Fat Bear Week in the Classroom

A cub in grass walking toward the view
Bear cubs and human cubs alike have a lot to learn from Katmai.

NPS Photo/L. Law

Below are some extension ideas for use in the classroom or at home. These extension concepts are perfect for getting the creative juices flowing on how to incorporate important themes from Katmai’s Fat Bear Week into your class. These ideas are designed for multiple grade levels and subject areas; some ideas build skills in critical thinking, and some are just fun. You are invited to use these and adapt them to your needs.
 

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Extension Concept: Healthy Ecosystem

  • After watching either livestreaming or highlights on the Katmai bear cams on explore.org, talk with students about what elements of the ecosystem can be seen in that footage. Then, discuss with your students what other parts of the ecosystem might be at work in Katmai that aren’t apparent on the camera. Use the Katmai National Park and Preserve website to find out more about the animals, environmental factors, natural features and even a full species list of animals identified at the park. Now, pose questions to your students about the impact on the environment and ecosystem of Katmai and the surrounding area if one of the hallmark species no longer was present. So, what would happen if the salmon didn’t run up Brooks River any longer? What would happen if the bears stopped returning to the area? What about if the water supply become contaminated or changed in quantity (got much higher or lower)? This could be done as a class discussion, group work or assigned research projects/papers.
Grade level (suggested): 3-12
Subject: Science

  • After watching either livestreaming or highlights on the Katmai bear cams on explore.org, have students investigate what it means to have a label of “keystone species” and decide if anything they have seen in these videos would suggest any species qualify for that label in the Katmai National Park and Preserve area.
Grade level (suggested): 3-12
Subject: Science

  • After watching either livestreaming or highlights on the Katmai bear cams on explore.org, talk about one thing that isn’t seen in the ecosystem on these cams: humans (unless, of course, a group of people fishing happen to be seen at some point in the footage!). Discuss with your class what impact humans have on this ecosystem. Remember there are visitors there in person as well as people viewing online, like you and your class! Does the online viewership end up impacting the ecosystem? How? Further the conversation by talking about what best practices visitors can use when visiting the park to minimize their impact. Compare the class results to what Katmai National Park and Preserve has on their website.
Grade level (suggested): 3-12
Subject: Science

  • After watching either livestreaming or highlights on the Katmai bear cams on explore.org, talk with your students about how the nature of Katmai seen on the cameras compares to the area where you live. Do the students find the footage of Katmai to show a healthy ecosystem? Why or why not? Do the students find the area where they live to show a healthy ecosystem? Why or why not? Create some art work (drawings, dioramas, etc.) comparing the view of Katmai to the view the students have of the areas where they live.
Grade level (suggested): K-12
Subject: Art, Science

  • Play “Salmon and Bears” (a variation on “Sharks and Minnows”) where one or two students are chosen to start as the bears and the rest of the students are the salmon. Salmon collect themselves on one side of the playing field with the bear(s) in the middle of the field. The goal of the salmon it to get “upstream” (to the other side of the field) without getting caught by the bear. Bears are interested in catching fish. Any salmon caught by bears (by getting tagged) become bears for the next round. Bears are also after the most fish and other bears are competition for the food they want, so there should be competition among the bears as well, so the true winner of the game is the bear that catches the most salmon (so the moderator should do their best to keep track of a rough score). Repeat rounds until all salmon have been caught. The second winner is the salmon who was able to pass their lineage along the longest by making the most successful runs back and forth up the river. The two winners of the round can start as the two bears for the next game or choose the next game played.
Grade level (suggested): K-12
Subject: Physical Education
 

Extension Concept: Salmon

  • Project the Katmai bear cams on explore.org, bringing up the Falls cam specifically, for the students to see. Have them try to count the number of salmon that you see try to jump up the falls over the course of sixty seconds. Compare the numbers throughout the class to come up with a reasonable count for that time period. Now, how could you use the number you counted to estimate the number of salmon jumping over the course of half an hour? One full hour? One day? How could this information be helpful? This count is something Park Rangers at Katmai National Park and Preserve actually do during their time at the Falls; why do you suppose they keep track of this?
Grade level (suggested): 3-12
Subject: Science

  • Research what “escapement” means and how escapement numbers are calculated. Each area has a different technique they use based on technologies and manpower available, but all rely on a statistical interpretation of the data. Students should find out how escapement is calculated in the Bristol Bay area of Alaska as well as one other location to be assigned by the teacher. Information can be found on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website as well as through the US Fish & Wildlife Service and several locations in the Pacific Northwest (Washington State in particular). This can either be done as a class assignment or as homework presented out during a future class session.
Grade level (suggested): 9-12
Subject: Math

