1 hr 40 mins

As a class, students learn about one proposed solution to the ocean plastics crisis. Jigsaw groups explore four additional solutions, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of each. Next, publishing teams compare the solutions and develop a rubric to evaluate different solutions and select a winner for their unit project.


Plastics: From Pollution to Solutions unit driving question: How can humans solve our plastic problem in the ocean? 

Pollution Solutions lesson driving question: Which solutions to the plastic problem are the most promising?


1. Reassure students that there is hope for solving the ocean plastics crisis.

  • Ask: Now that we are halfway through our unit on ocean plastics, how do you feel about the plastics problem?
    • Possible responses:
      • Scared, because it seems very dangerous and it’s getting worse.
      • Hopeless, because plastic is ubiquitous and it lasts a very long time in the environment.
      • Angry, because humans are hurting animals and the ecosystem.
      • I don’t care, because I don’t believe this problem affects me.
      • Energized, because I want to do something to address this problem.
  • Point out that plastics are a problem created by humans, and humans have the ability to solve this problem. Tell students that humans have faced big challenges before, and by working together, we can create solutions.
  • Ask: What other big problems have humans solved, and how?
    • Possible responses:
      • We have developed vaccines to eradicate diseases such as polio and smallpox.
      • We found out that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were causing a hole in the ozone layer, so we banned CFCs and the hole is getting smaller.
      • We learned that DDT was killing birds, so we banned DDT and bald eagle populations have rebounded.
      • We have expanded civil rights for women and people of color in many countries around the world.
  • Tell students that it’s normal and natural to feel negative emotions like sadness, hopelessness, and anger when you first learn about global problems like these. However, to reach a solution, people must move from negativity to positivity by realizing that hope is possible and solutions do exist.
  • Ask: Does anyone know of a way that people are working to solve the plastic crisis?
    • Possible responses may include beach cleanups, bans on plastic straws and bags.
  • Explain that many scientists, designers, activists, and communities around the world are working on different solutions, and that the next part of the unit will focus on the many different types of solutions, with the goal of inspiring students and helping them feel hopeful and empowered to be a part of the global solution to this global problem.

2. Model the process of evaluating a proposed solution.

  • Distribute the Seaworthy Solutions handout to each student.
  • Project the Take 3 for the Sea website and guide students through the process of filling out the first row of the table with a think-aloud. Use the Seaworthy Solutions Answer Key to narrate your think-aloud.
    • Navigate through the website, especially the About and Programs pages, to find answers to the questions.
    • Explain that students will use the same process for the next four rows of the table, and they must read carefully and strategically because questions may not be directly answered.

3. Assign students to jigsaw groups to investigate other solutions.

  • Divide students into jigsaw groups and assign each group one of the four solutions listed in the table in the Seaworthy Solutions handout. Remind jigsaw groups that their job is to become an expert on their topic so they can share the information with their publishing team.
  • Distribute computers to jigsaw groups and prompt each group to access the video introduction to their assigned solution.
  • After each group watches their initial video, have them research their solutions independently to learn more, paying careful attention to the possible disadvantages as you demonstrated in the think-aloud.
  • Circulate around the room to ensure jigsaw groups are finding answers to their questions; the table in the Seaworthy Solutions handout should be a good indicator of their progress.
    • Using bullet points in the tables is fine, as long as the meaning of each answer is still intelligible to another student who knows nothing about that solution.
    • If some jigsaw groups finish early, prompt them to research other solutions to the plastics crisis.

4. Reassemble publishing teams to share and compare information.

  • Have students return to their publishing teams and take turns presenting information about the solution they investigated with their jigsaw group.
  • Discuss the following questions in a whole-class debrief:
    • What similarities do you see among these solutions?
      • Compostable plastics and Net-Works create a marketable product; they can make money for people.    
      • Bye Bye Plastic Bags and Net-Works involve the local community in being part of the solution.
      • Compostable plastics and the Ocean Cleanup are both new technologies that are promising, but still in the early phases of development with hurdles to overcome.
      • Net-Works and the Ocean Cleanup focus on recovering mismanaged plastic waste from the environment.
      • Bye Bye Plastic Bags and compostable plastics focus on source reduction, decreasing the overall amount of plastic waste.
    • What differences do you see among these solutions?
      • Bye Bye Plastic Bags is the only solution (out of these four) that encourages people to use less plastic.
      • Net-WorksTM is the only solution (out of these four) that directly targets fishing nets, which make up almost 50 percent of ocean macroplastics, according to some studies.
      • The Ocean Cleanup is the only solution (out of these four) that directly targets microplastics.
    • Do you think any one of these solutions can solve the plastics crisis on their own?
      • Answers will vary, but should indicate that the problem is very big and requires a lot of different kinds of solutions, each of which have disadvantages and possible unintended consequences.

5. Launch the Ocean Plastics Pollution Solutions Contest.

  • Tell students that one element of their magazines will be to announce their chosen winner of the Ocean Plastics Pollution Solutions Contest. They must compare five different solutions, separate from the five included in this activity, and decide which one is the most promising. Emphasize that no solution is perfect, but some can still be better than others.
  • Ask: What might make one solution better than another?
    • Possible responses:
      • A solution could be better if it includes a larger geographic area or a greater number of people.
      • A solution could be better if it creates jobs for more people.
      • A solution could be better if it stops plastics from being made, used, or thrown away in the first place, rather than simply cleaning them up from the ocean.
  • Distribute the handout Ocean Plastics Pollution Solutions Contest Criteria.
  • Tell publishing teams they will use this document to create their own contest rubric, with three different criteria and clear descriptions to measure the success of each solution.
    • Each team’s criteria and descriptions will be different, but every team should be able to use their document as a rubric to evaluate the five finalist solutions they choose.
  • Have teams discuss which three criteria they think are most important first, before writing descriptions for any. This part of the assignment is very open-ended, and different teams will likely come up with very different rubrics.
    • To guide teams in brainstorming good criteria for their rubrics, use the class’ responses about what might make one solution better than another.
      • If students thought addressing a larger geographic area or involving a greater number of people could make one solution better than another, a criterion corresponding to this could be “Area of Impact” or “Total Population Affected.”
      • If students thought creating jobs for people could make one solution better than another, a criterion corresponding to this could be “Economic Benefits.”
      • If students thought reducing the amount of plastics produced or disposed of could make one solution better than another that only targets plastics after they have already been produced and thrown away, a criterion corresponding to this could be “Waste Source Reduction.”
  • After a team has selected three reasonable criteria for evaluation, guide them to use the Final Project Checklist and Rubric to help create descriptions of what would demonstrate high impact, moderate impact, and low impact in each criterion.
  • Conclude by having teams test out their rubrics on one of the five solutions they learned about in this activity. Remind teams that they will have to find five other solutions in the next activity as contest entrants, so this is just a trial of their rubric to ensure that the team knows how to use it.
  • All handouts from this activity should be stored in the publishing team’s project folder for use in upcoming activities.

Informal Assessment

Students’ analysis of the five different solutions, especially the advantages and disadvantages of each, should draw on what they have learned about the sources of the plastic pollution problem and provide insights into their current understanding and ideas about evaluating competing design solutions. The ability of teams to agree on three meaningful criteria for their rubric demonstrates their higher-level thinking and collaborative group work skills.

2 hrs 5 mins

Publishing teams research five promising solutions to the plastics crisis and write a summary explaining why they chose each one. They engage in a gallery walk to share their selected solutions. Then, using rubrics of their own design, teams select a winner for their Ocean Plastics Pollution Solutions Contest and write a profile for their magazine.


Plastics: From Pollution to Solutions unit driving question: How can humans solve our plastic problem in the ocean? 

Pollution Solutions lesson driving question: Which solutions to the plastic problem are the most promising?


1. Engage students with an exciting story of an ocean plastics solution.
  • Remind students that although the problem of ocean plastics can seem daunting, people all over the world are working on all kinds of solutions. In fact, some of the best solutions are coming from young people!
  • Show An Investigation into the Removal of Microplastics From Water Using Ferro-Fluids (2:26), a video about Fionn Ferreira’s prize-winning microplastics cleanup solution. Tell students that Ferreira is 18 years old and won a $50,000 prize for this solution.
  • Ask: What do you notice about his solution? What do you wonder?
    • Possible responses:
      • Simplicity: It doesn’t involve any high-tech gadgets or new inventions; just uses iron powder, oil, and magnets.
      • Limitations: This solution doesn’t affect the amount of plastics we use, the amount of plastics that are not recycled, or the amount of plastics that enter the oceans in the first place.
      • Feasibility: Would this really work in the ocean, which is much bigger than a beaker?
      • Disposal: What will happen to all the microplastics and magnetic oil once they are removed from the water?
  • Tell students that they have a very important responsibility. No solution is perfect, but some solutions are better than others. Their job during this activity is to choose the five most promising solutions that have been proposed, and then use the categories and descriptions their team designed in the previous activity to decide which of these five is truly the best.
    • Even though they aren’t able to award any prize money, there is real prize money—up to $100,000—available for powerful solutions, so they should take this responsibility seriously!
2. Guide students to resources that compile promising plastics solutions.
3. Guide students to justify their choice of solution contestants.
  • Once teams have chosen their top five contestants, ask teams to write a brief summary (three to five sentences) of each finalist on index cards that introduces each solution by name, explains the solution’s approach, and why their team selected it as a finalist.
    • If there are four students in a team, they should all collaborate to write the first summary, and then each student will be responsible for writing one of the remaining five.
    • Note that these summaries will not be included in the team’s final magazine, and are only intended for use in this activity.
  • Instruct teams to arrange their five summaries at their team’s workspace so they will be visible to other students for a gallery walk.
  • Prompt students to take notes as they walk around other work areas and review their solution selections. Encourage students to take notes on the process that teams used to make their selections, rather than which solutions they chose.
  • After the gallery walk, facilitate a discussion to synthesize what students learned about other teams’ decision-making processes:
    • What decision-making processes were similar/different to your own team’s process?
    • What selection criteria were similar/different from the ones your team used?
    • Which criteria were particularly effective for narrowing down a winner and why?  
4. Conclude the Ocean Plastics Pollution Solutions Contest by having each team select a winner and write a profile.
  • Tell students that it’s finally time to select a winner.
  • Distribute the handout Ocean Plastics Pollution Solutions Scoring Rubric for teams to score each of the five finalists in all three categories. Remind teams that in their role as judges, they must be fair and impartial, so they should use their rubrics to organize as much information as they can about each finalist.
  • Once teams have selected their contest winner, direct them to their Final Project Checklist and Rubric, which contains guidelines for how to write a profile of their contest winner.
  • Distribute the Ocean Plastics Pollution Solutions Contest Winner Profile to teams and support students as needed in the writing process.
  • Publishing teams should save their Ocean Plastics Pollution Solutions Contest Criteria and Ocean Plastics Pollution Solutions Scoring Rubric in their project folder until their profile of the contest winner is complete.

Informal Assessment

Students’ summaries about their chosen solutions, their participation in the gallery walk debriefing discussion, their use of rubrics, and their contest winner profile all provide insights into their ability to evaluate competing design solutions based on jointly developed and agreed-upon design criteria.

50 mins

As publishing teams finalize their unit projects and prepare for publication, they now select a target audience for their magazine. Teams envision a simple but effective action their target audience can take that will positively impact the ocean plastics crisis. Finally, they make a plan to reach out to their target audience and invite them to the publication presentation.


