Resource Type
Completion Time
About 1 period
Middle School and Up
Download, Share, and Remix
Jamie Esler
Computers, tablets, or other devices capable of accessing the Internet
Student Handout
Answer Key to Student Handout
Introductory Slideshow for GPR Use in Iceland
Tools and Methods
Snow and Ice Science
Atmospheric Science
Climate Change
General Engineering
General Polar Science
General Polar Careers

Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR):
Seeing Below the Surface While Keeping Scientists Safe


Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) is a valuable technology that utilizes waves of low frequency electromagnetic radiation to help polar scientists understand what is beneath their feet! Using real field data from the Icelandic glacier Múlajökull, along with a small selection of short videos and web-based resources, this lesson allows students to explore the fundamental science of GPR technology, its value in developing a global understanding of the Polar Regions, and the ways that it helps to keep polar scientists safe while on the job in some of Earth’s most treacherous and remote locations.

Learning Objectives

  1. Students will be able to describe how GPR technology utilizes electromagnetic waves to help scientists and engineers visualize/identify subsurface materials and structures.
  2. Students will be able to analyze the different uses of GPR in engineering and science.
  3. Students will be able to observe and discuss the use of GPR to help advance Polar Science discoveries while simultaneously helping keep polar scientists safe in the field.
  4. Students will be able to interpret GPR data from an Icelandic glacier system in order to predict the formation processes of particular glacial landforms (drumlins).

Lesson Preparation

This lesson is written for one 90-minute block or two standard length class periods. It is designed to be completed during or at the conclusion of a unit on electromagnetic waves and radiation (EMR). Once students have developed a solid understanding of EMR structure, characteristics, and properties (i.e. wavelength, frequency, amplitude, period, crest, trough, etc.), this lab can be used to help students explore the important real world uses of EMR in simple GPR technologies in the Polar Regions. All in all, this lesson teaches students some very important real world applications of the basic scientific principles behind EMR and GPR while also allowing them to explore some of the exciting and interesting science being done in the Polar Regions.

This lesson follows the 5E Inquiry Model. This lesson model was chosen because it utilizes two instructional teaching methods that are well suited for science classrooms: advance organizers and inquiry. Advance organizers help to prepare and activate student’s thinking at the start of the lesson, and inquiry allows students the opportunity to predict and design their own explanations for new scientific processes and discoveries. This particular lesson strives to teach students basic scientific knowledge as well as challenging them to evaluate, analyze, and synthesize this information into explanations and predications. In this regard, the 5E Inquiry Model is a great choice to help students navigate their way to the desired higher level thinking skills in the end of this lesson.

Key Terms

Electromagnetic Radiation and Waves
Polar Regions


Engage (15 minutes)

  1. Use the following videos of the GROVER Robot and the YETI Robot (only play first 1 minute and 24 seconds) as advance organizers to hook the students. Once the videos are over, allow students to work with a partner near them to discuss and answer questions 1-3 on their student handout. Allow about 5 minutes. Walk around the room and listen to their discussions/look at what they are writing. Keep a few students in mind that you feel have appropriately answer them.

  2. As a class, discuss their answers to questions 1-3 for another 5 minutes. Call on the students you noted in the previous step and ask them to share their answers. By the end of the discussion, students should have a basic understanding of how GPR is important for conducting science in the Polar Regions and also how it is used to help keep scientists safe.

  3. Explain to students that in the remaining part of this lesson, they will explore in greater detail how GPR technology works and how it is used to conduct science at Earth’s Polar Regions.

Explore (30 minutes)

  1. Allow students to access the Internet via classroom computers, tablets, or other devices. They may work together in pairs or alone. All of the necessary links and websites are provided on the student handout.
  2. Use the provided Answer Key to monitor student progress by walking around and scaffolding answers, providing support, or asking additional probing questions.
  3. When all students have finished, have them close their computers and bring their attention to the front of the room.

