Lesson 1: Modeling with Polar Data

How can models be used to enhance our knowledge about unique ecological systems, such as the biological hotspots in the Palmer Deep region?


Models are a useful tool in scientific research, as they allow scientists to make predictions about places they cannot collect data, or data is sparse, due to location. In this lesson, students will examine computer model data to make observations about biological hotspots, as well as determine the value that models add to science.


  • Computers with internet access (1 per pair of students)
  • Method of sharing links for models with student computers

Take Home Message

  • Students will recognize the value of using models in science for providing information that would otherwise be difficult to obtain. Models can allow scientists to go forward or backward in time, study places that are physically inaccessible due to their location or study events that occur on too large/small a scale, or by adding or removing variables gain a better understanding of a system.
  • Students will make observations based on models of varying abiotic factors to determine what is unique about the Palmer Deep region.
    • They will use these observations to see if they can visually identify any unique or special regions that stand out (these will then be defined as biological hotspots).
Engage: Introduction to SWARM and Antarctica

  • Familiarize students with Antarctica (show map, discuss features/conditions/organisms in this ecosystem, assert the importance of studying this region and its impact on the globe)
  • Could also show videos (Introduction to Project SWARM Video)
15 minutes
Explore: Observations about Palmer Deep Using Digital Models

  • Introduce students to the concept of modeling (use provided Google Slides if desired)
  • Break students up into groups and assign each group 1-2 of the models as specified in the slides
  • Allow students time to observe the models and make observations about what they see. These can be added to the blank slides provided in the slideshow.
  • Bring students back together as a class to discuss observations made for each variable
15 minutes
Make Sense: Value that Models Add to Science

  • As a class, ask students the “key discussion questions” that are provided in the notes of slides, or any others you wish to add
    • Be sure to highlight key areas of Palmer Deep that are unique in all of the models, as well as introduce the term “biological hotspots” as provided in the slides
  • Show “Tools of Science” video on Modeling
  • Ask students to Think, Pair, Share to discuss how models can add value to scientific research/what they provide that experiments cannot
10 minutes
Total: 40 minutes


  • Middle and high school students


  • Teachers should familiarize themselves with the Western Antarctic Peninsula region of Palmer Station and specifically the Palmer deep, including location and what is unique about this region and biological hotspots. Go through the provided slides/videos/images to do this
  • Teachers should play all of the models before the students and be comfortable with identifying what the models show, as well as where the hotspots are in this model
    • Go through the provided slides (Instructor and Student), paying close attention to the teacher questions at the bottom of each slide
  • Teachers should read the discussion questions and add others if they feel it is necessary
  • Teachers should prepare student computers to be able to share the links to models. Links are found in PowerPoint and should be assigned to student groups by teachers.

Engage (15 minutes)

Explore (15 minutes)

  • Introduce students to the concept of modeling by showing several examples, discussing what can be learned from each and which examples provide more information
  • Students will make observations while observing the provided models and share out with the class

Make Sense (10 minutes)

NGSS Standards Addressed

Disciplinary Core Ideas

MS-PS3-1 Energy

  • Construct and interpret graphical displays of data to describe the relationships of kinetic energy to the mass of an object and to the speed of an object.
  • Performance Expectation Grade: Middle School (6-8)

MS-PS4-2 Waves and their Applications in Technologies for Information Transfer

  • Develop and use a model to describe that waves are reflected, absorbed, or transmitted through various materials.
  • Performance Expectation Grade: Middle School (6-8)

HS-ETS1-4 Engineering Design

  • Use a computer simulation to model the impact of proposed solutions to a complex real-world problem with numerous criteria and constraints on interactions within and between systems relevant to the problem.
  • Performance Expectation Grade: High School (9-12)

Science and Engineering Practices

  • Asking questions and defining problems
  • Developing and using models
  • Analyzing and interpreting data

Crosscutting Concepts

  • Scale, proportion, and quantity
  • Cause and effect
  • Systems and system models
  • Stability and change

Polar Literacy Principles Addressed

  • Polar Literacy Principle #4: The Polar Regions have productive food webs.
  • Polar Literacy Principle #7: New technologies, sensors and tools — as well as new applications of existing technologies — are expanding scientists’ abilities to study the land, ice, ocean, atmosphere and living creatures of the Polar Regions.

Ocean Literacy Principles Addressed

Climate Literacy Principles Addressed