Resource Type
Completion Time
Less than a week
All Aged
Download, Share, and Remix
Related Members
Carving tools (plastic or wood are recommended; plastic knives and spoons may serve as inexpensive alternatives)
Bar soap (Ivory is recommended because it is very soft and easily carved.)
Cardstock or paper for table tents
Markers, colored pencils, and other art supplies
Internet access or other materials to facilitate the research component of the assignment
General Life Science
History of Biology and Life Sciences
Organisms and Their Environments
Structure and Function
Regulation and Behavior
Climate Change
General Polar Science


Humans hold special relationships with the natural resources by which they are surrounded. These connections are increasingly being challenged by changing climate patterns, availability of resources, and societal changes. In this activity students will investigate the cultural importance of an Arctic plant or animal. Each student will create a carving and research traditional uses, geographic range, and natural history of an Arctic plant or animal. This lesson was inspired by Sandra L. W. Thornton’s experiences as a PolarTREC Fellow/NOAA Teacher at Sea during the Hidden Ocean 2016: Chukchi Borderlands expedition and especially after viewing the beautifully constructed and detailed artifacts at the Anchorage Museum and the Alaska Native Heritage Center, both located in Anchorage, Alaska.


Students will be able to describe geographic range, natural history, and cultural importance of an Arctic plant or animal.

Lesson Preparation

This lesson may be used to introduce or assess a unit on ecology, adaptations, or the Arctic. Because students will use their own research when constructing their models, no specialized prior knowledge is needed to begin this lesson. Examples of Arctic carvings may be found at the Anchorage Museum website ( Instructor should emphasize that students will be assessed on the quality of their research rather than their artistic ability.



  1. Students will choose a plant or animal found in the Arctic. Students should be encouraged to choose from plants, birds, marine animals, and land-based animals. Depending upon placement within an instructional unit, students may need to conduct initial research to become more familiar with Arctic plants and animals.


  1. Students will conduct research to determine:
    a. Scientific name, traditional uses, cultural significance, geographic range, and natural history of the plant or animal.
    b. Students will prepare a table tent display card showing the information for their plant or animal.
  2. Students will create a soap carving of their plant or animal. See “Student Handout” for instructions on how to create a soap carving.


  • As an alternative to soap carving, students may construct models using clay, fabric, papier mache’, water colors or other media depending upon student skills and availability of resources.
  • Students may choose to research and compare an Arctic plant or animal to a plant or animal that is significant in their home community or culture.
  • It is recommended that carvings and display cards be placed in a central area where others may view student work. Libraries, banks, museums, community centers, and local businesses are often willing to display student work.




Students will be assessed on the quality of their research product. This lesson provides opportunities for students to locate resources and determine the factual merit of these resources. Because the aesthetics of artistic products is subjective, it is recommended that assessment be based on quality and scope of student research. A suggested rubric has been provided with the “Student Handout”.

Author / Credits

This lesson was created by Sandra L. W. Thornton (slwthornton [at]

Standards Other

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

This lesson supports the Next Generation Science Standards by challenging students to research Arctic organisms, construct models, and communicate the results of their research.

Elementary School

2-LS4-1 Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity. Make observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats.

3-LS4-3 Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity. Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.

4-LS1-1 From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes. Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.

Middle School

MS-LS2-1 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics. Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the effects of resource availability on organisms and populations of organisms in an ecosystem.

High School

HS-LS4-5 Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity. Evaluate the evidence supporting claims that changes in environmental conditions may result in (1) increases in the number of individuals of some species, (2) the emergence of new species over time, and (3) the extinction of other species.

This program is supported by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed by this program are those of the PIs and coordinating team, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.