. We’ve paired each adaptation with one or more Arctic mammals, and listed them (see below) in no particular order. The investigations can be conducted as whole class activities or small group activities.

Note: This is not a comprehensive list of adaptations, nor are these the only Arctic mammals that make use of them!

Arctic Hares and Arctic Foxes – Small, Round Ears

Ask students to examine pictures of arctic hares and foxes and compare them to hares and foxes that live in warmer climates. Do they notice any differences in the animals’ bodies in terms of shape or size? Why might these differences be beneficial? Follow this discussion with the lesson Heat Keepers (see page 17 of the SeaWorld Teacher’s Guide Arctic Animals) in which students investigate temperature differences in various shapes and sizes of cooked oatmeal. In a whole class discussion or a journal entry, have students consider how body or ear shape helps these animals survive in the cold Arctic environment.

Seals, Whales, Walruses, and Polar Bears – Blubber and Mammalian Diving Reflex

Read any of the titles from the Marine Polar Mammals section of our virtual bookshelf, or read selections from a few. Discuss the marine animals and why they are, in fact, classified as mammals. Pair these books with the activity Rubber Blubber Gloves, in which students test the insulating properties of blubber by creating a shortening-filled “glove” and placing their hands in a bucket of cold water. Invite students to consider, in a whole class discussion or a journal entry, how blubber helps these animals survive.

Note: The lessons Polar Bears: Keeping Warm at the Arctic and Polar Bears and Their Adaptations involve similar procedures, but use plastic bags instead of rubber gloves. Either one of these lessons can be easily modified to focus on seals, whales, or walruses.

Next, use the activity Slowing the Flow, in which students investigate how mammals’ heart rates slow when exposed to cold water. Invite students to consider, in a whole class discussion or a journal entry, how this adaptation helps these animals survive.

Caribou – Migration

Read Being Caribou by Karsten Heuer (from our virtual bookshelf) and discuss the animal and its characteristics. Pair this title with the lesson Caribou Migration, modifying the instructional procedure to fit the needs of your students. In a whole class discussion or a journal entry, have students consider how migration helps caribou and other mammals survive.

Explain

In this phase of the unit, each student will apply his or her knowledge of the Arctic environment and adaptations to a single Arctic mammal. Assign animals to students, or allow students to select an animal on which they would like to focus. Aim to have as many different Arctic mammals represented as possible, but make sure that there are sufficient reading and research materials for the animals selected.

Students may need time to build additional knowledge through repeated reading of the titles used in the Explore phase, or additional books on their selected animals. You may wish to supplement the titles in our virtual bookshelf with titles from your school and public libraries.

Students will create Question and Answer Books by writing about their animal, why it is classified as a mammal, and the adaptations that help it survive in its environment. Students should also draw a picture of their animal. Teachers wishing to incorporate technology may opt for blog posts or a VoiceThread in lieu of a book.

Expand

While student questions and interests often drive this phase of the unit, another option is to introduce the concept of food chains or predator/prey relationships. The lesson Making the Forest and Tundra Wildlife Connection involves creating a tundra food chain, while students role-play a predator/prey relationship in The Wolf and the Moose.

Assess

This unit provides opportunities for 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.
  • Student discussion and journal entries during the Explore phase will provide insight into their current understanding of the science concepts.

Summative Assessment

Students’ question and answer books (or technology-based assignments) serve as summative assessment for the unit. Student work can be assessed with a rubric that includes criteria for scientific accuracy, use of vocabulary, and overall quality of work.


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

Copyright January 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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