Global Warming Lesson Plan: Polar Bears and their Arctic Habitat

Submitted by: Leslie Dilley

Grade Levels: 3-5

In this multi-day lesson plan, which is adaptable for grades 3-5, students use BrainPOP resources to explore the adaptations that allow polar bears to survive in the Arctic. Students identify the Arctic region on a map, describe the Arctic’s climate type, and explain how and why its climate has changed over the past 100 years. Students also explain and give examples of global warming. In addition, students describe how global warming has changed the Arctic habitat of the polar bear and how it has affected the polar bear’s ability to survive.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Explain the adaptations that allow polar bears to survive in the Arctic.
  2. Identify the Arctic region on a map.
  3. Describe the Arctic's climate type, and explain how and why its climate has changed over the past 100 years.

Materials:

  • White construction papers
  • Markers
  • Graph chart paper
  • 5 thermometers that can be submerged in water
  • 4 clear plastic containers with lids, two filled with water
  • Interactive whiteboard (or just an LCD projector)
  • Internet access for BrainPOP
  • Scissors
  • Polar bear stencil/pattern
  • Heat lamps

Vocabulary:

Arctic, tundra, tundra buggy, ice core, sea ice, ice cap, ice loss, global warming, greenhouse effect, fossil fuels, environmental pressure, methane, adaptation, endangered, threatened, extinct, migrate, glacier, manufacturing, exhaust

Preparation:

This lesson is designed to be part of a unit that takes place over several weeks. Consider building students' background knowledge prior to the lesson below by taking field trips to local zoos/aquariums, studying polar bear habitats, and learning about ice loss in the tundra. Throughout your unit, encourage students to answer the following essential question: Why is the polar ice cap melting, and how is it affecting the polar bears?

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Day 1: Students use their background knowledge of polar bears and global warming to make two KWL charts.
  2. Show the BrainPOP Jr. video Arctic Habitats. Add information to the KWL chart as a class.
  3. Have students make models of polar bears, and use those models to identify and explain physical characteristics polar bears possess that make them able to survive in a polar climate.
  4. Days 2-5:Students view the BrainPOP video Global Warming and take the Quiz as a class.
  5. Students then work in groups doing research on what global warming means for the Arctic and how long it has been occurring. They also examine the Fossil Fuels topic page and use background knowledge of renewable and non-renewable resources to add to their arsenal of evidence that the earth is warming.
  6. Days 5-8: Students watch the BrainPOP Greenhouse Effect and discuss it.
  7. Students make a hypothesis regarding how quickly water can heat and ice can melt when air is contained. As a class, conduct an experiment to understand the greenhouse effect. You can do this by filling two containers with ice water to represent sea ice. Thermometers are inserted into both containers. Put the lid on only one container-- this will represent the greenhouse effect. Shine one heat lamp on each and record the temperature every 5 minutes on a graph. The other two containers will be empty, except for the thermometers in each. Shine a heat lamp on the containers and record their temperatures every 5 minutes for 1 hour.
  8. After all data has been compared, help students conclude that trapped gasses heat faster than untrapped gasses, and water heats faster than air.
  9. Using guiding questions, lead the students to come to their own conclusion on whether the greenhouse effect is real or not. You may want to have students reflect on this in writing.
  10. Wrap Up: Finish the KWL charts.
  11. In an exhibition, have students work in small groups to assemble artifacts, evidence, visual aids and use them to argue their case about whether global warming is a natural cycle or not, and answer the essential question. Students should use critical thinking to explain why global warming is most threatening to the polar bear.

Extension Activity:

Challenge students to use an almanac to record the Arctic's January temperature averages from 1946 and 2012 on a graph. Ask students whether they believe the graph shows proof that the Arctic is warming at a tremendous rate. You can also have students make a video or podcast to explain the polar climate change and share it with the school and local community.