Arctic Climate Curriculum, Activity 1: Exploring the Arctic

by Anne Gold and Karin Kirk
written for CIRES, University of Colorado
Initial Publication Date: April 28, 2014 | Reviewed: August 4, 2022


This activity introduces students to the Arctic, including different definitions of the Arctic and exploration of the Arctic environment and Arctic people. Students set out on a virtual exploration of the geography of the Arctic using Google Earth. Students go on to learn about meteorological parameters that are measured by Arctic research teams and practice the measurements in hands-on activities.

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This activity was designed for high school science students but can be adopted for both college students and middle school students. It was classroom-tested for grades 5 through 12.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

No prerequisite skills or concepts are needed.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is the first part of a three-part curriculum about Arctic climate. The parts may be used independently or in sequence. Part 2 uses the jigsaw method to have students work with various weather parameters in a role-playing format from a site they "visited" virtually with Google Earth in this activity. In Part 3 students plot and analyze real Arctic climate data from the same site.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

After completing this activity students will be able to:
  • Define what the Arctic is
  • Describe the Arctic environment
  • Rationalize why people study the Arctic
  • Describe geographic extent of the Arctic
  • Describe differences between mid-latitudes and the Arctic latitudes
  • Locate Arctic research stations using Google Earth.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Assessment questions include higher level thinking questions ("Thinking Deeper") for each part.

Other skills goals for this activity

  • Using Google Earth
  • Using instruments to measure meteorological parameters.

Description of the activity/assignment

Part A: What is the Arctic? (time in classroom required: two 45-minute class periods)
In this activity students brainstorm their knowledge about the Arctic and build a concept map of different aspects of the Arctic environment. Students try to define the Arctic and after peer-review correct their definitions.

Assessments: Concept Maps, Peer-review of Definition of Arctic, Worksheet questions

Part B: A Virtual Trip to the Arctic (time in classroom required: two 45-minute class periods)
Students take a virtual tour of the Arctic and Arctic research sites using Google Earth.

Assessments: Google Earth kmz files, worksheet questions, Thinking Further questions

Part C: Collecting Your Own Meteorological Data (time in classroom required: two to three 45-minute class periods)
Students conduct hands-on experiments measuring albedo, relative humidity, and soil temperature using simple classroom methods. In this jigsaw activity, they regroup and analyze the data in teams and discuss questions that have them think further. Then they research and identify scientific instruments at the Eureka Arctic meteorological tower.

Assessments: Data collection sheets, responses to discussion questions

Extension Activity I: Using ImageJ for Albedo Measurements (time required: one 45-minute class period)
Students use ImageJ, a free image processing software, to measure albedo digitally on images of their own choice.
Assessment: Estimated and measured albedo values

Determining whether students have met the goals

Assessments are included in each part of the activity.

  • Concept maps (individual, group, and whole-class concept map)
  • Definition of Arctic including revisiting/refining of definitions
  • Google Earth kmz files
  • Worksheet questions
  • "Thinking Deeper" questions

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs