1 hr 40 mins
<p>Partnered with National Geographic, the female-led&nbsp;Sea to Source: Ganges team poses for a portrait in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India, on December&nbsp;5, 2019. The scientists are documenting plastic waste in the Ganges watershed and supporting&nbsp;holistic and inclusive solutions.</p>

Students use the work of the “Sea to Source: Ganges” river expedition team to learn about different methods for data collection about plastic waste. They develop a data collection plan to help understand the impact of plastic waste in their own communities.


Toward a Plastic Responsible Future Unit Driving Question: What can we do to reduce the effects of plastic pollution?

Solutions to Plastic Waste Lesson Driving Question: How do we measure and remove plastic from the waste stream?

1. Activate students’ prior knowledge of research with a sketch and share activity.
  • Ask students to close their eyes and think quietly about what comes to mind when they hear the phrase: People conducting research.
      • Who do they see?
      • Where are they?
      • What are they doing?
      • For what purpose are they doing it?
      • What kind of data is collected for the research?
      • What kind of information is in the data?
  • On a piece of paper, have students quickly sketch what they were thinking about.
  • Have students share their sketches with a partner. Discuss:
      • What do your sketches have in common?
      • What is different about your ideas about research?
2. Introduce students to the model researchers.
  • Remind students that they are using the work done by researchers on the “Sea to Source: Ganges” river expedition as a model for their own efforts toward plastic waste reduction.
  • Tell students that they will be using some of the research done on the Ganges River to learn how to create a research and data collection plan for their project.
  • Two of the specific types of data used by researchers on the “Sea to Source: Ganges” river expedition are interview data and geospatial data.
  • Define and explain these two types of data as a class.

3. Have students watch the video about Lilly Sedaghat to learn about social science research.

  • Before watching the video, ask students to share with their project group:
      • Have you ever interviewed anybody?
      • Who?
      • What did you ask?
      • What can interviews help us understand?
  • Inform students that they will be watching videos from the “Sea to Source: Ganges” river expedition today, and one of the key methods of data collection that the first researcher is using is interviewing. 
  • Distribute the Plastic Waste Research Packet and read the introductory paragraph on the front page.
  • As a class, watch the video Sea to Source – Collecting Socioeconomic Data (5:32) featuring Lilly Sedaghat.
  • Have students take two-column notes as they watch.
  • Students discuss the following questions in their groups:
      • What kind of information can you collect about plastic pollution in our community using interviews?
      • How can this help you understand how plastic pollution affects the community?

4. Lead students in an exercise to focus their research.
  • In their project groups, have students take five minutes to brainstorm as many questions as they can about plastic waste in the community.
  • Have students categorize their questions as closed or open-ended.
  • Have students select the three most important questions from the list that will help them understand and research plastic waste in the community.
  • Tell students that these are the broad, high-level research questions that they will want to address with their data collection.

5. Teach students how to develop interview questions.

  • Use the Instructions for Conducting an Interview in the Plastic Waste Research Packet to explain that a good interview gets people talking.
      • Students should avoid questions with only yes/no or one-word answers.
      • Students should ask people about their experiences and opinions.
      • Write on the board some sentence stems such as:
          • What do you think about …?
          • How do you think people in your community feel about …?
          • Tell me what you know about it…
  • Have students read through the Instructions for Conducting an Interview in their Plastic Waste Research Packet and answer clarifying questions.
  • Students continue reading the Tips for Writing Good Interview Questions section. Answer clarifying questions. 
  • Have student groups develop and record interview questions in their Plastic Waste Research Packet.

6. Show students a video to learn about Jenna Jambeck and geospatial data collection.
  • Frame the video by reminding students that they will be collecting both interview and geospatial data in this project.
  • In this video, students learn from another National Geographic Explorer on the “Sea to Source: Ganges” expedition who is collecting data to track the places that plastic waste shows up in the Ganges River.
  • Explain that Jenna Jambeck’s geospatial data collection involves collecting data about how much plastic is in the river, and also where the plastic is.
  • As a class, watch the video Sea to Source – Collecting Geospatial Data (5:40) featuring Jenna Jambeck. Have students take two-column notes as they watch the video.

7. Have students explore the Marine Debris Tracker as a model for a data collection plan.

  • Student groups access the Marine Debris Tracker online.
  • Have students click through the Home page and view the Tracker Photos page of the website.
  • Have students discuss the following question in their groups:
      • How could you collect data about plastic that could give you similar information as the Marine Debris Tracker for your school?

8. Have students complete an exit ticket to connect research methods with civic action.

  • Have students respond to the following questions:
      • How do data sources like those used on the Sea to Source expedition support civic action?
      • Which might be most useful for our own research?
      • How can research lead to civic action in our community?
  • Collect the exit tickets.

Informal Assessment

In an exit ticket, explain how research can lead to civic action in different places in the world.

1 hr 40 mins
<p>Plastic pollution can seem like a global problem, but it is a collection of local problems found in and around one&#39;s community. Therefore, local action can have a positive effect.</p>

Students collect interviews and geospatial data, and analyze the data to learn about plastic waste in their community, specifically their school.


