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