What Does the Walrus Do When the Ice Is Gone?

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Objective

SWBAT use close reading skills to identify ways in which walruses respond to their environment.

Big Idea

Sometimes animals respond to a changing environment with a behavior that doesn't help them.

Engage

5 minutes

I project this image of a walrus pup as I ask students the initial questions described in the video below.

 

I'd like to clarify that the way in which walruses are responding to the reduction in sea ice can be interpreted both as a change in behavior and as an unchanged behavior.  The change in behavior is that they now rest on land instead of on the ice floes, because the ice floes are decreasing.  This means they spend more time swimming, less time foraging, and are at greater risk for trampling behaviors.  On the other hand, their essential behavior, foraging on the sea floor for clams, worms, and other marine invertebrates, has not changed.

 

 

 

 

Explore

45 minutes

 I teach the students that it is okay to read an article for specific content.  Everything doesn’t always have to be consumed sequentially!

Specifically, I point out that we will skip the basic facts, where walrus size and appearance is described, because it’s not pertinent to our focus on their response to a change in environment.  I explain that we will start by reading what it says about diet because many animal behaviors are directly tied to how they obtain food.  Then we skip over the information on population and range, though that is something we could use later to possibly connect a change in population size to a change in the environment/their response to that change. Range can also be relevant, as it’s the diminished quantity of ice within their range that is leading to this issue.  In the initial reading though, I move them on to the behavior section.

I pre-teach the vocabulary haul-out and then the students partner read the behavior paragraph.  We reread it together and identify the key behavior and the reason it exists.

We then skip the section on reproduction and go through to threats to walruses.  I write these two questions on the whiteboard for students to think about as they read this passage.

  • How is the walrus food source changing how does their behavior need to change in response to this?  Is there a positive result?  A negative result?
  • How is their behavior of hauling-out affected by retreating ice sheets?  Is the effect of this positive?  Neutral?  Negative?

I have them read it independently and silently once and allow enough time for everyone to finish.  Those that are quick readers will not suffer from sitting silently for 90 seconds!  It's important in close reading for students to have the time to do this.  Then they reread with a partner.  Finally, they read it a third time and identify the key information related to the questions.

For the next step, some students work independently (the stronger readers) and others stay with me and we work as a collaborative team.  I have created a study guide for this article, Walruses Forced Ashore as Arctic Ice Disappears so that students have a place for taking notes, asking questions, and recording key vocabulary (language of the discipline).  This article, In Alaska, Thousands of Walruses Take to Land, also contains information relevant to our focus question.  Finally, this video can either be used to enrich the articles or to assist second language learners who may have trouble approaching this content as text-only.  (Note, the plural of walrus can be either walrus or walruses).

Due to the loss of sea ice, many walrus pups are abandoned when their mothers venture great distances in search of food.  They need to be with their mothers for the first two years in order to survive.  Instead of going into that fact in detail, I like to show this video of a few lucky orphaned walrus being cared for by scientists.  

 

 

Closing Activity

20 minutes

I use this well-done video to close out the lesson.  It repeats and adds on to what they have learned form the articles and this is an example of lesson in which the students learn more from the video after pre-learning some of the information than they would if they were to watch it without any prior knowledge.  At the end, I give them time to discuss what they saw and then for their homework I give them three days to write a paragraph about what they learned about the situation with the walruses and the melting ice (fact) and how they feel about it or think the situation could be solved (opinion). I provide them with this walrus paragraph organizer as a support for ensuring that they back up their opinion with related facts!

Unfortunately, it's in human nature to judge based on appearance, and the reality is that walrus are not the cuddliest looking of animals.  This short video on a rescued walrus pup provides an enchanting view of how affectionate they can be.