Toward a Plastic Responsible Future Unit Driving Question: What can we do to reduce the effects of plastic pollution?

Solutions to Plastic Waste Lesson Driving Question: How do we measure and remove plastic from the waste stream?

1. Prepare students to collect data on plastic pollution at their school.
  • Begin with a brief poll of the class asking:
      • Where do you expect to find the most plastic waste?
      • What kind of plastic waste do you expect to find the most of?
  • Record their responses on the board so that you can reference them after students have collected their data.

Have students collect their geospatial data.

  • Tell students that they are going to use their research plans to enter the field and begin conducting their own research for their projects.
  • Have student groups cover different areas of the school grounds (indoor and outdoor) to collect their data.
  • Have students bring their Plastic Waste Research Packets with them to document the data that they collect, and a container to collect waste that is not in a proper receptacle.
  • Return to the classroom and debrief.

Have students analyze their geospatial data.

  • Have student groups review their field notes to complete the Geospatial Data Analysis section in their Plastic Waste Research Packet.
  • Ask students to share their data with the class. As they do, record which areas of the school have the most and least plastic waste on the board.

4. Facilitate students conducting mock interviews.

  • Next, have student groups work on their interview questions. Have student groups divide their interview questions among their group members so that each group member has two or three questions to ask.
  • Direct students to write their questions down on a separate piece of paper. They can have duplicate questions, if needed.
  • Pair each student up with a student from another group.
  • Have students role-play interviewing each other with their questions. Encourage them to ask follow-up questions, as relevant.
  • Have students revise their questions based on the mock interview experience.

5. Send students to collect interview data.

  • Have students meet with their interviewees from the school community and conduct the interviews. Remind students to record responses as the interviewee is giving their answers.

 6.     Have students complete an exit ticket to consider their data sources.

  • Have students answer the following questions on a separate piece of paper for their exit ticket:
      • Which data source will be the most useful for your project: interview or geospatial? Explain your reasoning.
      • What are some of the shortcomings of getting all of our data from the school community? What could data from the larger community help us understand about plastic waste?
  • Collect the exit ticket.

Informal Assessment

  • Students submit their Plastic Waste Research Packet containing their interview questions, data collection, and analysis.
  • The exit ticket explains students' reasoning for which data sources address their research questions.

Extending the Learning

The class could do a garbage cleanup around their school to reduce plastic and other waste. Alternatively, the class could go on a field trip to a nearby location where there is a lot of plastic waste and clean up plastic in their community. This could also be an opportunity to expand the data collection outside the school.  

1 hr 15 mins
<p>Illustrating plastic waste, like this plastic garbage on a Black Sea beach, helps communicate the problem to others.</p>

Students analyze interview data and use their interview and geospatial data to create an infographic that illustrates plastic waste in their school community.


Toward a Plastic Responsible Future Unit Driving Question: What can we do to reduce the effects of plastic pollution?

Solutions to Plastic Waste Lesson Driving Question: How do we measure and remove plastic from the waste stream?

1. Engage students in thinking about representing data with a discussion about effective data representation.
  • Remind students of the bar graph they created in the Introducing the Plastic Problem activity. Explain that the bar graph was a way of representing data about plastic in the classroom.
  • Ask students to share with a neighbor other ways that data can be represented. Elicit some student responses (Possible answers: pie charts, line graphs, and maps).

2. Have students analyze the interview data.

  • In the activity, Entering the Field, students collected interview data. In their groups, have students share their interview responses.
  • Use the responses to complete the Interview Data Analysis page in their Plastic Waste Research Packet.

3. Introduce students to the data representation infographic.

  • Remind students that they are working to develop a policy proposal for plastic waste reduction. To communicate the data, they will need to organize it into a format that is easy to quickly understand.
  • Explain that they will be creating infographics that they can use to inform their research findings on their proposal brochures and display in the school to raise awareness about the problem prior to active campaigning.
  • Project the Marine Megafauna, What We Eat Makes a Difference, and Monkey Facts infographics for students to look at.
  • Ask students: What do you see that is similar across these infographics? What do you like about them?
  • Create an anchor chart to record their ideas making sure to discuss the features, similarities, differences, and what stands out the most.
  • Tell students that they will need to combine their interview and geospatial data into an infographic for their project.

Facilitate students’ development of an infographic to represent the data.
  • As a class, review the page Represent Your Data from the Plastic Waste Research Packet. Answer any clarifying questions that the students have.
  • Tell students to use directions in their research packets to guide their infographics.
  • Give student groups time to create their infographics.

5. Engage students in a gallery walk cycle of feedback and revision of the infographics.

  • Have students display their completed infographics on their computer screens. Put a numbered sticky note on each group’s infographic.
  • In their groups, students circulate the room and read their peers’ infographics.
  • As they visit each infographic, have them complete the Peer Review table in their Plastic Waste Research Packet for the corresponding group number. Each group should review and give feedback on a total of four infographics.
  • Have groups cut their peer review table into four strips along the rows. Have groups distribute the strips to the groups that they reviewed.
  • Give each group time to read through their feedback strips and revise their infographics, if needed.

Debrief with a class discussion.

