Happy International Polar Bear Day!

February 27th is International Polar Bear Day! To prepare for this day, I focused activities that would celebrate this threatened species and encourage protection of it. At Wildwood Environmental Academy I created an elective class, Environmental Art for grades K-8, which teaches conservation issues and encourages appreciation for nature through art projects. I also teach 10th grade Environmental Science. Both courses were involved in activities for International Polar Bear Day. A huge thanks goes to Jason Duffield who used his Social Studies knowledge and artistic talent to co-plan and co-teach this project.

After discussing a few polar bear facts and locating their habitat on a world map, environmental art students learned that the way they treat the earth affects plant and animal species near and far. Polar Bear International specifically posts that human-caused climate change is melting the sea ice, which is necessary for polar bears to live and to hunt. With empathy for the majestic polar bear, each student created a polar bear piece of art, appropriate to their grade level. Students additionally learned about features of their habitat like the Aurora Borealis and ice halos.

All 300 pieces of art were arranged in an installation surrounding a large poster created by resident teacher, Jason Duffield. The poster read, “Each polar bear you see represents only 80 polar bears left in existence – there are only 24,000 living on our planet today. Their decline is due mostly to climate change, worsened by human carelessness. These works of art, created by WEA students, serve to raise awareness of the plight of the polar bear and our role in making eco-friendly choices.”

environmental art students' work on polar bears.  Photo and poster by Jason Duffield
environmental art students’ work on polar bears. Photo and poster by Jason Duffield
caption poster for polar bear art project
caption poster for polar bear art project

The 10th grade Environmental Science students researched polar bear facts and learned about how Inuit people depend on polar bears. Next, they designed posters and a presentation to share more detailed information.   This information was then delivered to the elementary students on International Polar Bear Day, deepening the purpose behind their art work. This cross-age interaction allowed both groups to interact and share their knowledge. Their posters are displayed in the elementary building to reinforce the younger students’ knowledge. These displays also inform school visitors about this animal and its threats.

This project embraced some of my favorite teaching approaches including:

  • cross-curricular lessons (mathematical representation, ecology lessons, research, public speaking, and mapping skills)
  • cross-age learning (elementary students interacting with high school students)
  • geographic literacy (relating Midwestern students to Arctic species)
  • teacher collaboration (two heads are always better than one, and we all have different knowledge and strengths)
  • environmental stewardship (making eco-friendly choices to project life near and far)

I loved learning about polar bears with my students. It was easy to use an adorable megafauna species to grab kids’ attention to connect to nature. I learned a lot of new facts along the way too. In my winter running group after laughing about how snow and ice stick to our hair on long runs, I informed the group that it’d be helpful to be like polar bears. They have no eyelashes just so they don’t have the problem of snow and ice freezing around their eyes.

Stephanie Funkhouser would not have the problem of frozen eyelashes if she could be a polar bear!
Stephanie Funkhouser would not have the problem of frozen eyelashes if she could be a polar bear!
Ice and snow freeze to the hair of runners, Andrew Brandt and Michelle Brooks.
Ice and snow freeze to the hair of runners, Andrew Brandt and Michelle Brooks.

Learn more facts and teaching ideas from Polar Bears International at http://www.polarbearsinternational.org/

9 thoughts on “Happy International Polar Bear Day!

  1. Michele

    Hi Laura,
    I’ve seen the artwork and it is beautiful! Love the article also. WEA is doing a great job! Thanks to all the teachers.
    Michele B


    1. Laura Schetter

      Hi Michele, I agree that the artwork is beautiful – I love how nature inspires beautiful artwork! Thank you for checking out my first blog post!


  2. Wonderful first blog post! I love how you tied in the implication of climate change not only on this beautiful and important arctic species, but on the indigenous arctic populations who are currently clearly vulnerable to climate change. So excited to follow you adventures in Svalbard!


    1. Laura Schetter

      Hi Tara, Thank you for commenting on my first blog post! It was important to be mindful of developmentally appropriate approaches when discussing climate change, teaching students as young as kindergarten. 5 year olds can’t be left with a doom and gloom attitude of a changing climate. So – my message was attachment to a beautiful species and then a message of hope – that they can make a difference in this world, even though they’re only 5! Thanks for following my traveling, teaching, and learning adventures of this beautiful planet!


    1. Laura Schetter

      Thanks for commenting and following my blog, gschetter2015! Thanks for instilling a motivation to care deep within my soul.


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