Surviving the Arctic (animals, plants, humans)

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Background Information:

Brief Description: Living in cold environment is a challenge, that's why some plants create a few ways of adaptation to the Arctic climate. How high are trees in Arctic forests or how many colours does tundra have in the summer? How humans adapt to the extreme conditions – from traditional to high tech solutions? How animals adapt to such conditions?

How does the lesson relate to STEAM education:

This lesson refers mainly to the science, and its findings concerning biological adaptations of some species to the Arctic climate. When considering humans adaptations psychological abilities and technology solutions may also be taken into account.

The ‘Surviving the Arctic’ activity includes three inquiries for three different subtopics: Surviving the arctic for a) PLANTS, b) ANIMALS and c) HUMANS. For each of these subtopics, the different steps of inquiry, from step 3 to step 6 are followed separately. All three subtopics come together again in phase 7. To that end, you will notice that after phase 2 the activity is presented based on the subtopics and the steps are repeated for each subtopic. You will also notice some variations in the phases as different types of inquiry are deployed. As a teacher, you can choose to do any or all of the three subtopics. In addition, you may choose to divide your class into three groups and assign one subtopic to each group. Groups can work simultaneously and they can present their findings at the end of the activity.

The inquiry activities of each subtopic vary slightly to accommodate students’ different learning styles. The PLANTS subtopic includes a more ‘traditional’ scientific hands-on experiment during which students are expected to gather and explain data. Students who like experimentation and prefer to follow clear instructions (closed inquiry) might prefer this activity. The ANIMALS subtopic is designed based on a lighter type of inquiry (exploration type of inquiry) that focuses more on exploring using online tools rather than hands-on experimentation. Students who like to work with online resources and like deduction might prefer this activity. The HUMANS subtopic is an inquiry that focuses more on technological achievements and making an online research to find out how technological solutions help people who live in the arctic address surviving challenges. Students who like to work with online tools and are eager to ‘hunt for clues and information’ might prefer this activity. There is one final optional project offered at the end of the activity. This project is Engineering-oriented and students are invited to design equipment for people to survive the Arctic. Students will design proper clothes and equipment for working in polar regions in three categories: glacier, motorboat and snowmobile. This activity is a hands-on activity but students will also need to make online searches to gather information. As it is a more Engineering-oriented activity, students working in this project will have a chance to use their imagination and creativity and deploy their communication, collaboration and problem-solving skills.

Age Range: 12-14
Didactical Hours: ca. 6-7 + time for short- and long-term experiments to be carried out. Experiments could be carried out at home (observing how the permafrost affects the soil structure and plant root system). Please note, that some parts of the package are optional.

Learning objectives: Students will obtain abilities to: form research questions, present and discuss ideas, find the analogies between teaching subject and reality. Students will also learn about adaptation and how different species adapt to the extreme conditions of the Arctic.

Relation to the Big Ideas of Science:

Energy > Energy in chemical reactions > Energy in organisms: Animals (and humans) living in the Arctic have adapted to the harsh climate, e.g. they have large amount of fat that protects against cold or small ears to prevent heat loss.

 Energy > Energy in chemical reactions > Energy in everyday life: The energy production helps people to protect from cold in the Arctic — in order to keep running the polar station with 10 people working and living there, you need 70.000 liters of arctic diesel fuel yearly.

Evolution > Natural selection and Darwinian theory > Adaptation: In order to survive in the Arctic animals and plants need to adapt to the harsh conditions.

Evolution > Biodiversity > Biodiversity and humans: The Arctic gives no respite from the cold. Evolution, therefore, had to come up with a better, long-term alternative in the form of morphological adaptations, such as narrower nasal passages and a relatively stocky build.

Evolution >  Biodiversity >  Biodiversity, plants and animals: There are 130 species of flowers on Svalbard. The highest of plants - grasses rarely exceed 10 cm in height, and three species of "trees" growing there rarely reach 5 cm.

Cell > Growth and development of organisms > Information processing: Polar bears have great sense of smell. They are able to detect seals from nearly 1,6 km away and buried under 1 m of snow.

Cell > Growth and development of organisms > Organization for matter and energy flow in organisms (food chains):Polar bears are predators on the top of the food chain. However, during hunger and lack of seals, which are the main component of polar bears' diet, these animals can survive by eating some plants e.g. berries.

Earth > Ecosystems > Ecosystems dynamics, functioning and resilience: The Arctic environment is one of the ecosystems most exposed to climate change.

The Polar Star consortium is grateful for the input of the Polar Advisors, who helped to choose the polar topics. We would like to thank warmly Polar Advisors, who provided valuable ideas and materials for this particular activity: Stelios Anastassopoulos, Daniela Bunea, Svetla Mavrodieva, Spyros Meleetiadis, Nikolaos Nerantzis and Elena Vladescu.

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POLAR STAR aims to bring together state-of-the-art learning pedagogies and combine them with exciting activities that focus on contemporary science, thus helping teachers to introduce STEAM successfully in their class. At the same time the project will focus on the development of students’ key skills and competences as well as deepening their knowledge of fundamental science principles, increasing their appreciation of science and technology and their role in todays’ societies. POLAR STAR aims to offer an open and innovative training framework to teachers of primary and secondary education which will focus on:

  • Promoting the 'Science as a Whole' concept;
  • Promoting a holistic STEM educational approach;
  • Promote the introduction of contemporary science activities in schools;



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