  • Have students look at the actual data collected by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for the Naknek River escapement numbers specifically (these are the numbers for the salmon that could end up in Brooks Camp). There are several years of data available, but using the most recent data would be the most interesting to start this exploration. The data lends itself well to many graph types including a simple time series graph (either by day or by year), an ogive, or a combination ogive and regular line graph where they can see the daily escapement as well as the cumulative at the same time. These numbers are going to be much larger than they are used to using for most of the data, so using technology would probably be a wise decision.
Grade level (suggested): 7-12
Subject: Math

  • Have students use the Alaska Department of Fish and Game escapement numbers to make a dual graph (both on the same coordinate plane), showing the total escapement numbers (an ogive) and the daily escapement numbers (a time series graph) have them analyze the data they are looking at. Are any trends evident? Do the daily escapement numbers suggest anything about what was going on in our area at those times? Did the Naknek River meet the escapement goals set up by ADFG? Is the ogive best described as a linear model? Why or why not? Is the time series graph best described as a linear model? Why or why not? What do you find most interesting about this graph?
Grade level (suggested): 7-12
Subject: Math

  • Have students use the Alaska Department of Fish and Game escapement numbers to create a time series graph based on cumulative totals for as many years as are available from the ADFG website. Then, have students analyze this graph without prompting questions and see what they come up with. Then, have students analyze if this graph shows a general positive or negative slope and have them justify their response. Using points decided upon by the class, get an estimate for the rate of change (making the assumption we are looking at linear data). Then, have students make an estimate for the total escapement for next year, five years from now and ten years from now. After they have calculated this, ask them if the numbers make sense and if they find this estimation to be a reliable calculation (including the inevitable why or why not follow up!).
Grade level (suggested): 9-12
Subject: Math

  • Have students use the Alaska Department of Fish and Game escapement numbers to look into the idea of correlation by using the escapement numbers from each day and the high temperature for that day, and having the students create a scatterplot. Discuss what the relationship looks like, if any exists. Then calculate the linear correlation coefficient and determine if this data seems to have a linear correlation.
Grade level (suggested): 9-12
Subject: Math

  • Have students research art forms used by Natives indigenous to the Bristol Bay region (Yup’ik/Yupiit, Sugpiaq/Alutiiq, Dena’ina/Athabascan) and mirror that in creating artwork focusing on salmon.
Grade level (suggested): 3-12
Subject: Art, History

  • Have students choose one of the life cycle stages of salmon and create a piece of art representing that stage of life for the fish. Then, group the art work into the different stages to either make complete life cycles or showcase them grouped in similar stages, but in progression of the life cycle of the salmon.
Grade level (suggested): 3-12
Subject: Art, Science

  • Using print and/or online resources, students will compare the importance of salmon in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska to other regions of Alaska or other regions of the United States (or in the world for that matter) to see if salmon is as important. Since salmon do travel a long ways up freshwater streams, their impact does go beyond coastal areas even though the greatest commercial impact certainly remains coastal where they are caught. So, are salmon important to interior regions of Alaska or other non-coastal regions? Do other coastal communities find salmon as important as the people of the Bristol Bay region of Alaska?
Grade level (suggested): 7-12
Subject: History, Science

  • Have students look at the life cycle of a salmon to make sure everyone understands what these fish go through in their lifespan and to familiarize themselves with these fish in case they are unaware at all. Students will now investigate what it means to have a label of “keystone species” and if they feel that applies to salmon in the Bristol Bay area of Alaska. After learning the definition, students will use personal knowledge, knowledge gain from any other extensions done about salmon in other classes as well as print and/or online resources to inform their decision, backed up with empirical evidence.
Grade level (suggested): 5-12
Subject: English Language Arts, History, Science

  • The impact of salmon can be found well beyond the humans and animals of the area, many of which enjoy eating the salmon, in the trees! Students will do a case study on an article about how the nitrogen trees feed on is largely from salmon (40 to 80 percent within miles of salmon-rich rivers) and the salmon signature isotope is found in the Rocky Mountains. Good resources for a case study can be found online, including articles from Alaska Department of Fish and Game, KQED (a PBS affiliate), and Hakai magazine.
Grade level (suggested): 5-12
Subject: Science

