Fightless Birds and Scientific Research


Antarctica is a continent devoted to science. Penguins, the flightless birds that have adapted to living in the harsh conditions of the Antarctic, are of particular interest to researchers. In this lesson, students will research what scientists are studying on Antarctica and what they hope to gain from their research. They will also create a multi-media story about the challenges penguins face living in this harsh environment.

Grade Level: Grades 9-12

Subject Areas: Language Arts, Science

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to do the following:

  • create a presentation that explains the role of research in Antarctica.
  • synthesize information from a variety of sources.
  • summarize an issue that is impacting wildlife in Antarctica.


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Language Arts


Standard 1. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process

5. Uses strategies to address writing to different audiences (e.g., includes explanations and definitions according to the audience’s background, age, or knowledge of the topic, adjusts formality of style, considers interests of potential readers)

6. Uses strategies to adapt writing for different purposes (e.g., to explain, inform, analyze, entertain, reflect, persuade)

7. Writes expository compositions (e.g., synthesizes and organizes information from first- and second-hand sources, including books, magazines, computer data banks, and the community; uses a variety of techniques to develop the main idea [names, describes, or differentiates parts; compares or contrasts; examines the history of a subject; cites an anecdote to provide an example; illustrates through a scenario; provides interesting facts about the subject]; distinguishes relative importance of facts, data, and ideas; uses appropriate technical terms and notations)

Standard 2. Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing

1. Uses precise and descriptive language that clarifies and enhances ideas and supports different purposes (e.g., to stimulate the imagination of the reader, to translate concepts into simpler or more easily understood terms, to achieve a specific tone, to explain concepts in literature)

5. Uses a variety of techniques to provide supporting detail (e.g., analogies; anecdotes; restatements; paraphrases; examples; comparisons; visual aids, such as tables, graphs, and pictures)

Standard 4. Gathers and uses information for research purposes

1. Uses appropriate research methodology (e.g., formulates questions and refines topics, develops a plan for research; organizes what is known about a topic; uses appropriate research methods, such as questionnaires, experiments, field studies; collects information to narrow and develop a topic and support a thesis)

2. Uses a variety of print and electronic sources to gather information for research topics (e.g., news sources such as magazines, radio, television, newspapers; government publications; microfiche; telephone information services; databases; field studies; speeches; technical documents; periodicals; Internet)

Standard 7. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts

1. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand a variety of informational texts (e.g., textbooks, biographical sketches, letters, diaries, directions, procedures, magazines, essays, primary source historical documents, editorials, news stories, periodicals, catalogs, job-related materials, schedules, speeches, memoranda, public documents, maps)

2. Knows the defining characteristics of a variety of informational texts (e.g., textbooks, biographical sketches, letters, diaries, directions, procedures, magazines, essays, primary source historical documents, editorials, news stories, periodicals, catalogs, job-related materials, schedules, speeches, memoranda, public documents, maps)

4. Uses a variety of criteria to evaluate the clarity and accuracy of information (e.g., author’s bias, use of persuasive strategies, consistency, clarity of purpose, effectiveness of organizational pattern, logic of arguments, reasoning, expertise of author, propaganda techniques, authenticity, appeal to friendly or hostile audience, faulty modes of persuasion)

Life Sciences

Standard 6. Understands relationships among organisms and their physical environment

1. Knows how the interrelationships and interdependencies among organisms generate stable ecosystems that fluctuate around a state of rough equilibrium for hundreds or thousands of years (e.g., growth of a population is held in check by environmental factors such as depletion of food or nesting sites, increased loss due to larger numbers of predators or parasites)

5. Knows ways in which humans can alter the equilibrium of ecosystems, causing potentially irreversible effects (e.g., human population growth, technology, and consumption; human destruction of habitats through direct harvesting, pollution, and atmospheric changes

Procedures for Teachers

The purpose of this activity is to pique students’ interest and build background knowledge on Antarctica.

Introductory activity – 30 minutes

  1. The Exploratorium’s website Antarctica: Scientific Journeys from Mc Murdo to the Pole contains field notes from research scientists who are studying in Antarctica. Divide the students into small groups. Assign each group one of the journal entries on the Exploratorium website.
  2. Ask groups to read the entry and record the main details from the pieces. After all the groups have finished, have them share the information from the entry with the rest of the class.
  3. Groups who finish early may check out the interactive map on the Exploratorium website that explains why petrified palm trees were found along the eastern coast of Antarctica.


Activity one – three class periods

The purpose of this activity is for students to learn about the importance of research in Antarctica.

  1. Tell the students that they are going to pretend that they are research scientists in Antarctica. Explain that the funding for their research will be cut unless they can justify the importance of their research. Tell students that they will gather information on the research that is being conducted in Antarctica and prepare a presentation that explains what they are researching and why it is important for them to continue with their research.
  2. Divide the class into seven groups and assign each group one of the topics below.
    • Climate change
    • Oceanography
    • Biology
    • Environmental issues
    • Greenhouse gasses and global warming
    • Marine life
    • Glaciology
  3. Pass out the “Researching The Researchers” organizer. Explain to students that they will gather information on their assigned topic and create a presentation to explain and justify their research.The following is a list of Internet resources to help students begin their research:
  4. Explain to students that their presentation should address the following topics:
    • An overview of their topic of study
    • Explanation of the focus of the research the scientists are conducting
    • An explanation of the research goals
    • An explanation of what has been learned from the research
    • An explanation of what they hope to learn in the future
    • An explanation of why is it important that the research continues
  5. Assemble a panel to listen to the presentations. Based on the information in the presentations, have the panel decide if the research group will have its funding extended.

Activity two – two class periods

  1. Discuss the quotation from NATURE’S “Penguins of the Antarctic” program “But Adélies live just inside the margins of possibility, any unseasonably bad weather and a whole generation can be lost.”
  2. Explain to students that they are going to create a short “Inside the Margins of Possibility” multi-media storyboard that explains a specific issue that impacts the Adélie penguins. Tell students that the story will include photographs, drawings and/or graphs, text and a sound track. Pass out the “Inside the Margins of Possibility” storyboard organizers.Students may use information from NATURE’S “Penguins of the Antarctic” program and the following websites to create their multi-media story.
  3. Provide time for students to share their storyboards with the class. If you have access to the appropriate software, you may chose to have students create a digital version of their story. Teacher Note: It is not necessary to limit the creation of storyboards to the Adélie penguin. Students may create a storyboard for other Antarctic penguins or wildlife.

Extension activity – one class period and one homework

Current Events

Have students visit The Antarctic Sun website to keep in touch with what is happening in Antarctica. The Antarctic Sun website contains news articles on events and research taking place in Antarctica. Ask students to choose an article and write a current events report based on the information in the article.

  • Carlota A. Montoya

    This was the most amazing video/ teacher class developed I saw. Thankyou to all the scientist that
    have the courage to go to Antartic( what a cold place, my God!!!!) and research these incredibles animals, the penguins. Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou!

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