Tundra: 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 Tundra: Life in the Polar Extremes issue. 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, elaborate, evaluate.

Have an idea for another tundra 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 designed to introduce students to animals and plants of the tundra.

It uses hands-on experience and research to answer the following questions:

  • What kinds of animals (and plants) live in the tundra?
  • How are these animals (and plants) adapted for life in a cold environment?

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
  • Use data to construct a reasonable explanation
  • 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 (or picture walk) a book from the Tundra Virtual Bookshelf, such as Tundra by Aaron Frisch. Use a map or a globe to locate the tundra (locating the Arctic region will be enough detail for students). Engage students in a discussion about what they know about the tundra, including the weather and animals and plants that live there. Record student ideas and questions on chart paper, or create a class KWL chart (or one of its variations described in this article).

Explore

In this phase, students should have the opportunity to explore the animal and plants species that live in the tundra. One way to do this is to create learning centers and allow students to rotate through the variety of activities. The Scholastic article Life in the Arctic Tundra provides a good list of activities that lend themselves well to learning centers. Students might also browse or read a variety of books about the animals and plants that live in the tundra. See our Tundra, Mammals, Birds, and Plants virtual bookshelves for suggested titles, or consult your school library media specialist.

As students explore through hands-on activity (at the learning centers) and children’s literature, review and revise the chart or student ideas (or KWL chart).

Explain

In this phase, students will research an animal (or plant) that lives in the tundra and its adaptations to the harsh environment. They will share what they’ve learned through a book, research report, or multimedia project. The activities in this phase can be organized in a number of ways, depending on the abilities and needs of your students.

  • Teachers of younger students (or those wanting a simplified activity) might select a single species for the class to research. Teachers of older students (or those needing additional challenges) might allow each student to research an animal (or plant) of his or her own choosing.
  • Students could create a class book to share their research. This works especially well if the entire class has researched a single species. Each student’s page could share a fact learned about the animal as well as an illustration.
  • Students can create a variety of products to showcase their learning. The traditional research report is an option, but so are alphabet books, VoiceThreads, blog posts, wiki pages, digital stories, and podcasts.

Regardless of how the project is organized, you will want to provide a variety of reference material – ideally both text and multimedia such as student-friendly web sites and digital video. You may also want to refer to our article Organizing Research Reports for information on how to make the research process more effective and organized. The guidelines provided in the article will be helpful regardless of the final product created.

Expand

Ideally, the content included in this phase should be determined by the students and their teacher as a result of the activities in the preceding phases. Some possibilities might include:

  • The study of another biome (such as the rainforest or the desert) and research on individual animals and plants that live there.
  • An introduction to the food chains and the interactions between species.

Assess

This unit provides opportunities for both formative and summative assessment.

Formative Assessment

  • 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 KWL chart will allow teachers to modify the unit accordingly.

Summative Assessment

The product created during the Explain phase serves as the source of summative assessment and indicates student understanding of the animal or plant and its adaptations. Such work is best assessed on a teacher-created rubric.


GRADES 3-5 UNIT OUTLINE

Summary of Purpose for the Unit

This unit of study was designed to introduce students to the tundra as an ecosystem, and to provide a basic understanding of the physical environment, living species, and interactions between organisms and between the organisms and the environment. It uses hands-on experience, children’s literature, and modeling to answer this question: What are the characteristics of the tundra ecosystem?


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

  • Organisms and their Environments (Grades K-4)
  • 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.

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 this unit by setting up a table full of books, articles, and pictures related to the tundra. (If you have computers in your classroom, you might want to also load web sites such as Eeko World’s Environment page or What’s It Like Where You Live?). Allow students to preview the materials, and then create a KWL chart (or one of its variations described in this article) by listing prior knowledge and formulating questions about the topic. You may wish to have students create their own charts, or create a single chart as a class.

Explore

In this phase of the unit, provide a variety of experiences in which students can investigate the nonliving (abiotic) and living (biotic) features of the tundra. You might choose to guide the whole class through each activity in turn, or set up stations or centers and have students rotate through them in small groups. Alternatively, you could use a jigsaw approach and have small groups investigate various components and then share that knowledge with the class as a whole. Regardless of how you organize these activities, students will need to have a place to record what they’re learning. KWL charts, science notebooks, or even simple field journals can provide a space to record new knowledge and understandings.

