Subjects & Disciplines
- synthesize information from notes to make progress toward unit project goals; and
- celebrate the progress of their team and their class.
- Develop and revise an initial model to hypothesize how plastics reach Midway Island.
- Question how plastic pollution can be transported vast distances across the ocean to distant ecosystems.
- Generate ideas for their unit project by examining issues of National Geographic magazine.
- Observe how the rotation of Earth affects surface ocean currents.
- Apply knowledge of current patterns to predict the destinations of floating rubber ducks.
- visualize and quantify the difference between macroplastics and microplastics;
- understand the difference between biodegradation and photodegradation; and
- synthesize information learned about plastic production, disposal, and movement into a cohesive storyline.
- Project-based learning
- Cooperative learning
- Experiential learning
- Hands-on learning
- Lab procedures
- Role playing
- Visual instruction
- 21st Century Student Outcomes
- 21st Century Themes
Critical Thinking Skills
- Geographic Skills
Science and Engineering Practices
- Analyzing and interpreting data
- Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
- Developing and using models
- Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information
- Planning and carrying out investigations
Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices
What You’ll Need
The resources are also available at the top of the page.
- Internet Access: Required
- Internet access: Required
- Tech Setup: 1 computer per classroom, 1 computer per pair, Projector, Speakers
Prior to starting this unit, divide your students into publishing teams consisting of four students each and arrange desks in groups of four. Use any process you are comfortable with to select these publishing teams. For the majority of the activities in this unit, students will be expected to work within their publishing teams, although there are several jigsaw activities in which students form other group arrangements. Scholastic provides this list of eight different ways to group students.
Designate a place in your classroom where publishing teams will keep their folders, which contain all of their work-in-progress for the final project. You may also wish to designate a place in your classroom where students can peruse copies of National Geographic magazines as they look for inspiration to design their own magazines.
Finally, choose a place in your classroom that can be used as an interactive word wall, with space to post up to 50 clearly visible vocabulary words over the course of the unit.
Coriolis Earth should be printed in advance on cardstock, with scissors and tape provided for students to assemble their miniature Earths. You also need a way to clean up any spilled water, such as towels and a basin or sink.
Make sure that the classroom space is prepared for the plastics audit. Students may need to move throughout the room and move objects around to accomplish this activity. Provide time at the end of class for cleanup.
In this activity, students physically act out processes that affect plastic movement and degradation. Therefore, ensure that you have a large, wide, and clearly visible area of the classroom cleared for skits.
Also, prepare in advance:
- eight placards with large text that says Macroplastic Polymer on one side and Microplastic Polymer on the opposite side;
- one placard with large text that says Waves;
- one placard with large text that says Salt; and
- one placard with large text that says UV Radiation (sunlight).
- Jigsaw grouping
- Large-group instruction
- Large-group learning
- Small-group learning
- Small-group work
Closed captioning should be turned on during video clips for English Language Learners and other students with auditory processing issues.
The video Science 101: Plastics contains a lot of high-level vocabulary. Consider introducing key terms before starting the video, and make sure that closed captioning is turned on.
For students who would benefit from leveled text options, be sure to point them toward Jigsaw Resource C: Ocean Trash: 5.25 Trillion Pieces and Counting.
This unit can be emotionally disturbing for students and teachers. It’s important to remember that humans created this crisis, and humans have the power to stop it. Managing emotional responses is important, while also reminding students that there are real ways for individuals, communities, companies, and governments to address the problem. The activities in the third lesson, Pollution Solutions, will address which solutions to the plastic problem are the most promising, and the final project invites students to rally the public to act.
Recommended Prior Lessons
able to decompose naturally.
process of a material being broken down by decomposing organisms into harmless particles.
items gathered closely together in one place.
the result of Earth's rotation on weather patterns and ocean currents. The Coriolis effect makes storms swirl clockwise in the Southern hemisphere and counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere.
to decay or break down.
to scatter or spread out widely.
process by which natural resources are extracted and removed from the earth.
coal, oil, or natural gas. Fossil fuels formed from the remains of ancient plants and animals.
statement or suggestion that explains certain questions about certain facts. A hypothesis is tested to determine if it is accurate.
to take material, such as food or medicine, into a body.
garbage, refuse, or other objects that enter the coastal or ocean environment.
piece of plastic between 0.3 and 5 millimeters in diameter.
having to do with the smallest physical unit of a substance.
an area of ocean that slowly rotates in an enormous circle.
process by which a substance is broken down by exposure to light.
introduction of harmful materials into the environment.
compound of high molecular weight derived by the addition of many smaller molecules.
able to be continued at the same rate for a long period of time.
manufactured by people, not occurring naturally.
existing or seeming to exist everywhere.
able to adjust to different conditions.
material that has been used and thrown away.
For Further Exploration
Articles & Profiles
- NASA Ocean Motion: Curt Ebbesmeyer Profile
- National Geographic: Coriolis Effect
- Grist: What’s Worse, Burning Plastic or Sending It to a Landfill?
- National Geographic: Is Burning Plastic Waste a Good Idea?
- BBC: Should We Burn or Bury Waste Plastic?
- National Geographic: Ocean Currents
- National Geographic: Great Pacific Garbage Patch
- National Geographic: Ocean Gyre
- National Geographic: The Global Conveyor Belt