Saturday, February 2, 2013

Another Common Core Art Project: Polar Bears

Since I seem to get more hits on my blog when I post stuff about incorporating Common Core, I figured I'd share a unit that I did last year when we had to start incorporating the ELA shifts.  For those of you who don't know what the shifts are, here they be!  These come straight from the Engage NY website.  Basically, the idea is that if everyone starts using these shifts, we will be more aligned with how we are teaching the students and getting them to be more college ready.

Shift 1 Balancing Informational &  Literary Text
Students read a true balance of informational and literary texts. 

Shift 2 Knowledge in the Disciplines 
Students build knowledge about the world (domains/ content areas) through TEXT rather than the teacher or activities

Shift 3 Staircase of Complexity 
Students read the central, grade appropriate text around which instruction is centered.  Teachers are patient, create more time and space and support in the curriculum for close reading.

Shift 4 Text-based Answers 
Students engage in rich and rigorous evidence based conversations about text.  

Shift 5 Writing from Sources 
Writing emphasizes use of evidence from sources to inform or make an argument. 

Shift 6 Academic Vocabulary 
Students constantly build the transferable vocabulary they need to access grade level complex texts.  This can be done effectively by spiraling like content in increasingly complex texts.

So, here is the project I did in relation to the ELA shifts.  I did this with 4th grade, but it could definitely be done with other grades and altered in many ways to fit what you might want to do.

I did this project during winter, thus the polar bear theme.  Here's how it went:

Day 1:  I showed students a power point presentation about polar bears.  We talked about where they live, what they look like, and why they are endangered.  I also showed them advertisements from Coca-Cola that incorporated polar bears.  We looked at the body of a polar bear and figured out how to draw one using shapes.  For the remainder of class, students practiced this.

Day 2:  On the second day, I gave students the parameters for this project.  They had to draw at least one polar bear in an appropriate environment based on what they had learned about polar bears.  Students spent the entire period sketching these out.  If they finished and I approved of their drawing, I let them take a white oil pastel to start tracing over their pencil lines.

Day 3-5:  For the next few class periods, I demonstrated how to blend oil pastels to create value, texture and definition between the white polar bears and the snowy background.  I didn't want students to just outline everything in black, like a coloring book, so we ended up using a lot of white and blue pastels.

Day 6-7:  Finally, here comes the Common Core part.  I passed out an article on polar bears that was grade level appropriate (shift 1).  Now, I find it hard to get articles on a certain subject area if it isn't already in a Scholastic art magazine.  I spent a night doing searches on polar bear facts that were written for elementary age students.  For the last part of this project, I asked students to write a 5-6 sentence paragraph about their artwork while relating back to the article they read (shift 4 & 5).  I wanted students to be able to back up the reason why they drew their polar bears the way they did.  I had students neatly cut out their paragraph and glue it and their drawing to black construction paper to display in the hallway.

"Polar bears live in the Arctic so I drew my polar bear with glaciers in the background.  I drew a mom polar bear walking home to her cubs with a little present.  I drew a present because it is almost Christmas.  That is why I drew my polar bear.  I drew my polar bear white because polar bear fur is really transparent but their fur reflects off the snow."

"Polar bears live near the north pole in the Arctic Circle so I drew a polar bear at the north pole.  They are found in coastal parts of Alaska, Canada, Russia, Norway and Greenland also.  Polar bears are good swimmers.  Polar bears are the largest bears on earth.  Polar bears hunt seals, fish, reindeer and seabirds."

"Polar bears live in the Arctic so I drew mine on ice.  The polar bears home is melting so I drew the ice with cracks in it.  Polar bears have sharp noses so I drew it smelling for food for its baby."

"Do you know three facts about polar bears?  First fact, I drew a scarf on my polar bear to show it stays warm.  Polar bears also stay warm because of their fur.  Second, I colored my polar ear white and black because they need to blend in with their habitat.  Third, they are the largest bear in the world."
"My polar bears are in the Arctic, that is why I put them in the snow.  The polar bears fur is actually transparent and they look white because they reflect the white color of the ice; that is why my polar bears are white.  Polar bears like to swim so that is why they're by the water.  My polar bears are with their mom because the dad doesn't stay with the babies."

Now, I know none of these are stupendous paragraphs or anything, but it's still art class and I do believe there is only so much reading and writing you can do in art before you bog students down and make them dread coming to class with you!  They have to do enough reading and writing outside of art that you don't want to overwhelm them.  I feel by doing this project in this way, I was still having them write about THEIR artwork and not as much about the facts.  You can see the rest of the polar bear drawings and paragraphs on Artsonia.  I also have my polar bear article and unit plan on The smARTteacher website.


  1. Mrs. Impey,

    I do a similar polar bear project, but I have never thought of adding writing into the wintery mix. I think it is a really smart project to tie writing to specifically because there are a lot of great articles on polar bears for young folks and because they are now endangered. Your assessment and CC alignment work is not only thorough but thoroughly enjoyable. You've taken a very challenging task and outlined it in a way that is far less intimidating. Thanks!