  • When the salmon “run” to their spawning grounds, their trips are fraught with peril. Create an obstacle course for students to participate in showing some of the hardships they face. First, salmon have to get through commercial fishing fleets and their nets. Then, salmon transition from the saltwater of the ocean to freshwater streams and undergo physiological transitions. Along the path to their spawning grounds, they may come across rapids filled with rocks and shallow water or even have to jump up a water fall, while swimming upstream the entire time. A variety of other animals find them to be prey, from eagles to wolves to bears among others. Sport fishermen also try to capture salmon along their journey.
Grade level (suggested): K-12
Subject: Physical Education
 

Extension Concept: Brown Bears

  • Bring up the Katmai bear cams on explore.org for the students to see and choose a cam with bears easily visible (usually either the Brooks Falls, Brooks Falls low, Riffles, Lower River or River Watch). Have students keep track of how many bears they see on the cam. For each bear, have the students write down things about the bear that they think would help them identify the bear if they were to see them again. Feel free to give as much or as little instructional help to the students in what things they might want to look for, including physical traits (scars, head/ear shape, length of legs), fishing techniques, whether or not they have cubs. After a set period of time, have the students share our what they identified and have them compare notes on what they identified. Biologists working at Katmai National Park and Preserve maintain records on all the bears they identify over the season and you can learn more about how they do that in their bear FAQ (question #23).
Grade level (suggested): K-12
Subject: Science

  • After watching the Katmai bear cams on explore.org, students should notice bears have different techniques to catch fish. Either during class time or for an assignment outside of class, have students find as many different fishing techniques as they can and have them write out descriptions of each technique and come up with some descriptive name for each technique. Where are the bears when they are fishing? How do they go about catching the fish? How successful do the different types appear to be? You can see Katmai National Park and Preserve’s descriptions on the bear FAQ (question #5).
Grade level (suggested): 3-12
Subject: English Language Arts, Science

  • Make sure students can access the Bears of Brooks River book and have them find bears that are known to be from the same family. Have students list any traits that they find family members have in common as well as differences between them. Also have students write down anything they see about individual bears that might help them identify that bear if they were to see them on the Katmai bear cams on explore.org. Use these observations from students to talk about the difference between inherited traits (head/ear/body size/shape, length of legs, fur color) with acquired traits (scars, for instance).
Grade level (suggested): 1-12
Subject: Science

  • Have students count the number of breaths they take in a minute, and what their heart beats per minute are after resting and after exercise. Now, have them watch the Katmai bear cams on explore.org and talk about what they think the numbers would be for those same measurements for the brown bears. Typically, respirations in bears are around 6 – 10 breaths per minute and have a heart rate of about 40 – 50 beats per minute. Bears are fattening up for their winter torpor, so talk with students about what might happen to those numbers once the bears are in their dens for the winter. Now, their breaths decrease to about one breath per minute and a heart rate of only 8 – 19 beats per minute! You can find more information about the physiology of brown bears at this NPS site, and about hibernation from the Katmai National Park and Preserve blog.
Grade level (suggested): K-12
Subject: Math, Physical Education, Science

  • Have students keep track of the food they eat over the course of a day, writing down the calories of the food in particular. Have them total up how many calories they ate during the course of that day. Then, have the students watch the Katmai bear cams on explore.org and talk about what the bears seem to be eating and how the calorie intake between humans and bears might be different. Knowing bears can eat more than 30 salmon per day and salmon contain about 4,500 calories, have the students work out the number of calories consumed by some brown bears at Katmai National Park and Preserve and compare to their own numbers. For more information, see the bear FAQ (questions #9 & #29).
Grade level (suggested): 1-12
Subject: Math, Science
 

Extension Concept: Other

  • Use the Katmai National Park social media posts for Fat Bear Week to focus on alliteration and using context clues to define words. Give students the text from different posts of your choice and have them highlight or underline the parts showing alliteration. Either identify or have students identify words that will need defining and use context clues to try to define those words. There are some tough ones in here! If they are stuck on any words and can’t figure them out, actual dictionaries are encouraged.

Grade level (suggested): 2-10
Subject: English Language Arts

 
  • 9/29: Welcome to Fat Bear Week. Round One: A matchup of the mammoth mamas. Bear 435 Holly, the Queen of Corpulence, confronts bear 128 Grazer, the dominant doyen of the Falls. Can the bossy babe 128 upset the 2019 chill champion 435?

