CLN > Climate Change Education Projects > Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears: Integrating Science and Literacy in K-5 Classrooms

Beyond Penguins Logo Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears: Integrating Literacy and Science in K-5 Classrooms

Principal Investigator: Kimberly Lightle
Project Website:
National Science Foundation Grant #0951429

Project Description

Blockbuster movies and even soft drink commercials have made our planet's polar regions and their inhabitants popular culture superstars. At the same time many people have either been confronted with what they believe to be climate change weather events, or find themselves wondering about how melting polar ice sheets and rising ocean temperatures might affect their lives in the future. Despite this onslaught of data, scientific discovery, drama, and speculation, misconceptions about the polar regions and their importance abound.

Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears, an online professional development magazine for elementary teachers, focuses on preparing teachers to teach science concepts in an already congested curriculum by integrating inquiry-based science with literacy teaching. Such an integrated approach can increase students' science knowledge, academic language, reading comprehension, and written and oral discourse abilities. Each issue reflects the four strands of science proficiency (as described in Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8) - by providing scientific explanations and including lessons that ask students to generate scientific evidence and to reflect on and participate in the processes of science.

Launched in March 2008, each thematic issue relates elementary science topics and concepts to the real-world context of the polar regions and includes standards-based science and content-rich literacy learning across five departments (In the Field: Scientists at Work, Professional Learning, Science and Literacy, Across the Curriculum, and Polar News and Notes). The magazine has covered many common earth and space science topics (geography, seasons, rocks, minerals and fossils, the water cycle, energy, erosion) as well as plants, animals, and other life science topics. The indigenous peoples of the Arctic, climate change, and polar research and explorers round out twenty issues.

In addition to highlighting and contextualizing existing digital resources such as science and literacy lesson plans, the magazine also includes multimedia such as images, video clips, and podcasts. A monthly column, Featured Story, provides a nonfiction article written for students and available at three grade levels as text, printable books, and electronic books with narration. The Virtual Bookshelf, written by a children's librarian, recommends quality children's literature to complement and extend the science activities. A regular column details commonly held misconceptions and provides assessment tools for use classroom use. In addition to the online magazine, users can create and share knowledge and connect with colleagues through the blog and social network.

Evaluation efforts for Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears have been positive. Science, literacy, and education experts asked to review cyberzine issues commented that it "provides a substantive dialogue regarding how integrating science-literacy instruction can enhance teaching and learning" and that articles and ancillary resources were accurate, developmentally appropriate, and easily accessible for teachers and students. Reviewers also described the web site as "beautifully designed, [containing] an enormous amount of helpful, practical information and...very well written." Preliminary pilot testing demonstrated that teachers felt they increased their own content knowledge about the polar regions as well as science in general, changed the science curriculum in their classroom and the ways in which they used educational technology, and gained confidence in teaching science to their students. Additionally, students whose teachers participated in pilot testing benefited as well. Preliminary testing indicated statistically significant changes in third grade students' attitudes towards science. Following exposure to the Beyond Penguins materials and activities, they agreed less with the statement "Science is mostly memorizing facts" and more with the statement "Writing is important in science." Beyond Penguins also received an "A+" rating from the Education World web site in January 2009. In January of 2011, Beyond Penguins won the AAAS Science Prize for Online Resources in Education (SPORE).

Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears, funded by the National Science Foundation, brings together a team of collaborators including an

interdisciplinary team from Ohio State University College of Education and Human Ecology; the Ohio Resource Center for Mathematics, Science, and Reading; the Byrd Polar Research Center; The Columbus Center for Science and Industry (COSI); the Upper Arlington Public Library; and the National Science Digital Library (NSDL). The Evaluation and Assessment Center at Miami University in Oxford, OH is conducting ongoing project evaluation including teacher focus groups, pilot testing, and usability testing that informs the development process.

Magazine homepage:

Contact Information:

Kimberly Lightle
Director of Digital Libraries
College of Education and Human Ecology
School of Teaching and Learning
The Ohio State University
1929 Kenny Rd., Suite 400
Columbus, OH 43210

Photo credits: Icebergs in McMurdo Sound, off the coast of Antarctica. Photo courtesy of Kris Kuenning, National Science Foundation. Researcher and penguin, Researcher Anne Petzel watches an emperor penguin on the sea ice near Cape Royds, Ross Island, Antarctica. Original image in US Antarctic Program Photo Library, Photo courtesy of the United States (US) Antarctic Program, National Science Foundation. Please see for further photo usage and photographer information. Autumn colors, with the Brooks Range in the background, near the Sagavanirktok River, Alaska. This area is part of the Arctic Long Term Ecological Research (ARC LTER) site. Photo courtesy of Jim Laundre, Arctic LTER.