Our Winter & Polar Inquiry Continues
In my post entitled, The Start of a New Inquiry, I discuss the birth of our Winter & Polar Inquiry. You can see how we began our inquiry with an interest in snow and winter and began focusing our investigation with the introduction of our Animals Shelf (a small-world play area with animal figurines and a winter environment). We began delving into questions about the behaviour of animals in winter time and learned that some animals hibernate, some migrate and some adapt to the cold. When discussing animal adaptations, we naturally began to explore many polar animals (penguins, polar bears, arctic foxes, etc.) and discovered their physical and behavioural differences from those animals who hibernate or migrate. Soon, our inquiry narrowed further and became much more of a Polar Inquiry as the children’s keen interest with “the poles” continued to grow. Below I’ve outlined the evolution of our inquiry – how it began, how it transformed with the children’s questions and interests and where it has developed to at this point.
Now that the children have learned about the kinds of animals and how they survive in the Poles, we have expanded our inquiry furthermore and have put a spotlight on the geography, land, people and cultures associated with the Arctic and Antarctica. As you will see in an upcoming post, from there, we have put an environmental focus on our inquiry and are now investigating the melting of the ice caps, reasons behind the melting and what we can do about it. For now, let me show you how this all evolved.
Winter & Polar Inquiry Learning Goals
During an inquiry, I am constantly considering (and reconsidering) the learning goals for my students. I ask: What do I want them to come away from this experience knowing and understanding? What skills do I want them to practice and master? Which curriculum expectations am I targeting and achieving through this inquiry? Where do we go from here?
As new interests take focus, I add or change the goals on my list. Since we have been working on this inquiry for the past two and a half months, I have compiled some basic learning goals or “big ideas” and included them below (note that they didn’t all arise or were achieved in this specific order necessarily but were organized logically for better understanding). Keeping these “big ideas” on hand helps me ensure that I stay on track with my teaching, my expectations and the activities or learning experiences that we plan.
1. The Arctic is at the top of the world (the North Pole). The Antarctic is at the bottom of the world (the South Pole).
2. The Poles are the coldest places on earth because they receive the least amount of sunlight.
3. Animals that live in the polar regions have to have specific adaptations that allow them to survive the cold (e.g., thick fur, white fur, blubber, ability to swim, etc.).
4. The Inuit live in the Arctic. Like animals, they also have ways of life that help them adapt to the cold temperatures.
Environment / Land
5. The landscapes in the polar regions consists mostly of snow and ice (i.e., tundra, ice sheets, glaciers, ice floes, ocean). (Bonus: The Arctic Circle is mostly ocean with smaller pieces of land surrounding it. The Antarctic Circle is mostly ice on top of land with a bit of ocean surrounding it).
Northern Art & Representations
6. We can represent our understanding of these regions creatively like Canadian artist, Ted Harrison did in his brightly coloured paintings.
The Future of the Poles
7. The ice caps are melting and the environments in the polar regions are changing because of global warming.
As I go along in this post and in future posts, revealing our learning over the past couple of weeks, I will be referring back to these goals to show how we achieved all seven.
Understanding the Geography of the Poles
The children had many books at their fingertips about the Arctic, the Antarctica and the polar regions in general. We also watched many video clips and a longer film about the poles to give them a variety of media to learn from. Almost daily for the first while, we also explored a globe as a class so that we could help the children visualize the location of the poles on the earth. Needless to say, we saturated the environment with information and allowed the children to absorb at their own rate and in their own unique ways. Have a look at what the children were up to…
The pictures in the collage below were taken from the film, Polar Prowl, which we viewed to better understand the poles and the animals that live there.
Learning About Polar Animals
In my post, The Start of a New Inquiry, I posted about other books and videos we watched when first introducing polar animals to the children back when we were comparing them to the animals who hibernate and migrate during the cold months in other parts of Canada (e.g., To the Arctic by IMAX). After learning about the geography of the polar regions and their placement on earth, we revisited polar animals but in more detail since we had more supporting knowledge. We continued to explore and discuss our world map which contained a variety of photos of animals from each of the poles (see the above post link). Children also remained interested in the Antarctica ice and water table and had deeper discussions about the ocean life in the South Pole. In this section, you will see some of the various ways that children investigated and learned more about the animals that make a home in the poles.
Scientific Experimentation for Better Understanding
To help the children better understand the adaptations of many polar animals such as polar bears, penguins and seals, I set up a “Blubber Glove” experiment.
First, I told the children that I was going to dip my bare hand into a bowl of ice water. We discussed how cold it was going to feel and how sore my skin would become if I left it in there. Then, I told them I was going to do it again but with a layer of blubber to protect my hand. Basically, I took a Ziploc bag and filled it with heaps of vegetable shortening. I then put another Ziploc bag inside of that one and sealed it off with Duct tape – to create a kind of “glove” for my hand to go into without touching the shortening. I explained that the shortening was similar to the fat that polar animals have to keep them warm. I dipped my protected hand into the ice water and explained how I couldn’t feel the cold at all. I then allowed all of the children to come up and test out the two ways of submerging their hands into the ice water – unprotected by the Blubber Glove and protected by the Blubber Glove. They were astounded to find out that they really couldn’t feel the cold temperatures with the blubber surrounding their skin.
As a second experiment, I also compared Vaseline to the kind of feather oil that penguins produce, which makes their feathers waterproof and helps them to glide through the water easily. The children observed that when I dipped my Vaseline-covered fingers into the water and out again, the water formed droplets on my skin – waterproofing was happening!
Creative Outlets for Polar Learning
Not surprisingly – as it is a commonly chosen form of expression in my classes – many children also represented their learning about polar animals and the polar regions in general, artistically. As I’ve talked about in previous posts, the process of creating is something I strongly believe in and I encourage it often. I have learned that a lot of thinking can be revealed within a child’s drawings and these pieces are often the sparks for our inquiries and our class discussions throughout our inquiries. I also view the moments while a child is drawing as wonderful opportunities for teacher-student conferencing. We talk about what he/she is drawing and why and often it leads to deeper discussions and starting points for further wondering and investigating. It is also a great time for me to encourage writing and to support the children through this. Have a look at what I’ve been noticing while the children are busy creating…
Integrating Math Concepts
While learning about penguins, we thought it might be effective to have actual sized drawings of different penguin types for the children to see and compare themselves to in order for them to truly understand the size of these unique birds. This led nicely into some lessons and practice on measuring. What I loved was that the children seemed excited to measure because the learning was relevant, purposeful and authentic. In other words, they were motivated because they had a clear reason for learning how to measure and so they were focused and engaged in the activities. Take a look!
That about sums up this post! There has been much more to our Winter & Polar Inquiry but I will save the rest for future entries. Stay tuned to see the continuation of our learning journey and how much our inquiry has grown. You will read about our explorations on: the Inuit culture, the polar landscapes, Canadian artist, Ted Harrison and the human effects on the melting ice caps (as well as what we can do about it!).