Plastics: From Pollution to Solutions unit driving question: How can humans solve our plastic problem in the ocean?

Pollution Solutions lesson driving question: Which solutions to the plastic problem are the most promising?


1. Guide the class to shift their focus from a global problem to local solutions.
  • Ask students if they have ever heard the phrase “Think globally, act locally” and have them discuss what the expression means.
    • Responses will vary but should get close to the idea that while it’s valuable to think about how problems affect the whole world, it’s important to make a difference in your own community.
  • Tell students they have learned about global solutions, and now it’s time to develop their own local solution. Fortunately, they now know all about the problem and the most promising solutions—but the rest of the community may not be as well-informed about the plastic problem.
  • Ask: Who in our community can help us tackle this problem?
    • Possible responses:
      • Local businesses and restaurants that use and distribute single-use plastics to customers.
      • Schools and school systems that generate plastic waste and/or do not participate in recycling programs.
      • Local government, which can make rules and restrictions about the types of plastics they will allow people to buy, sell, use, and recycle.
      • Individuals and families who buy plastic products.
2. Help teams design their Call to Action for a specific audience.
  • Distribute one Call to Action Graphic Organizer Example and one Call to Action Graphic Organizer to each publishing team.
  • Prompt teams to review the example and then debrief as a class to ensure students have a clear understanding of how the process will narrow their team’s focus and lead to a Call to Action that is specific and achievable.
  • Advise teams that a good target audience is one you have some kind of connection to. Target audiences should be large enough that they can make a meaningful impact, but not so large that they won’t pay attention to students’ voices.
  • Guide teams through the Call to Action Graphic Organizer:
    • Step 1: Teams choose and highlight a target audience and fill in the bubble below their target audience, as in the example.
      • Teams may need to conduct further research to find the name of a contact person or describe their local government. This can be assigned for homework if class time is limited.
      • Ask one member from each team to share their chosen target audience and explain why they think that person or organization will be able to help them make a difference.
    • Step 2: Teams make a plan for initial and follow-up contact in two different ways.
    • Step 3: Choose a target plastic.
    • After teams have discussed and chosen a target plastic, ask a different team member to share and explain their choice to the class.
    • Before proceeding to Step 4, point teams in the direction of resources that relate to their target audience. Prompt them to read through the following websites and look for inspiration about what kinds of local actions they can suggest to their target audiences:
  • Step 4: Describe the current behavior of the target audience with the target plastic. Have students describe the positive and negative consequences of current behaviors as well, including any reasons that people in the target audience might choose to use the target plastic currently.
  • Step 5: Prompt teams to imagine the desired future behavior of the target audience with the target plastic.
    • Monitor teams’ progress on this step. Provide feedback so that teams understand their Call to Action should be short, specific, and strongly worded in order to be most effective.
    • When teams finish Step 5, have one member from each publishing team share their target audience and desired future behavior.
  • Remind students that people often resist change and that they have real reasons for doing so. Facilitate discussion as a class or within teams:
    • How will your proposed change positively impact the plastics crisis?
    • Why might people not want to make this change?
    • What negative impacts could result from making your proposed change?
    • What other obstacles might your Call to Action encounter? 
3. Conclude with a plan to contact their target audience.
  • Tell students that when their magazines are complete, they need to be read by their target audience. Remind them of the final due date for their magazine and explain that on that date, members of the target audience will be invited to the class to read and respond to students’ work.
    • Ask: How and when will you invite your target audience to our class?
      • Possible responses:
        • We will visit their office after school tomorrow.
        • We will send them an email invitation right now!
        • We will tag them on social media this evening.
        • We will call their office phone number after school.
    • Ask: When you invite them, what will you say?
      • Possible responses:
        • We will introduce ourselves and explain our project.
        • We will tell them the date of our final presentation.
        • We will tell them the name and address of our school.
  • Revisit the class Know and Need to Know chart to update existing questions and add new ones as publishing teams shift their focus to final production.
  • Although the graphic organizer will not be included in the final magazine, it will be useful for writing the Call to Action for Readers in an upcoming activity, so publishing teams should store their completed Call to Action Graphic Organizers in their project folders with other important documents.

