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The Bear Essentials

Curriculum Guide for Teachers

The Bear Essentials Curriculum Guide includes nine STEM lessons designed to help teach ecological and conservation concepts, meet National Science standards, and engage students in the scientific process.

  • Targets youth in grades K-8

  • Addresses STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) goals

  • Meets National Science Standards

Because The Bear Essentials is intended for teachers and other educators, and includes answer keys,  The Bear Essentials is passcode protected.  To download your free copy of The Bear Essentials, please contact Bear Trust: and provide the name and address of your school or conservation organization.  We will verify your teaching status (or education outreach status) and send you the passcode.

After you have your passcode, then click on the link below to download your Bear Essentials.  

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You can download these documents and print them out for support during class.

To request the passwords to answer keys, as a teacher, email

1. Bear DNA and Evolution
2. What's for Dinner?
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3. Teeth as Clues
4. Bear Diets
5. It's a Bears Life
6. Home Range and Habit
7. Where did all the Bear's Go?
8. How Many Bears
9. Living with Bears
Full Curriculum Guide

Lessons in The Bear Essentials include the following:

Lesson 1: Students practice reading cladograms using Dr. Seuss characters, construct a simple cladogram of bear species based on differences in DNA code, and use a cladogram of bear speciation based on molecular DNA data to answer questions about species relatedness and evolution.

Lesson 2: Students learn about the different food resources that bears eat by examining figures and tables from scientific studies on wild bears. Students compare their own ideas about which foods are important to bears with results from studies on bears. Students play the “Bear Food Game” that provides them an opportunity to “forage” for bear foods and determine which foods will meet nutritional needs.

Lesson 3: Students listen to a story about a science mystery involving an animal skull. They learn how to use dental patterns and other characteristics of mammalian skulls to identify species. They use a simplified dichotomous key to identify a bear skull, and other skulls (drawings or real). Students then infer each animal’s basic diet based on their dentition.

Lesson 4: Students work through the scientific process: after reading summaries of the introduction and methods sections of a scientific paper on grizzly bear diets, students develop research questions, hypotheses, and predictions related to the research. Students test their predictions by graphing real data from the scientific study. Students draw their own conclusions and share their results.

Lesson 5: Students listen to the story of a grizzly bear and her cubs during the cubs’ first 2 years of life, making their own observations and generating questions about the bears’ behavior and use of habitat. They then explore concepts presented in the book by creating an ecological web of the bears’ environment. Older students create a simple graph, charting cub growth over time. They compare cub growth to human baby growth. They complete an “Anticipation Guide” of their understanding of key concepts before and after the lesson.

Lesson 6: Students work through the scientific process. For Part 1, students develop research questions about habitat use by bears, turn research questions into hypotheses and predictions, and collect data on habitat at bear locations (paper bears!) in the schoolyard or nearby area. Students graph their results from their “field study”, including information about habitat use and habitat availability. For Part 2, students graph real data from a scientific study on habitat use by wild bears and report conclusions. For Part 3, students estimate home ranges for male and female black bears using hypothetical data and Google Earth.

Lesson 7: Students listen to descriptions of encounters with, and evidence of, grizzly bears from the journals of Lewis and Clark, discuss those encounters, and draw their locations on a map. They then draw the historic and current ranges of grizzlies in North America based on information provided by their teacher and discuss the differences. Students graph the changes in estimated population numbers from 1800 to the present.

Lesson 8: Students apply the concepts of ratio and proportion to estimate the total number of “polar bears” in their hypothetical study. Using mark-recapture methods, students learn how to estimate the population size (the number of animals in a given area). In the classroom, students work through a mark-recapture exercise, estimating population size in 6 different samples. Students discuss some underlying principles of population ecology, as well as some assumptions that must be met to make this mark-recapture method a reliable measure of population size.

Lesson 9: Students graph data from a scientific study on human-bear conflicts in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and discuss the study. As a class, students discuss the bear-human conflicts in their area, including ways that conflicts could be minimized or avoided. Students conduct independent research to identify ways to minimize human-bear conflicts.

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