Our Polar Regions: Are They Special?


"Who wants to take a bite out of Antarctica?" "We all do!"

In this investigation, students examine three edible models of land masses: Arctic tundra, Antarctic sea and ice, and one representing your area. They compare and contrast the models and via class discussion generate a chart of their observations and identify similarities and differences. This investigation will require considerable preparation time on your part or on the part a few wonderful grownups, but the excitement will be worth it. Your students get to eat the models when they're done!

NOTE: If your preparation time is limited, you can substitute one or two pictures from each land area for the models. Be sure to keep it simple and to include images of animals, plants, ice, water, and other features representative of the land areas. Providing a cake or cupcakes to celebrate at the end of the investigation is recommended.

1-2 Days Ahead - Prepare the Models:

Antarctic Sea and Ice – Go to Edible Antarctica for complete instructions and a picture. To make this simpler, use colored or white marshmallows for the icebergs (you can ice several together to make bigger ones) and blueberry JELLO Jiggers® for the ocean. Adding chocolate chunks to represent rocks is recommended. Have fun with this. How about using ice cream cakes or freezing your model when it's done? Be creative, but be sure to include a penguin!

Arctic Tundra – Use your imagination, but include some water, icebergs and a couple of Arctic animals. Don't forget a polar bear! Build it in a jelly roll pan or casserole dish.

Local Model – Do your own thing.

Investigation Day:

Before your students arrive, set your models in three locations around your room. Cover them so your students can't see them. Get out your globe. You're going to need it. Write “International Polar Year ” on the board with colored chalk and decorate like a celebration. You could even wear a party hat and toot a horn when they come in. Note: The latest IPY ended in 2009, but many of the research and educational projects initiated during the IPY conitnue today.

Talk about how the IPY was a celebration of scientific investigations and exploration of our polar regions . Ask them where the polar regions are and see what they already know about the conditions and life there. Explain that IPY scientists from all over the world are still working together to learn more about the land, the water, the air, and living things in our polar regions to help us get a better picture of conditions there, what they were like in the past, and how and why they are changing. Talk about how polar regions must be very special to get all of this attention. Ask them why they think they might be so special or different from other places on Earth. Then uncover the models one at time and explain that you made these special models so they could find out why the polar regions are special enough to have their own scientific celebration. You can identify the models or leave that as a mystery to solve at the end of their investigation. Make sure they understand what is represented: blue JELLO is water; marshmallows are icebergs or big pieces of ice; green and brown sprinkles are plants; chocolate cake is dirt, etc.

Divide your students into three groups and let the groups rotate through the locations. Tell them to look closely at the models and make a mental or written list of what they see. Remind them that no touching and definitely no tasting are allowed. Allow about 5 minutes at each location.

Make a chart on the board with columns to record their observations of each model. Generate lists of their observations. The lists should also include other things they know or think they know like it's cold there, it's windy there, people live there, it rains there, it snows there, etc.

Start out comparing and contrasting your model with the Arctic and Antarctic models. Have the students identify the things that are the same on the lists and circle them on the board with colored chalk. Talk about other things that might be the same. Then have them identify the things are different on the lists and circle them with a different color of chalk. Talk about other things that might be different. Continue by comparing and contrasting the polar region models. Again, talk about other differences or similarities.

If you didn't identify the models, ask them to tell you where they might find land that looks like the models.

Use your globe to locate the polar regions . Talk about the North Pole, Greenland , and the Arctic. Then talk about the South Pole and Antarctica . Now find your state on the globe and talk about it. This a great chance to revisit or introduce concepts related to climate, weather, surviving in extreme environments, etc. You can even talk about "out of our world" polar ice caps on Mars!

Then ask them to answer the question “Are the polar regions special and why?” Put their answers on the board or take a vote and discuss the why's.

Wrap it up by showing them your Polar Ice Terrarium. Change the animals and ask them to tell you which polar region it represents. It's important that they understand that polar bears and penguins don't live in the same place. Celebrate their success and the IPY with cake.

"Make mine Arctic , please!"

Polar Land Questions:


Ordering Information:

Level: K-4

Difficulty: Beginner