Our Winter & Polar Inquiry Continues

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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.
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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…

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After having built their “igloo”, these boys happily settled in with some polar books.

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Love watching the children curl up and become completely engrossed in books! Here, these three children went between various polar-themed books and discussed what they saw in the pictures and read in the text.

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Children were presented with various invitations to explore the globe and other beautiful photographs from polar books and to draw/write about what they saw.

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Children quickly caught on to the idea that the poles received the least amount of sunlight, which is why they are the coldest places on earth. They captured these ideas through drawings and researched more by looking in books.

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Here are some beautiful drawings of some penguins two children drew and an amazingly thought out picture by one girl of the earth with the Arctic and Antarctic Circles outlined. She’s totally got it!

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This girl picked up on the constellations in the Northern, night sky in this picture from a story book we read. She was determined to capture it on paper in drawing form – spectacular!

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Another fascinating drawing of the earth showing the poles. Check out the purple swirls showing the Northern Lights AND the Southern Lights (something we also learned about). Also note the people on the pieces of land in the Arctic (which is accurately drawn as consisting of mostly ocean) and the people and penguin in the Antarctica. Isaac was sure to explain that the person was a scientist, since mostly only scientists live in the Antarctica because it’s so cold.

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.

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This short film by National Geographic was FANTASTIC! I highly recommend it as it really does a good job of showing the differences between the two poles and in such a fun, kid-friendly manner. It was worth every second and really helped the children visualize things better. We had some rich conversations after viewing this one!

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.

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This video clip of a diving fox in the arctic was extremely popular with the children. They got a real kick out of how the fox jumped into the snow to try and catch a mouse. We learned that this was one way that foxes manage to stay out in the cold temperatures – because they can sense what is underneath the snow! What was especially interesting was that this video explained how the fox is usually successful in it’s catch when it is facing North due to it’s sensitivity to the directional magnetic pull of the earth! Wow! Click on the photo to view the video.

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Click on the photo to see this magnificent video clip of emperor penguins in the Antarctica. The children loved learning about the gender roles and how they weren’t quite what they expected.

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In this rice bin, children explored many different materials to mimic an “arctic experience”.

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We pretended that the white feathers were snowy owl feathers and also encouraged the creative usage of the materials for play. We included chopsticks for increased challenge and fine motor practice when picking up and moving the materials as well as books for literacy support while exploring.

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The Antarctica ice and water table kept children wondering, exploring and discovering. They realized that the penguins must have special feathers to help them survive the cold, frigid waters.

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At this centre, children searched for cards to match polar animal names to their pictures. They were challenged to collect and read them all! We encouraged sounding out and working together as a team.

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This cornstarch-based goop allowed the children to explore a new consistency of liquid, practice measuring and pouring and encouraged the creation of a snowy/icy white environment for the penguins that we included.

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The children continued to love and play with the Arctic Slime that I showed in my last post about the Winter & Polar Inquiry. They enjoyed the small world play, which allowed them to use their imaginations as well as new learned knowledge to make scenarios come alive. I believe this kind of play also allows them to practice and articulate their new understandings.

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E and A especially loved the Arctic Slime (where the first batch was sparkling blue and the second batch, glittering white). They constantly played at tables with the slime and the animals and I would often overhear them using the new key vocabulary like hibernate, migrate and adapt.

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Many children enjoyed experiencing the slime with the animals. They loved covering the animals with the slime and explaining that they were hiding or hibernating (we learned female polar bears do hibernate when pregnant!).

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!

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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…

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This girl created a polar bear using melting/perler beads. I was so amazed at her dedication and eye for design!

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The drawing table was busy as always. Check out the details in these kids’ pictures!

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K spent a long time drawing this image of arctic lemmings in their burrows. She was so focused and purposeful with every mark on her page. So inspiring!

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I am absolutely in love with all of the drawings these children have been making! Top Left: These children discuss the animals in the polar book they are looking at. Middle Left: I creates picture after picture of beautiful arctic and antarctic landscapes. Bottom Left: O draws this awesome picture of a polar bear jumping into the water – he’s totally got the formation! Top Right: I’s picture of a walrus is fantastic! Middle Right Photos: M captures the scene from this arctic photograph in her own beautiful style. Bottom Right: L and O are busy at work making polar bear scenes.

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Artwork continues on a daily basis. There seems to be no end to the creative representations of the children’s Polar Inquiry learning!

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Have a look at these orca whales and this narwhal! As children are drawing, we often conference with them spontaneously to assure their understanding what they are drawing. Often they have questions about their subject matter and we discuss possibilities and research together.

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We try to honour the children’s thinking and hard work as often as we can by mounting and displaying their pictures to show that we value them.

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 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!

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A guest teacher who was in that day just happened to know a whole lot about penguins! He drew us these three penguins to scale: the Emperor penguin, the Adelie penguin and the Little Blue penguin. I set up a table on the chart stand and we measured the three penguins using our feet and then using Unifix cubes. We noted the differences and discussed techniques of good measuring. Many children were also inspired to create drawings of the penguins they had just learned about!

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These boys decided to practice measuring carefully with their feet later on during Thinking and Learning Time!

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This girl was so enthusiastic about measuring. We put out some pre-drawn out measuring charts as an invitation for the children to measure and record. Sure enough, “I” went straight to work measuring all different parts of two if the penguins. She measured their beaks, feet, flippers, etc. All her own idea and totally brilliant! Love that she also sounded out the words completely on her own. It was one of those “excited teacher” moments to look over at her and see her focused and engaged in measuring and recording for over half an hour all on her own accord. Bravo!

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Many other children were also drawn to this measuring invitation centre. We set out Unifix cubes and encouraged them to record everything they measured and then compare their results. It was a great time to also reinforce proper number writing and careful counting. In the top left photo, two boys love I’s idea so much that they try it out for themselves! Children also measured various sized books, pencils, paper, and other objects in the room.


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Look at this amazing work completed by some of the children! They were so proud to show their work to their teachers and peers.


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!).