Explain (20 minutes)

  1. Display the “Introductory Slideshow” on the projector where all students can see it.
  2. Run through the slides and embedded videos on the slideshow to introduce students to the “Drumlin Formation in Iceland" PolarTREC Expedition from the summer of 2013.
  3. Help students answer the corresponding questions on their student handout during the slideshow.

Elaborate (25 minutes)

  1. Instruct students to observe the graph of GPR data on the second to last slide in the slideshow.
  2. Have them work with the same partner as before while they complete the corresponding tasks using the GPR data file.
  3. Use the provided Answer Key to monitor student progress by walking around and scaffolding answers, providing support, or asking additional probing questions.


Collect handout from students and use the provided Answer Key to:

  1. Assess the completion of learning objectives:

    • Learning Objective 1: Explore questions 1-4, 7,8
    • Learning Objective 2: Explore questions 3, 10-12 and all Explain tasks.
    • Learning Objective 3: All Engage questions and all Explain tasks.
    • Learning Objective 4: All Elaborate tasks.
  2. Assess the Evaluation results:

    • The Concept Map will visually represent the student’s comprehension of the entire lesson.
    • The diagram/drawing will represent a student’s technological understanding of the basics of GPR technology.
    • The last task will represent how well a student can apply this new knowledge of GPR to new contexts and situations.

Possible Lesson Extensions

  1. Students who demonstrate exceptional interest or excitement about this topic can make a model GPR unit from cardboard or other arts/crafts supplies. This could ultimately produce a diorama of a Polar Scientists at work in the Arctic or Antarctic using GPR in any number of ways.
  2. If a local engineering or construction firm or local university had a GPR unit available for use in the classroom, this could provide students with a wonderful hands-on experience collect simple GPR data. Students could choose a site on school grounds to use the unit and try to identify pipes or other underground structures along a given transect.


  1. Provide printed slides of the slideshow in large, dark print on a light background for students needing visual accommodations. The graph of the GPR data can be translated into Braille ahead of time if need be, and text from the websites in the Explore component of the lesson can be recorded orally ahead of time for the student to listen to on tape if need be.
  2. For students needing accommodations for fine/gross motor skills, be sure to pair this student with an appropriate partner/teacher’s aid so that this partner/aid can control the keyboard and mouse on the computer or device.
  3. For students needing accommodations for auditory disabilities, provide written transcripts for the necessary YouTube videos that are shown during the lesson.
  4. For students needing social/emotional accommodations, provide them with a partner/teachers aid than can assist the student to a more quite environment for completing the lesson (like the library or study hall).
  5. For students needing cognitive/processing accommodations, allow additional time for each step of the lesson plan.


The handout can be collected by the teacher to assess student completion of the learning objectives as outlined above in the Evaluation portion of the 5 E model. Each learning objective corresponds to particular components of the handout.

Author / Credits

Jamie Esler <JEsler [at]>
Lake City High School
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
2013 PolarTREC Teacher: “Drumlin Formation in Iceland”

File Attachments

Introductory GPR Lesson Slideshow
Student Handout
Answer Key to Student Handout


c. Transfer of energy a. Abilities of technological design b. Understandings about science and technology e. Science and technology in society a. Science as a human endeavor f. Interactions of energy and matter a. Abilities of technological design b. Understandings about science and technology f. Science and technology in local, national, and global challenges

Standards Other

Idaho State Science Content Standards, Grades 8-10

Goal 1.2: Understand Concepts and Processes of Evidence, Models, and Explanations

  • 9-10.B.1.2.1 Use observations and data as evidence on which to base scientific explanations.

Goal 2.3: Understand the Total Energy in the Universe is Constant

  • 8-9. PS.2.3.2* Classify energy as potential and/or kinetic and as energy contained in a field.
  • CL: C: Students will be able to identify different forms of potential and kinetic energy and energy contained in electric, magnetic, or gravitational fields and can identify the organization of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Goal 5.2: Understand the Relationship between Science and Technology
* 9-10.B.5.2.1 Explain how science advances technology.
* 9-10.B.5.2.2 Explain how technology advances science.
* 9-10.B.5.2.3 Explain how science and technology are pursued for different purposes.

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.