K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

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Related pages

  • Polar bears: Keeping warm at the Arctic: Students will learn about the polar bear's body coverings and how they help it to survive in the Arctic climate. The activities include a trip to the North Carolina Zoological park and a hands-on experiment to facilitate this goal, followed by reflection on and communication of what they have learned using a variety of media including art and literature.
  • Green Wilma is missing!: This lesson is designed to be used after students have been exposed to animal classification, especially the characteristics of amphibians. Reading Green Wilma by Tedd Arnold and inviting students to respond through art and written expression is a good use of integration.
  • Embryology: Hatching baby chicks: This lesson integrates science, math, communication skills, arts, and social studies through hands-on activities. Students are directly involved in hatching baby chicks.

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Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • Get a first-hand look at how animal groups adapt to their environments.
  • Have an understanding of how a polar bear can withstand the extremely cold environment in which it lives.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

30 minutes


  • small cooler
  • ice water
  • shortening
  • two medium zip lock bags
  • thick rubber band
  • book: Polar Bears by Gail Gibbons


  • Students will need to be familiar with what the word “adaptations” means. The teacher will want to show pictures of several animals that have specific adaptations to their environment and ask the students to name them.
  • Students will also need to know the Arctic environment and conditions in which polar bears live.
  • Provide students with a research question: How do polar bears survive in the harsh Arctic environment? Make a list of student hypotheses: for example, they have long fur, they are warm-blooded, they hibernate, they are fat.
  • Tell students that there are two different ways to find out the answer to their research question: to look for it in books or on the internet, or to do an experiment.


  1. Fill a ziplock bag about half full with shortening. This will represent fat. Pass out bags of shortening to pairs of students.
  2. Take the second ziplock bag and turn it inside out.
  3. With the second bag turned inside out, place it inside the bag with the shortening.
  4. Because the bag is inside out, it will zip into the other bag.
  5. Use your hand to spread out the Crisco in the bag evenly.
  6. Put a rubber band where the two bags zip to serve as elastic.
  7. You will now be able to place your hand inside the ziplock bag like a glove without getting any shortening on it.
  8. With the cooler full of ice water ready, place your hand without the shortening glove in the cooler. (After a few seconds the children will want to remove their hand because of the cold.) Next, have them place the Crisco glove in the water. The students should notice how warm it remains. They should hardly notice any cold.
  9. Have students place both hands in the water and ask them to compare the difference.
  10. Have students write an explanation of their experiment. In their explanation, they should be sure to:
    • Describe the experiment. Include a list of materials they used.
    • Describe the results of their experiment. Explain which hand was warmer. Then explain why they think that hand was warmer.
    • Now explain why they think this might help polar bears adapt to an Arctic environment.


Student’s written description of their experiment and their explanation of their results should be assessed according to the writing rubric.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Science (2010)
      • Grade 1

        • 1.L.1 Understand characteristics of various environments and behaviors of humans that enable plants and animals to survive. 1.L.1.1 Recognize that plants and animals need air, water, light (plants only), space, food and shelter and that these may be found...
      • Grade 4

        • 4.L.1 Understand the effects of environmental changes, adaptations and behaviors that enable animals (including humans) to survive in changing habitats. 4.L.1.1 Give examples of changes in an organism’s environment that are beneficial to it and some that...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Science (2005)

Grade 4

  • Goal 1: The learner will make observations and conduct investigations to build an understanding of animal behavior and adaptation.
    • Objective 1.02: Observe and record how animals of the same kind differ in some of their characteristics and discuss possible advantages and disadvantages of this variation.
    • Objective 1.03: Observe and discuss how behaviors and body structures help animals survive in a particular habitat.