The Environment

First, students need to have the opportunity to learn about the Arctic region’s climate. Students might research and track temperatures and weather patterns using this interactive Arctic map or other data source. You also might choose to combine a read-aloud (of Arctic Lights, Arctic Nights by Debbie S. Miller) with a data collection activity (temperature and hours of daylight) as described in the article “Seasons by the Sun.”

Students might also investigate the permafrost, another defining feature of the tundra, in the activities described in Permawhat? and Alaska’s Cold Desert.

Animals

Students should also learn about the variety of species that live in the Arctic tundra (including migratory species) as well as the adaptations that allow them to survive in such a harsh climate. The Scholastic article “Life in the Arctic Tundra” includes several suitable activities:

  • In “Camouflage Coats,” students consider why many Arctic creatures have white or light coloring.
  • In “Wolf Packs and Fox Kits,” students research and compare/contrast Arctic wolves and Arctic foxes. Our Feature Story White Wolf would provide one source of information for students.
  • “Bundled in Fur” provides an opportunity to investigate the insulating properties of a second layer of fur.
  • “Compact and Comfortable” provides an opportunity to investigate how the surface area of an animal’s body affects its ability to stay warm in freezing temperatures.

In addition, students might investigate migratory animals such as caribou and birds like sanderlings. For more lessons about Arctic animals, please see our Science and Literacy Lessons and Activities articles about mammals and birds. You might also be interested in our mammal and bird content knowledge articles for teachers.

Plants

The Scholastic article Life in the Arctic Tundra includes several activities that help students explore adaptations of Arctic plants. (Want to learn more about these plants yourself? Check out Plants of the Arctic and Antarctic.)

  • “Shallow Roots in the Soil” invites students to observe how plants grow in only an inch of soil.
  • “Willows in the (Arctic) Wind” invites students to create models of tundra willows and observe the effect of wind on the “trees.”
  • “Growing at the Speed of Summer” invites students to compare the growth of plants in the natural pattern of day and night and in 24-hour light.

Food Webs and Predator/Prey Interactions

The role-play activity The Wolf and The Moose provides an opportunity for students to learn about predator/prey dynamics. You may modify the activity to focus on any predator/prey relationship found in the tundra. In the lesson Making the Forest and Tundra Wildlife Connection, students create food webs using printable cards (pdf provided) and string. Both activities are best suited for the whole class, or a larger group with teacher (or adult) direction.

Explain

Once students have completed enough of the hands-on activities to develop a basic understanding of the tundra environment, the plants and animals that live there, and the interactions between living organisms and the physical environment, they should be guided to further develop their understanding through reading and research. Books from the tundra, mammals, birds, and plants virtual bookshelves and our informational texts for students (White Wolf, A Tundra Tale, The Dance of Life, and Partners) can be used in a variety of ways. Students might skim, browse, or read books independently, adding information to their KWL chart, science notebook, or journal. Students might read and discuss in small groups such as literature circles (each group selects a book to read and discuss) or idea circles (students within a group select different books about the same topic). Teacher read-alouds also provide opportunities for the class as a whole to clarify and extend knowledge gained in the Explore phase.

Next, students should create a product that demonstrates their understanding of the tundra biome. Again, options for this product vary. Students might create a newspaper about the tundra as described in the article Ecosystem Journalism. They might create a travel brochure as described in the lesson Exploring Diversity. Or they might create a three-dimensional model as described in the lesson Biome Discovery Expedition. (You may wish to include an oral or written description to accompany the three-dimensional model.)

Expand

Ideally, the content included in this phase should be determined by the students and their teacher as a result of the activities in the preceding phases. Some possibilities might include:

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.
  • Ongoing completion of the KLEW chart will allow teachers to modify the unit accordingly.
  • If you choose to use field journals during the Explore phase, they can serve as an additional source of formative assessment.

Summative Assessment

The product created during the Explain phase serves as the source of summative assessment and indicates student understanding of the tundra biome. Such work is best assessed on a teacher-created rubric.


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

Copyright April 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.

2 thoughts on “Tundra: Unit Outlines

  1. Studying the tundra biome is a wonderful way to learn about how animals adapt to survive in extreme conditions. All animals of the tundra have developed a number of unique adaptations that allow them to survive in the cold conditions and avoid predators or find find food. If your readers are interested in reading more may I point them to my own little blog http://tundra-animals-plants.bloodspot.com where they can read about animals such as snowy owls, arctic foxes, ermines, caribou and more.

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