Lesson 5: Life at the Top of the World

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Enduring Understanding: What's the point?

In this lesson students will have the opportunity to explore Arctic plants with one of the Canadian Museum of Nature (CMN) scientists.  Students will meet the scientist, learn about her career and research methods, and explore some of the collection of Arctic plants found at the museum.  Through their explorations students will develop an understanding of the biological mechanisms that allow plants to survive in Arctic conditions.

Essential/Guiding Question:

In what ways have Arctic plants developed in order to maximize success in the Arctic climate?

Curriculum Links:

Science, Biology

Lesson Framework:

Time required:

1 class period (could be shortened or extended depending on use of adaptations, enrichments, and extensions)


  • Computer lab or tablets/notebooks/laptop cart with internet access.
  • Method of recording observations and reflections

Lesson Content


This lesson will cover a selection of Arctic plants and look at the adaptations that the plants have made with respect to their environment.  It would be helpful for students to have a basic background in some of the terminology related to plant structure and function.


Bring in a variety of plants or plant specimens and discuss aspects of the plants structures that reflect their natural environment (for example succulents can store large amounts of water because they grow in arid regions).


On the Expedition Arctic website, students will go through the “Team” link and select Jennifer Doubt in order to learn about Life at the Top of the World.  While exploring the page by following along with Jennifer, have students write down observations and reflections. Have students think about the following:

Specific questions:

  • What types of plants grow in the Arctic?
  • What are some characteristics of Arctic plants?
  • How do Arctic plants differ from those in other biomes?
  • What are some of the uses of Arctic plants by Northern peoples?
  • How have plant species evolved to cope with the extreme environment?
  • How has the climate influenced the development of plant life in the Arctic?
  • How might changes in climate affect the current plant life of the Arctic?

General questions:

  • What interested you the most?
  • What surprised you to learn?
  • What is one thing you would like to know more about?

Formative Assessment/Debrief:

Think-Pair-Share (Students are given time to think about their response to a specific question or topic, pair up with a partner and discuss, and then share their collective thoughts with the class or another pair).

  • Based on reflection questions
  • Based on guiding question

Have a class discussion based around reflection questions.

Split into small groups and create a poster answer to guiding question using flipchart paper.


Adaptations and Enrichments

Use a SMART Board to explore the site as a class, in part or in whole.

Have students work in pairs.

Explore more specimens through the “Collection” link on the Expedition Arctic webpage.

Look at pictures and videos of Arctic landscapes using the “Expedition” link.


Expand the activity by using Lesson 2: Explorations in Science to guide learning about scientist’s careers to fulfill career expectations of science curriculum.

Link this lesson to the closer examination of Arctic food webs and trophic structures using Lesson 3: Arctic Food Webs.

Explore Arctic marine organisms using Lesson 4: Arctic Aquatic Life.

Link this lesson to the geology of the Arctic over time using Lesson 6: The Age of Ice

Learn about fossil records and what Arctic fossils can teach us with Lesson 7: Ancient Arctic.

Explore how changes in the global climate are affecting the Arctic, and how these changes affect the rest of the world in Lesson 8: Changing Climate.