As a photojournalist working in some of the world’s most remote environments, Paul Nicklen faces incredible hardships and danger in pursuit of powerful, close-up images of iconic wildlife. His early years on Canada’s Baffin Island, spent growing up alongside the Inuit, taught Nicklen an intense love of nature; an understanding of harsh, icy ecosystems; and survival skills essential to his work. Polar Obsession chronicles his work in the Arctic and Antarctic and the challenges that face the species that live in these special, isolated regions.

Use the resources in this collection to prepare your students for their upcoming National Geographic Live! student matinee experience. Use the resources before the show to introduce students to Paul Nicklen and the topics (ecosystems, wildlife, conservation, photography) that they will discuss during the show. Use the resources after the show to extend the learning.  

Before the Show

  • Have students review Paul Nicklen’s biography using the links in the Explore More tab on this page.
  • Download and print the provided maps of Antarctica, Polar Bear Territory, or use MapMaker Interactive Nunavut, to explore the areas where Paul Nicklen works.
  • Have students read Arctic, North Pole, and South Pole encyclopedic entries. Lead a class discussion on the Earth’s extreme polar environments. After reading, ask students to compare the environments of the North and South Poles using a Venn Diagram. Ask: What kinds of ecosystems and species can be found in these places, and how are they threatened by human activities?
  • Watch the Searching for the Spirit Bear video in the Explore More tab to familiarize students with Paul Nicklen’s process of searching for, following, and documenting bears. Afterward, have students compile a list of some of his techniques. Ask students: Why do you think Nicklen goes about photography in this way? In what ways do Nicklen's techniques address issues of safety and conservation?
  • Use the Arctic Adaptation activities to engage students in examining the Arctic environment and the ways in which animals have adapted—both biologically and behaviorally—to live in it.
  • Use the Ocean Maps activity to learn about features of the oceans areas where Paul Nicklen works.
  • Provide each student with a KWL Chart. Introduce the program they will attend and who the speaker is, and offer a brief description of what the speaker’s topic(s) will be. Have students fill out the What I Know and What I Want to Know columns of the KWL Chart. Have them fill out the What I Learned column after the show.
  • Use the graphic organizer collection to select a graphic organizer to help your students organize their questions and new knowledge before, during, and after the program. For example:
    • Download and print the T Chart. Have students label the left column Questions I Have and the right column Answers, and then conduct research about the speaker and speaker topic ahead of the program. Have students record answers to their questions during or after the program. Have students conduct research to complete any unanswered questions for homework. Have each student share a question and answer with the class.
    • Download and print the provided Five Ws Chart. Have each student bring their copy to the matinee program and take notes. Have students share and discuss their notes after the show.

 After the Show

  • Use the Explorer Comparisons worksheet and have a class discussion to help students make connections between themselves and Paul Nicklen. Distribute the worksheet to students before the presentation and review the directions with them. Review any terms with which they are unfamiliar. After the presentation, have students share the notes that they took during the show. Have a class discussion about attitudes and skills and how students demonstrate them in their everyday lives. Have students record their personal examples on the worksheet.
  • Review the continents, countries, or planets that the speaker presented. Ask: What continents, countries, and areas does the speaker work in? Have younger students imagine that these places were characters in the stories that Paul Nicklen shared. Ask: What role did place play in Paul Nicklen’s story? Why was location important to the story? How did the characteristics of the place influence the story? Note: You may need to introduce the concept of place for your students before they can answer and discuss these questions.
  • Discuss and define any unfamiliar terminology that the speaker used. Ask: What vocabulary words did Paul Nicklen use that were new to you? Invite volunteers to write the words on the board, and have the class define them as a group using information they learned from the speaker or through research. If desired, have students record unfamiliar terminology during the show on one half of a T Chart. Then, have them write the definitions on the other side following this class discussion.
  • Have a class discussion about the attitudes National Geographic explorers embody. Ask: What attitudes did Paul Nicklen talk about today? In what ways does Paul Nicklen demonstrate curiosity, responsibility, empowerment, and persistence in his work? Why do you think these attitudes are important for explorers? Students can use their Five Ws Chart for reference and a graphic organizer to organize their ideas.
  • Ask students to draw a representation of how climate change threatens an Arctic or Antarctic species and its habitat. Make a classroom gallery and have students explain their work. Using the gallery as inspiration, have a whole-class brainstorm on how students can make changes or support the speaker’s work. Ask: What, if any, call to action did the speaker make? How can you implement any changes in your day-to-day life? What can we work on together as a group?
Arctic shrinkage

phenomenon of climate change in the Arctic, including warming temperatures, the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, and a loss of sea ice.


all the different kinds of living organisms within a given area.

black bear

large animal (mammal) native to North America.


management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.


community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.


organism threatened with extinction.


increase in the average temperature of the Earth's air and oceans.

grizzly bear

large mammal native to North America.


environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.


thick layer of glacial ice that covers a large area of land.


people and culture native to the Arctic region of Canada, Greenland, and the U.S. state of Alaska.

leopard seal

carnivorous marine mammal native to the Antarctic.

marine biology

study of life in the ocean.

marine mammal

an animal that lives most of its life in the ocean but breathes air and gives birth to live young, such as whales and seals.


bird native to the Antarctic.

polar bear

large mammal native to the Arctic.


pure or unpolluted.


cold, treeless region in Arctic and Antarctic climates.