How Do They Stay Warm?

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SWBAT to simulate animal blubber.

Big Idea

All animals have specific ways of adapting their bodies in order to survive. This lesson offers the opportunity to experience the effects of animal blubber.

Setting the Stage

5 minutes

After learning about the three species of bears that live in the Arctic, the topic of ways they have adapted to survive in the various regions of the habitat arises. The conversation is a natural one. The polar bear lives in the coldest region, yet he survives. The environment of the Arctic pole is much harsher than the tundra and alpine regions of the Black and Brown bears.  Something must make a difference.  

I want the students to visit the idea of adaptations.  2-LS-4-1 wants students to understand the diversity of plant and animal life within different habitats.  Understanding the adaptations that animals must have to survive within those environments can be a hard one to grasp.  This lesson will demonstrate one form of adaptation the bear's body makes to survive in the cold climates.   

This lesson allows my students to explore blubber and how it works for the polar bear and other creatures of the region.  

Materials needed:

Crisco Vegetable Shortening

Ziploc bags

Ice cubes and water



10 minutes

I ask all the students to turn and face the screen. I have the How Do They Stay Warm? power point ready to go.  I love to use power points as the focal point for my lessons.  I can insert the questions, steps in the investigation, important information, concepts that need clarification, video clips or follow up questions within the lessons.  They make it great for all levels of students to increase their learning and understanding of a concept.  

I begin with a question, (slide 2).  I ask the children to think about what they do when when they get cold.  I allow the children a couple of minutes to think about this and immediately all hands are raised.  The timing of the lesson is January and we are in the thick of winter.  Just one look out our classroom window and you can see snow on the playground and the clouds in the sky threatening another snow storm.  All the children are able to make a personal connection to the question.  The answers are all similar, "I put on a coat."  

I move to slide 3 and ask the next question, "How do animals in the polar regions stay warm?"

Slide 4, lays out the process of how we will go about the conversation. Slide 5 offers a prompt to encourage the students to think about any background knowledge they may already have. 

I allow the children a couple of minutes to think about the question and then suggest the students begin discussing the question with their shoulder buddy.  I hear many responses....fur, hair, blubber....Blubber is a word that has been used in other lessons, but not with much definition.  In fact, we have not dug into the exact definition of the word. 

Each time the word has come up in previous lessons and the children have consistently asked, "what does that word mean?" I have put them off knowing that this lesson would dig into it more deeply.  I wanted to keep the lesson to itself and not have to clean up any misconceptions that would have arose from lessons that had not dug into the meaning of the word.  

After the conversations begin to taper off, I ring the bell and get the children's attention.  I move to the next slide (6).


15 minutes

Slide 6 explains the investigation to the children.  The children are excited, they have already processed that we are going to simulate blubber.  They love to use the word simulate and remind me often what the word means...."We love when we get to simulate things."  

Slide 7 explains the materials that we will be using in the investigation. Their excitement is stopped for a short moment when they see the pictures on the screen.  Only because the children do not know what Crisco shortening is.  This leads to a conversation explaining the purpose of shortening and where they may see it at home.  Once past this little hurdle, we move on to the investigation.

Slides 8 through 10 demonstrate photographically what the children will do in their teams to create and simulate the function of the blubber. 


10 minutes

After the children have each had a turn to place their hand in the blubber mitt and experience the warmth of the mitt, I ask them to look back at the screen.  Slide 11 poses the first question for the children to ponder......What is your hand simulating? 

The children really don't need much time to put this together with the investigation. They realize quickly that their hand is supposed to be the animal body.  I move quickly to the next slide and question.

Slide 12 asks, "What does the Crisco simulate?" Again, they are quick to answer.  I hear a couple different words: blubber and fat.  While I am not a specialist in this area and I don't want to teach a misconception, I accept both answers.  I want the children to understand more the concept of a substance that can offer warmth.  I know I will tackle the difference at a later moment in the lesson.

As we move on to Slide 13, the new question becomes, "How does this relate to animals in the polar regions?" (I continue to use the phrase 'polar regions' because we will address the concept of blubber when we reach the penguin lesson).  

The students have many rationale theories.  "The animals in the polar regions need the blubber to keep warm because it is cold."



10 minutes

We move on to Slide 14, which asks: "What is the substance called that keeps animals warm?" The word "blubber" is not on the screen when the question is projected.  I have it hidden until we have had a chance to discuss it first. 

There is no hesitation. The children all shout,,,,,,"blubber."  The word "blubber" pops up on the screen after the question has been asked. 

I explain that "yes, it is."  I move to the next slide (15) quickly and give the children the definition of the word.  I also explain that while many animals have blubber I want them to understand that not all animals have it.  There are different kinds of blubber. I explain that I have found a scientist who can explain it very well and I ask them to watch the video clip on the screen. 




10 minutes

Finally, I ask the children to collect all their thoughts and focus on a conclusion that they could pull together after experiencing the blubber mitt.  The children raise hands and wave them wildly.  They are sure they can share with me what they believe.  However, I explain that a real scientist would document their theories and ideas and I believe that is what we should do as well.  

I pass out the Sentence Frame page and ask them to fill in the sentence blanks with the conclusions.