Lesson Plan

Bears of Glacier Bay Lesson One: Name That Bear

Mother black bear and cub on beach.

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Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Lesson Duration:
90 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
6.RI.1, 6.RI.2, 6.RI.7, 7.RI.1, 7.RI.2, 8.RI.1, 8.RI.2
Additional Standards:
National Science Standards: NS.5-8.1  Science as Inquiry, NS.5-8.3 Life Science
Thinking Skills:
Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.


*What are the differences between brown bears and black bears?
*How does bear growth, development, and maturation compare to humans?


Our "Bears of Glacier Bay" curricula unit is divided into three lesson plans, each taking one class session to complete. They are part of our "Middle School Scientists" series that explore the fascinating research and resources of Glacier Bay National Park. This is the first lesson in that series. 

Glacier Bay National Park is home to brown/grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) and black bears (Ursus americanus). Black bears are found primarily in the forested regions of the lower bay, while brown bears live mainly in the open, recently deglaciated regions of the upper bay. 

Brown bears and black bears are closely related, but have many different traits that help distinguish the two species. Brown bears are usually larger than black bears and have a prominent shoulder hump, subdued ears, and longer, straighter claws. Their long claws are useful in digging roots, but not effective to climb trees. Black bears lack a shoulder hump, have prominent ears, and short, curved claws. They live in forested areas where climbing trees is their best method of defense. A large male brown bear may weigh up to 1400 pounds compared to 300 pounds for a large male black bear. Both have an exceptionally acute sense of smell, while their eyesight is similar to that of humans. One of the most distinguishable features of both species is their face profile. Black bears have a straight face profile and brown bears have a more dish shaped profile.

Color is not a reliable key in differentiating these bears because black and brown bears have many color phases. Black bears can range in color from jet black and cinnamon to white, while brown bear colors range from dark brown to very light blond.  

Both brown bears and black bears spend the winter months in a state of hibernation called torpor. They enter this dormancy period in late fall when food availability drops. In the spring, bears emerge to feed on the abundance of food available. 

Through careful observation and scientific research, park biologists gain an understanding of how bears interact with their environment, each other, and humans. This knowledge allows them to make the best management decisions to protect bears, humans, and the habitat.  


*Teacher should read backgorund information, investigation, and preview video. 

*Teacher must make one copy per student of "Bears Video and Vocabulary Sheet", "Measuring Up Chart", and "Bear Photo Gallery Sheet" 

*Teacher should print off own copy of "Measuring Up Chart Key" and "Bear Photo Gallery Sheet Key" 


Use during the hook or preview to engage students.

Download Bears Video and Vocabulary Sheet

Use during the investigation.

Download Bears Biology and Measuring Up Chart Sheet

Use to check the answers of the "Measuring Up Chart" and assess comprehension.

Download Measuring Up Chart KEY

Distribute to students during investigation.

Download Bear Photo Gallery Sheet

Use to discuss photo gallery with students during the investigation.

Download Bear Photo Gallery Sheet KEY

Give to students prior to any instruction or investigation to measure understanding. The post test is to be given at the end of all three "Bears of Glacier Bay" lessons to measure growth.

Download Bears of Glacier Bay Pre Test

Use to check pre test prior to any instruction or investigation to measure understanding.

Download Bears of Glacier Bay Pre Test KEY

Lesson Hook/Preview

Optional: Before any intruction or investigation, give students the pre-assessment to complete. 

*Pass out the "Bears Video and Vocabulary" sheet to each student.

*Give them a few minutes to answer the questions prior to watching the video. Show students the video Bears in Glacier Bay. The video highlights current research in Glacier Bay National Park as researcher Tania Lewis interacts with local middle school students. The interaction is question and answer format, allowing time to stop and start the video to solicit answers from students.

*As they are watching, the students should write down the researcher's answers to the questions.

*In conclusion, review what the students already knew about bears, what they learned about bears and how scientists study bears.  


Investigation (30 minutes): 

  1. Begin a discussion with the students about the differences between brown bears and black bears. Have the students look at the Bear Photo Gallery Sheet. Have students identify each bear as either a brown bear or black bear. Ask students to think how different physical traits help each species survive.  
  2. Ask students what they think bears weigh, how tall they are when walking and standing, how long sows are pregnant, how many cubs might be born at the same time, and how long they live. Write some of their answers on the board. 
  3. Following the discussion, hand out the Bear Biology Handout and Measuring Up Chart. Have students read the comparative information in the Bear Biology Handout to help them complete the chart. Students will weigh themselves and measure their height to obtain accurate data. They may have to estimate their weight at birth, and at one year of age, if not known. Obtaining this information could also be assigned as homework prior to the investigation.  
  4. Discuss the student's results and ask them to comment on the similarities and differences between bears and people. 
  5. Using a yard stick, have a student mark out the sizes of bears standing up compared to a human. You can start by tracing a student against the chalkboard or wall and then putting a piece of tape above or below to reflect the sizes of the two bears standing up. Are they surprised? If space and time allows, have the students work in pairs and do this on the sidewalk or asphalt with chalk.  
    6. Use the data in the chart to construct a graph that compares the growth of brown bears, black bears, and humans. Begin with the weight at birth, weight at one year, and weight as an adult. Have students record the results in their journals or on notebook paper.  
Explanation (10 minutes): 

7. After students are finished graphing their data, ask them to make a hypothesis about "Why do bears and humans mature at different rates?" Allow them to talk with a partner for five minutes to help develop their thought processes and understanding of the scientific method.

8. After the five minute exchange, have students share their thoughts with the class and each write their hypothesis in their science journal.


*Omnivore - An animal or person that eats food of both plant and animal origin.

*Maturity - Being fully developed physically; full-grown.

*Torpor - A state of physical or mental inactivity; lethargy.

Assessment Materials

Bears of Glacier Bay Post Assessment

This assessment should be given after all three "Bears of Glacier Bay" lessons to check for understanding. A pre-assessment is included in the lesson materials if teachers desire to measure growth. The pre-assessment should be given prior to any instruction or investigation.

Bears of Glacier Bay Post Test

Download Assessment

Rubric/Answer Key

Bears of Glacier Bay Post Assessment

Use to check for understanding of the post assessment.

Bears of Glacier Bay Post Test Key

Download Rubric/Answer Key

Supports for Struggling Learners

*Heterogenous groups for the investigation and explaination. 

*Highlighted copies of the "Bear Biology" reading 

*Pause video during hook to allow students to complete questions and check for understanding. 

Enrichment Activities

*Is it a black bear, brown bear? The two species can easily be confused. Use the "Brown vs. Black" video clip (https://www.nps.gov/glba/naturescience/bear-identification.htm) located on the park website to highlight several identifiable characteristics to help students decide. For fun, have students take the "Bear Identification Quiz" at the end of the program to see if they are on their way to becoming a bear researcher!

Additional Resources

Official Glacier Bay National Park Website:

Alaska Department of Fish and Game - Wildlife Notebook Series:http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=educators.notebookseries

International Association for Bear Research and Management:

Free education lessons and downloads from WildBC:                                                           

Related Lessons or Education Materials

Bears of Glacier Bay Lesson 2: What's the Scoop on Poop? 
Bears of Glacier Bay Lesson 3: Be Bear Aware

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Last updated: January 6, 2017