Resource Type
Completion Time
About 1 period
Middle School and Up
Download and Share
McMurdo Field Station, Antarctica
Bridget Ward
Heather Liwanag
Related Members
Large container of Ice Water
A large object such as a cookie sheet that can fit in cooler to aid in keeping balloons submerged in cooler. Cardboard works ok, but it gets very wet.
3 balloons per group and a few extras
Vegetable shortening: 2 big cans for a class of 24 or 1 Crisco 1 cup block per group
1 Thermometer per group
1 timer per group
Plastic wrap
Pressurized hot water source (sink)
1 Beaker / cup per group
1 Pair scissors per group
Gloves (Some students may break out in hives from skin contact with the vegetable shortening.)
Life Science
Tools and Methods
Organisms and Their Environments
Structure and Function
Polar Science


This lesson investigates the effects of different insulators (fur and blubber) on maintaining the body temperature of polar animals. Water balloons filled with warm water simulate the marine mammal. The blubber insulator will be simulated by covering the balloon in vegetable shortening. The fur insulator will be simulated by placing another balloon over the “marine mammal” and adding an air layer (blowing it up).

There are two options for this lesson, regular and advanced.


After completing this lab exercise and analyzing the data, students will be able to:

  1. Explain how blubber and fur aid marine mammals in maintaining homeostasis of body temperature.
  2. Analyze data to determine which, fur or blubber, is a better insulator.

Lesson Preparation

  • Download Lesson Materials
  • Collect Materials
  • If doing advanced lesson, accomplish pre-assignment
  • Posterboard (Posters)
  • Research materials (Internet)


1. Research and create a poster on the thermoregulation of polar animals

Students will need approximately 2-3 hours to research two polar mammals, one that uses blubber and one that uses fur to aid in maintaining stable body temperature. Bird feathers may be investigated in place of a fur mammal (because the mechanism of insulation – trapping air – is the same).

2. Investigate and compare the difference between blubber and fur as insulators

Groups of 3 members are advised; pairs are also acceptable but may require more class time. It is difficult for a student to prepare either the balloon condition for the experiment by himself or herself.

3. Communicate your research

After collecting and analyzing class data, students should add their hypothesis, data, and conclusions to their posters for display.


This lesson may be modified for elementary, middle school, or home school use, along with informal education, such as aquariums, museums, or after school programs.


  • Fur versus blubber lab
  • Fur versus blubber lab Advanced


  • Poster rubric
  • Completed worksheet


Bridget Ward, PolarTREC Teacher 2019
Springfield Central High School
Springfield, MA
bridgetlward [at]

Dr. Heather Liwanag
California Polytechnic State University
San Luis Obispo, CA
hliwanag [at]



Standards Other

Polar Literacy Principles

1C: The physical characteristics of the environment (weather, climate, topography, geology) are significantly different.

1D: Polar climates create different living conditions.


HS-LS1-3. Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence that feedback mechanisms maintain homeostasis. [Clarification Statement: Examples of investigations could include heart rate response to exercise, stomate response to moisture and temperature, and root development in response to water levels.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the cellular processes involved in the feedback mechanism.]

Science and Engineering Practices
Developing and Using Models
Modeling in 9–12 builds on K–8 experiences and progresses to using, synthesizing, and developing models to predict and show relationships among variables between systems and their components in the natural and designed world. Develop and use a model based on evidence to illustrate the relationships between systems or between components of a system. (HS-LS1-2)

Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
Planning and carrying out in 9-12 builds on K-8 experiences and progresses to include investigations that provide evidence for and test conceptual, mathematical, physical, and empirical models.

Plan and conduct an investigation individually and collaboratively to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence, and in the design: decide on types, how much, and accuracy of data needed to produce reliable measurements and consider limitations on the precision of the data (e.g., number of trials, cost, risk, time), and refine the design accordingly. (HS-LS1-3)

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
Constructing explanations and designing solutions in 9–12 builds on K–8 experiences and progresses to explanations and designs that are supported by multiple and independent student-generated sources of evidence consistent with scientific ideas, principles, and theories.

Construct an explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from a variety of sources (including students’ own investigations, models, theories, simulations, peer review) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future. (HS-LS1-1)

Scientific Investigations Use a Variety of Methods
Scientific inquiry is characterized by a common set of values that include: logical thinking, precision, open-mindedness, objectivity, skepticism, replicability of results, and honest and ethical reporting of findings. (HS-LS1-3)

Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information
Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information in 9–12 builds on K–8 experiences and progresses to evaluating the validity and reliability of the claims, methods, and designs.

Communicate scientific information (e.g., about phenomena and/or the process of development and the design and performance of a proposed process or system) in multiple formats (including orally, graphically, textually, and mathematically). (HS-LS4-1)

Attachment Size
Full Lesson688.17 KB 688.17 KB
Lesson Materials135.42 KB 135.42 KB
Lesson Materials - Advanced258.14 KB 258.14 KB

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.