Alaska Wild Educator Network
This is a particularly special time for wild places in Alaska as one of the most iconic of our nation’s public lands, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, celebrates its first 50 years. Located in the northeast corner of Alaska, the Refuge is home to mountains, wild rivers, forests, and the Coastal Plain that serves as the summer home and birthplace to hundreds of species. Well-known species such as the polar bear, caribou and musk ox call the Refuge home. The Arctic is all around us. Every year, birds that are hatched on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge journey to all 50 states and across six continents before heading back to the Arctic, where the cycle of life begins again. There may be birds in your very own schoolyard that have traveled to the Arctic Refuge.
There are numerous ways to include Alaska in your lesson plans, and the following list provides some useful examples of how to work the Arctic and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge into the classroom.
Have feedback on the items below or ideas for new resources? Email educate [at] alaskawild [dot] org.
- Migration game. While participating in this game students will learn the different aspects of an animal’s seasonal migration, species specific information for birds which travel between their home state and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as well as the geography of North America. Download instructions for the Migration Game. (PDF)
- Build and fly "migration" kites
- Bird Identification. There are a number of birds which certain states share with the Refuge. Whether the birds are visiting for the winter or simply migrating through, ask students to identify various species and see how many can be connected back to the Arctic Refuge. This activity could work for students from grades 3-12, and allows students to learn the basics of ecology, ornithology, taxonomy, phenology, and problem solving. Download our bird identification packet. (ZIP)
- Adaptations in the Arctic. The harsh environment of the Arctic requires many of its residents to utilize special adaptations. For example, the skin of a polar bear is actually black, allowing it to absorb more sun and stay warm in the cold temperatures. The hair of a polar bear is hollow making its fur an even better insulator. The arctic fox changes the color of its coat in spring (reddish brown) and winter (white) to better blend in with its surroundings. This activity is probably best for elementary students and will allow them to learn about habitat, ecology, and adaptation. Download the Adaptations in the Arctic curriculum pack. (ZIP)
- Stained Glass Art. “Stained glass” art is a popular activity created by the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge staff. This art project was specifically produced for early elementary students but has proved of interest to all ages. We’ve had babes-in-arms, youngsters, teenagers and adults all drawing with focused concentration, and everyone’s results look great. There are 14 different species for artists to choose from and learn about. Visit the Stained Glass page on fws.gov.
- Skull Boxes. Few classrooms have skulls available for student study, so the staff at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has created life-size, cut-and-fold boxes for the skulls of 10 mammals living in the Refuge: caribou, grizzly bear, wolf, wolverine, red fox, lynx, weasel (ermine), snowshoe hare, arctic ground squirrel, and collared lemming. These would be a great resources for middle school and high school science teachers. The skulls allow students to compare similarities and differences between species. Visit the Skull Box page on fws.gov.
- Identify birds with your students
- Paper Swans. Each year, waterfowl migrate great lengths to spend their summers in the Teshekpuk Lake area of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. You can help us work towards the study and protection of important areas within the Reserve with this fun craft project. Visit our Swans page.
- Polar Bear Masks. America’s Arctic is home to the only polar bears in America. As part of your outreach and education efforts, you may want to use these fun, printable polar bear masks. Download our polar bear mask template. (PDF)
- Pine Cone Bird Feeder. One of the sloppiest bird-treat projects, the pine cone bird feeder, is also one of the most successful. It combines two foods that wild birds love, peanut butter and pine cones. Wild birds are attracted to the tiny seeds that are hidden deep inside pine cones. View instructions for making your own pine cone feeder. (PDF)
- Watch Refuge DVD and discuss. Naturalist and writer Terry Tempest Williams, an award-winning author and passionate wilderness advocate, narrates this stunning visual odyssey and outlines both the majesty of the Arctic Refuge and the irreversible destruction that would be wrought should the oil industry get its way. Williams is joined by voices from the Gwich’in Nation, who regard the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge as the “sacred place where life begins.” You can watch this 12 minute DVD and then discuss it with your students. To request a copy of the DVD, please email membership [at] alaskawild [dot] org. Watch a short clip of this video.