  • 9/29: Round Two: A Battle Royale between two husky hunks, 634 Popeye and 151 Walker. Can 634 Popeye’s bulging biceps beat 151 Walker’s glorious glutes?

  • 9/29: The fierce and gutsy 128 Grazer grabbed the glory to gain victory in round one of #FatBearWeek. While 151 Walker, more orb than bear, blinded the competition with the breadth of his booty.

  • 9/30: Today’s first matchup: Not only growing out but also growing up, these fledgling fisher-bears deserve plaudits for their pudginess. Can the gregarious goofball 812 garner enough support to crush the spirited subadult and blonde beauty 131?

  • 9/30: Today’s second matchup: In the battle between seasoned seniors, #FatBearWeek’s first champion 480 Otis faces off against 402, the Falls’ most fecund female. Will 480’s “eat more, move less” mantra make for a win? Or will 402’s year as a stout, solo sow with a surplus of fat single her out?

  • 9/30: Who says you can’t pig out and perpetually play? 812. This frolicsome furball ate enough to advance in the arena of auspicious eaters. But youth isn’t everything. Nearly toothless, 480 Otis still had plenty of bite to devour the competition. Can he eat his way to a fourth #FatBearWeek crown?

  • 10/1: In the competition of floof vs fur-ocity, #FatBearJunior Champ 132’s spring cub faces 128 Grazer, who is famously known for routing her rivals. Young and hungry for salmon, mom’s milk, and a second 2021 title, can 132’s cub intimidate this pudgy pugnacious mom? Or will this mighty mama teach this cub a lesson?

  • 10/1: Get ready, it’s the heavy hunk vs. the chonky Chunk in the matchup of 151 Walker and 32 Chunk. Can 151 Walker’s substantial silhouette eclipse 32 Chunk’s voluminous visage? Weigh in on the battle of the bodacious beardonkadonks.

  • 10/1: In the challenge of blimp-like beardonkadonks, 151 Walker walked away with a walloping win. And in an unexpected upset, 132’s cute cub crushed the savvy sow 128.

  • 10/2: Once charming chums, now battling bros, these brothers from different litters duel for dominance to become the paterfamilias of the prodigious 402 progeny. 503’s formidable frame forges him into a force to be feared. Kid brother 812, not far behind in the growth of his girth, gives 503 cause to pause.

  • 10/2: Lardaceous lords of legendary proportions, virtuoso victors of tournaments past, 747 and 480 Otis cross swords in this historic bout. Only those with the sapience of sages can decide handily. Will the Earl of Avoirdupois 747 survive this round against three-time #FatBearWeek champion 480 Otis? Or will 480 beat this Brobdingnagian bear?

  • 10/2: Little bro beats big bro in suspenseful sibling squabble as 812 proved you can make merry and meanwhile masticate masterfully. And despite his enduring edentulism, 480 Otis gorged and gourmandized his way from thin to the win.

  • 10/3: Fat Bear Junior Champ, 132’s cub, is chomping at the bit to best the commodious caboose of 151 Walker in this first semi-final match. Will 151’s ballooned-up booty bulldoze the baby bear’s chances at the championship? Or will this mega-moppet make its way to the finals?

  • 10/3: Bulbous, broad-bottomed bear, 151 Walker bowled over his competition to flatten the floof and forge ahead to the finals. Can 151 maintain his mojo and close out the competition to claim the crown?

  • 10/4: Don’t let 812’s juvenescence juke you, his moxie might move him on in Monday’s match-up. In his office day and night, 480 Otis, patiently pursues pabulum to pad his paunch. Will 812’s youthful zeal transcend 480’s tranquil technique?

  • 10/4: Patience paid off for the pro 480 Otis. Obviously not past his prime, the practiced piscator pushed the plebe 812 off the bracket. Can this sedulous senior summon his savvy to win his fourth #FatBearWeek championship?

  • 10/5: This is it: The climactic clash that culminates in the crowning of the king of the capacious creatures of Katmai! Can 480 Otis’ titanic tummy topple 151 Walker’s whopper of a beardonkadonk in this epic battle of the bulge?

  • 10/5: The people have spoken and a champion has been crowned! The portly patriarch of paunch persevered to pulverize the Baron of Beardonkadonk in the final matchup of #FatBearWeek 2021. 480 Otis can now boast a bevy of bests with this famed fourth 1st place finish. As we celebrate his win, like a true champion 480 is still hard at work chowing down.

Last updated: November 2, 2021

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