Science at the Poles: 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 Science at the Poles issue. Rather than a prescriptive unit, the outlines are intended to spark your own 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 Science at the Poles 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 opportunities for students in the primary grades to learn about Antarctica’s location, geography, and climate and to plan a scientific expedition to Antarctica. Students also learn about the men and women who study in Antarctica.


Standards Alignment

National Science Education Standards: Science Content Standards

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

History and Nature of Science

  • 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.

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.

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

National Geography Standards

View the standards at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/standards/matrix.html.

8 – The characteristics and spatial distribution of ecosystems on Earth’s surface.


Unit Outline

Engage

Read Explore Antarctica, one of the titles in this month’s Virtual Bookshelf, and discuss what it would be like to be a scientist in Antarctica. Locate Antarctica on a map or on a globe and compare its location to your hometown. Ask students to discuss what they know about Antarctica, and begin a K-W-L chart on the board or on chart paper. For information about K-W-L charts and two variations, see Updating the K-W-L Brings the Focus Back to Literacy, Evidential Thinking.

Explore

Learn more about Antarctica by reading and browsing books from our A Sense of Place Bookshelf. You may choose to conduct a series of read-alouds and whole class discussions, or have individual students, pairs, or small groups read different books and report findings back to the entire class. Update the K-W-L chart as students confirm prior knowledge, adjust their thinking, or learn new information.

Explain

Use the lesson Getting Ready to Go!, in which students plan an expedition to Antarctica. Students could create a variety of products about their planned expedition, including a scrapbook or journal with illustrations of their route, transportation, gear and supplies, and research. The lessons A Vacation to the Polar Regions and Drawing a Story: Stepping from Pictures to Writing may be helpful as students create written products.

Expand

Learn about current polar researchers with the lessons and resources provided in the Polar Researchers section of this month’s article Hands-on Activities That Simulate Polar Science. If possible, invite a local researcher in to speak to the class and share pictures from a recent expedition.

Evaluate (Assess)

Observe and assess student participation in the activities.

Class discussions provide a source of formative assessment.

Assess student plans and products with a rubric or checklist.


GRADES 3-5 UNIT OUTLINE

Summary of Purpose for the Unit

This unit of study was developed to provide students opportunities to learn about the tools and technology used in polar science as well as the daily life of scientists working at the poles. Students also read and browse a wide variety of nonfiction texts and learn how to write in journal format.


Standards Alignment

National Science Education Standards: Science Content Standards

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

Science and Technology

  • Understandings about Science and Technology

History and Nature of Science

  • 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.

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.

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

National Geography Standards

View the standards at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/standards/matrix.html.

8 – The characteristics and spatial distribution of ecosystems on Earth’s surface.


Unit Outline

Engage

Read Antarctic Journal: Four Months at the Bottom of the World, one of the titles in this month’s Virtual Bookshelf, and discuss what it would be like to be a scientist in Antarctica. Locate Antarctica on a map or on a globe and compare its location to your hometown. Ask students to discuss what they know about Antarctica, and begin a K-W-L chart on the board or on chart paper. For information about K-W-L charts and two variations, see Updating the K-W-L Brings the Focus Back to Literacy, Evidential Thinking.

Explore

Learn more about Antarctica by reading and browsing books from our A Sense of Place Bookshelf. You may choose to conduct a series of read-alouds and whole class discussions, or have individual students, pairs, or small groups read different books and report findings back to the entire class. Update the K-W-L chart as students confirm prior knowledge, adjust their thinking, or learn new information.

Once students have developed sufficient background knowledge about Antarctica, turn their focus to the types of research done there. Introduce students to the topic by reading Pioneering Frozen Worlds, another title from this month’s Virtual Bookshelf. Other titles from the Bookshelf may be helpful as well.

Next, it is time to provide opportunities for hands-on exploration of the tools and technologies that are used in polar research. Our article Hands-on Activities That Simulate Polar Science provides resources for teaching about ice cores, sediment cores, remote sensing, balloon-assisted research, and robots. Depending on your students and time frame for the unit, you might create a series of whole class lessons or set up a series of learning centers. Either way, students should have sufficient time to explore each tool/technology and to develop a basic understanding of the kinds of questions that scientists ask and answer in their research. You might also use science notebooks to provide a place for students to record data and information about the hands-on experiences.

Finally, have students read this month’s Feature Story, “Life on the Ice (Cube).” This informational text describes one researcher’s experience working at South Pole Station, Antarctica, on the newly constructed IceCube telescope. The story is available at reading levels appropriate for students in grades K-1, 2-3, and 4-5 and in text-only, illustrated book, and electronic book formats. A printable template helps students question, visualize, and make connections while reading.

Explain

Once students have developed a good understanding of the Antarctic environment and polar research, challenge them to plan their own expedition. Use lessons from our article Planning Polar Expeditions Integrates Math, Science, and Geography to assist students in this task. Student plans should include their route to and from Antarctica, their clothing and gear choices, what they will be studying in Antarctica, and the tools and technologies they will use in their research. Students might use their science notebooks to plan, or you could provide graphic organizers to help them develop their expeditions.

Students’ final products for this unit will be journals – written accounts of their expedition to and study in Antarctica. We recommend returning to Antarctic Journal: Four Months at the Bottom of the World as well as My Season With Penguins and Looking for Seabirds: Journal from an Alaskan Voyage to help students structure their writing in journal format. Students should include illustrations along with their text. Teachers wishing to integrate technology might have students create digital stories instead of written journals.

Expand

Learn about current polar researchers with the lessons and resources provided in the Polar Researchers section of this month’s article Hands-on Activities That Simulate Polar Science. If possible, invite a local researcher in to speak to the class and share pictures from a recent expedition.

Evaluate

Observe and assess student participation in the activities.

Class discussions provide a source of formative assessment.

Review planned expeditions to ensure that students are on track. Provide additional support to struggling students before they begin writing their journals.

Assess student journals with a rubric or checklist.


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

Copyright April 2010 – 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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