Lunar and Planetary Institute

Polar Bears Go With the Floes

Polar Bears Go with the Floes Board Game


In this 45-60 minute "high-stakes" board game, everyone wins or everyone loses! As they play, groups of three to four children ages 8 to 13 build an understanding of how human actions impact global change. As teams, children play a game in which chance and choice determine the fate of a lone polar bear on an ice floe!

What's the Point?

  • Children determine concrete actions they — along with their families and schools — can undertake as global stewards.
  • Human actions have a tremendous impact on the global environment and those ecosystems it supports, particularly the fragile Arctic and Antarctic ecosystems.
  • Melting sea ice (floes) not only affects aquatic ecosystems, but mammals and birds and other organisms as well
  • The choices we make now will affect our world, either positively or negatively, in the future — but not all choices are easy. Some choices require us to make changes in the way we live.


For each group of three to four children:

For the facilitator:



1. To introduce the activity, invite the children to play a "high stakes" board game — Polar Bears Go With the Floes — in which everyone wins or everyone loses! They will work together as a team to determine whether or not to save a polar bear on an Arctic sea ice floe.

  • Do they know — or recall from what they learned in Know Your Poles! — where polar bears live? Polar bears live in the Arctic, in the north polar region.
  • Do they know what an ice floe is? An ice floe is a thin, flat piece of floating ice.

2. Prompt a discussion about what is happening to ice on our Earth.

  • Based on their observations in the activities they have completed, what do the children recall is happening to the ice sheets, glaciers, and sea ice on Earth? They are melting/getting smaller.
  • What is causing this to happen? Earth's temperatures are getting warmer.
  • Why are Earth's temperatures getting warmer? They are getting warmer, in part, because CO2 and other greenhouse gases are increasing in our atmosphere. When we drive cars using gasoline or burn coal for electricity, we add carbon dioxide.

Share that the sea ice the thin layer of ice that forms from the chilled ocean water — in the Arctic is getting thinner and smaller and melting earlier each spring.

  • What animals living in the Arctic might be affected by the sea ice getting smaller? The children may say whales and seals and polar bears. If they name animals that belong on the tundra (for example caribou), let them know that these animals do live in the arctic, but not on or around the floating sea ice. If they say penguins, remind them that penguins live in Antarctica, not the Arctic (and penguins are much happier because they have never met a polar bear!).
  • How might the changes to sea ice affect the polar bears or other animals? Share with the children that polar bears rely on sea ice to have dens where they hibernate and where their cubs are born. Sometimes these dens can be several hundred miles from the coastline. They also use the sea ice to hunt seals. If the sea ice melts too much, it will not support their weight as they wait for seals to come out of the water. If the sea ice melts too early, they will not be able to hunt at all when they come out of hibernation. With the decreasing ice, polar bears are having to swim farther distances to move from floe to floe.
  • Is there anything that we can do — as individuals — to help decrease the amount of carbon dioxide-going into the atmosphere? Some children might suggest that we drive less. Others may have ideas about turning lights off or using fluorescent light bulbs.

Help the children make the connection between our use of energy and our use of fossil fuels. Often our electricity is generated by burning coal, so every time we turn on a light bulb or turn on the air conditioner in the summer, we are using electricity that was produced by burning fossil fuels and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. By making careful choices in our daily lives — even some that do not seem connected to directly using fossil fuels, such as recycling or composting — we can make a difference to the entire Earth — and to the polar regions!

3. Divide the children into groups of three to four players and distribute the game board, Rules of the Game sheets, game pieces, cards, puzzle pieces, die, and polar bears. Show the children how to set up their boards, puzzles, and bears, and invite them to choose their game pieces.

4. Review the Rules of the Game with the children and invite them to begin to play.

In Conclusion

5. Regroup with the children and invite them to share things they can do to help reduce global warming. Encourage them to think about what they read in the game.

  • What are they doing already? If they shower, how long are their showers? Do they recycle? Do they do their own laundry? What kind of light bulb do they have in their lamps in their rooms? Do they ask for a car ride to places where they could safely walk or bicycle?
  • What might they be able to do? Can they check that their water heater is insulated and not wasting energy by losing unnecessary heat? Can they speak with their families to discuss lowering the heat in the winter or raising the temperature a bit in the summer?

It is important to let the children know that they — not just adults — can make a difference and help decrease carbon dioxide emissions by making careful choices and by encouraging others to do the same.

Last updated
October 1, 2009

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