Brooks River Brown Bears

Brooks River Brown Bears: Inheritance and Variation of Traits

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Students experience the excitement of watching live-streaming video of wild bears on Brooks River in Katmai National Park, Alaska, in order to explore science concepts in the real world. These three lessons, designed for grades 3–5, offer students the opportunity to engage in activities that focus in particular on the inheritance and variation of brown bear traits.


Every summer, the brown bears of Katmai, Alaska converge along the Brooks River to fish for sockeye salmon.


Why are there differences between the ways individual brown bears look and act?


The objectives of these lessons focus on differences between inherited and acquired traits with an emphasis on recognizing patterns, interpreting data, and gathering evidence. The lessons are correlated to Grade 3, 4, and 5 science standards including the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), and Florida Next Generation Sunshine State Standards for Science.


This series of lessons is based on the 5E model of engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate.

Lesson 1: Introducing the Brown Bears

Students find out about the brown bears that fish for salmon along the Brooks River in Katmai National Park, Alaska, and are introduced to the Guiding Question. The class watches a video clip, views photographs, and observes the physical and behavioral differences between bears at different life stages. After learning definitions of traits, students work in pairs to categorize brown bears’ specific traits as being either inherited or acquired.

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Lesson 2: Observing the Brown Bears

Students begin by reviewing and discussing their categorizations of brown bears’ specific traits as being either inherited or acquired. After observing a photograph and video clip, students find out that bears learn (acquire) their fishing techniques. Students observe individual bears on the live bear cam and record their observations on a data sheet. When they are done, the class watches a video clip of bears using different fishing techniques. The lesson concludes with students using what they have learned about bears’ fishing techniques in order to come up with a question they might answer while watching a live cam.

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Lesson 3: Identifying the Brown Bears

Students begin this lesson by sharing the question they wrote at the end of Lesson 2. Then they again use a data sheet to record their observations of individual bears on a live cam from Brooks River. When they are done with the live observations, the class views photographs of four bears that belong to the same family. They identify the inherited and acquired traits of each.

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For background information about brown bears, see the suggested websites and books.


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