Kindergarten students have been learning all about the Arctic this winter and what makes its ecosystem unique. Various animals live in the Arctic, and Kindergarten students looked in-depth at polar bears and the adaptations that allow them to survive in this frigid climate. Lastly, the classes talked about how the Arctic habitat is changing. Through stories, experiments, and discussions, students developed a better understanding of why the Artic is a special place and what they can do to be advocates for the Arctic environment and the animals that make it their home.
Kindergarten students began the winter term learning about snow, ice, snow crystals, and cold weather climates in Science. This provided a good launching point to focus on the Arctic in particular. Students were already familiar with Arctic animals like seals, penguins, and polar bears but were fascinated to discover how polar bears survive in the Arctic climate. They learned that polar bear fur is hollow to trap heat against their bodies, and while it appears to be white, it is actually clear and reflects the snow. Under their coat, polar bear skin is black to absorb heat and help the bears stay warm. Their enormous paws are designed to do more than scoop seals out of the water. They also spread out the bears’ weight so that they can walk across the thin sea ice.
Design Teacher Deborah Morrone Bianco met with Kindergarten students and taught them about polar bear dens. While adults male polar bears hunt on the ice, female polar bears build dens on land or sea ice with long tunnels to protect cubs from the cold Arctic wind. The dens have multiple chambers with an air hole at the top. Using the Fay Design Process, Deborah challenged students to design and build a prototype of a polar bear den for a mother bear and her cubs. Each student sketched a plan for a polar bear den, and then they worked in groups to build a replica using model magic, cotton balls, toothpicks, plastic cups, card stock, and foam core. While there was room for creativity, each model was required to have different chambers, a visible air hole, and an entrance tunnel.
While studying the Arctic, students also learned about climate change and the greenhouse effect. Primary School Assistant Teacher Taylor MacPherson helped the students explore what the changing environment might mean for polar bears with two activities. First, they ran an experiment to see how quickly they could get ice to melt by comparing variables such as a warm lamp, salt, and hot water. Then, they ran the opposite experiment and tried to see what they could do to slow down or stop the ice from melting. Students connected the ice melting in the Arctic, the rising sea level, and the potential impact on the polar bears who would lose their habitats and food sources. “That’s why we are learning about it,” says Head of Primary School Katie Knuppel, “because when we learn about it and see the connections, then we understand why it’s important and why we should care.”