Informal Assessment

The Call to Action Graphic Organizer and students’ justifications of their decisions provide evidence of their ability to gauge positive and negative impacts, to design solutions, to consider the needs of individuals and society, and to tailor their message to a target audience.

Subjects & Disciplines

  • Chemistry
  • Conservation
  • Earth Science
  • Engineering
  • English Language Arts
  • Experiential Learning
  • Geography
  • Social Studies
    • Civics
    • Economics
  • Storytelling


Students will:

  • Investigate solutions to the ocean plastic waste crisis.
  • Create a contact plan to reach out to their target audience and invite them to your class’ final presentation.
  • Apply scientific principles to design a method that will reduce their target audience’s plastic-related impact.
  • Determine the target audience for their magazine.
  • Use their rubrics to compare and evaluate competing solutions.
  • Summarize the five most promising solutions in writing.
  • Research proposed solutions to the ocean plastics crisis.
  • Construct a rubric to evaluate competing design solutions based on jointly developed and agreed-upon design criteria.
  • Compare the strengths and weaknesses of different ocean plastics solutions.

Teaching Approach

  • Project-based learning

Teaching Methods

  • Brainstorming
  • Cooperative learning
  • Experiential learning
  • Jigsaw
  • Modeling
  • Research
  • Writing

Skills Summary

This lesson targets the following skills:

Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices

National Geography Standards Standard 14: How human actions modify the physical environment Standard 16: The changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resourcesCommon Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.9: Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.  WHST.6-8.2: Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/experiments, or technical processes. WHST.6-8.4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.Next Generation Science Standards Engineering Design: MS-ETS1-2. Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. ETS1.B: Developing Possible Solutions: There are systematic processes for evaluating solutions with respect to how well they meet the criteria and constraints of a problem. Science and Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in argument from evidence

What You’ll Need

Required Technology

  • Internet Access: Required
  • Internet access: Required
  • Tech Setup: 1 computer per pair, Color printer

Physical Space

  • Classroom


The Call to Action Graphic Organizer and Call to Action Graphic Organizer Example should both be printed double-sided, with one copy per publishing team.

The Call to Action Graphic Organizer Example should be printed in color, if possible, to increase clarity and readability of the highlighted sections.


  • Jigsaw grouping
  • Large-group instruction
  • Small-group learning
  • Small-group work

Accessibility Notes

  • None

Background Information

Many solutions are taking aim at the plastics crisis, but none of them are a silver bullet. Plastic bag bans, anti-straw campaigns, compostable plastics, and reusable water bottles are gaining momentum globally. However, each of these proposed solutions has its own pros and cons. The strongest solutions, in addition to achieving their desired aims, are also eligible for significant grant funding from a variety of sources. In the end, all sectors of society must collaborate to solve a problem that involves every aspect of modern life and touches every corner of our planet.

Prior Knowledge

  • None

Recommended Prior Lessons



person who strongly and actively supports an issue or point of view.


observers or listeners of an event or production.


to prohibit or not allow.


standard of conduct.

circular economy

a system of production that extends the lifespan of consumer goods by maximizing reusing and recycling, and minimizing throwing things away.


social group whose members share common heritage, interests, or culture.


capable of disintegrating and biodegrading in a compost pile or commercial composting facility.


limitation or obstacle.

Plural Noun

set of standards or rules.


having to do with money.




early version or model.

supply chain

processes involved in the production or manufacture of a good or service.


use of resources in such a manner that they will never be exhausted.


following an orderly method or plan.

waste disposal

collection, transport, and destruction or storage of garbage and byproducts.