  • Conclude with a brief whole-class discussion about the effectiveness of infographics for communicating this data. Ask students:
      • What data represented on these infographics do you think people will find compelling?
      • How does the representation of the data make people interested in reducing plastic waste?

Informal Assessment

Students represent a summary of their data with an infographic. The Peer Review can be used to assess how well information was communicated to other students.

Extending the Learning

If students collected data from outside the school, they could integrate that data in their representations.

2 hrs 30 mins
<p>Garbage and recycling bins help illustrate the three Rs&mdash;Refuse or Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle&ndash;for lessening plastic waste in the environment.</p>

Students dive into the three R’s–Refuse or Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle–as a framework for reducing plastic waste in the environment. They break into expert groups to teach each other about each of these components of the framework.


Toward a Plastic Responsible Future Unit Driving Question: What can we do to reduce the effects of plastic pollution?

Solutions to Plastic Waste Lesson Driving Question: How do we measure and remove plastic from the waste stream?

1. Introduce students to the 3 R’s Framework.
  • Tell students that this lesson is going to be focused on the three R’s.
  • Activate students’ prior knowledge by asking them if they know what the three R’s are. If they do, ask them to briefly explain each (refuse/reduce, reuse, recycle). 
  • Play the music video for the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Earth Day Song (6:50). Have fun with this! Encourage students to get up and dance to the song.
2. Facilitate students’ exploration of resources to become experts on the three R’s.

Have experts share their learning on the three R’s in expert groups.

  • Arrange students in groups of two or three who resarched the same R.
  • Have student expert groups discuss to understand the following:
      • What are the big ideas/themes from your sources?
      • What were some of the ways that the R in your sources was implemented?
      • What is your definition of this R?
      • What are some challenges to doing this effectively?
      • How can it be implemented better at school?
  • Have students return to their policy proposal groups to share their expert group discussions with their team.
  • Have students discuss and decide which of the 3 R’s would be most effective to implement in reducing plastic waste at the school.

4. Have students read to learn about the complexities of solutions.

  • Explain to students that solutions are rarely as straightforward as they may initially seem.
  • Assign one of the following articles to the policy proposal groups so that one-third of the class is reading each. Have all students in each group read the same article.
  • Have each student in the group read and take two-column notes on the articles from one of the following perspectives:
      • The consumer. How might this article inform your daily practice?
      • The policymaker. How can this information inform rules, laws, or policies?
      • The media. What message is the writer trying to send with this article?
  • Have students share in their groups what they learned from the article based on their role perspective.
  • Lead a discussion during which students share some of the ways that solutions can be complicated based on the content of their articles. Ask: What are some things that you will need to consider when making recommendations for changes in your proposal?
5. Support students as they develop their solution proposals.
  • Project the Plastic Policy Project Description and orient students to where they are in the project development process. 
  • Explain that they have completed a draft of the statement of the problem. Now they will be working on Step 2, proposing a solution. Students should use the data from their research (represented on infographics from the Representing Data activity) and the sources in this activity that illustrate the three R’s.
  • For students to use their data to drive the solutions, they will be keeping their proposals based in the school community. Proposed policies may involve anything from changing school policies to making change at the state level. However, the possible impacts described and data need to reflect what can happen at the school.  
  • As students work, check in with them and make sure that they are using the Plastic Policy Project Description and Plastic Policy Proposal Brochure: Checklist and Rubric to guide their writing.
  • Collect students’ solution proposals.

Informal Assessment

Students determine and write an explanation of a data-driven solution based on the 3 R’s Framework to propose in their policy proposal brochures.  

Extending the Learning

If students have data to support it, they can propose solutions that include the broader community.

Subjects & Disciplines

  • Conservation
  • Geography
  • Social Studies


Students will:

  • Create a working definition for each of the R’s in the 3 R’s Framework and how each can be used in the community.
  • Develop a data-driven proposed solution to reduce plastic waste in their school community.
  • Create and present infographics to synthesize and represent their data.
  • Evaluate other students’ infographics for clarity.
  • Collect and analyze geospatial data about plastic waste in their school.
  • Use practice interviews as feedback to improve interview questions.
  • Discuss how to use interviews and geospatial data collection methods to support their policy proposal.
  • Explain how research supports civic action.
  • Create a working definition for each of the Rs in the 3 Rs Framework and how each can be used in the community.
  • Analyze interview data about plastic waste in the community.
  • Collect interview data from school community members.
  • Practice collecting interview data with peers.

Teaching Approach

  • Project-based learning

Teaching Methods

  • Experiential learning
  • Hands-on learning
  • Information organization
  • Multimedia instruction
  • Reading
  • Research
  • Simulations and games
  • Writing

Skills Summary

This lesson targets the following skills:

Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.1.A: Introduce claim(s) about a topic or issue, acknowledge and distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.1.B: Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant, accurate data and evidence that demonstrate an understanding of the topic or text, using credible sources. The College, Career & Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards D1.5.6-8: Determine the kinds of sources that will be helpful in answering compelling and supporting questions, taking into consideration multiple points of views represented in the sources. D2.Civ.7.6-8: Apply civic virtues and democratic principles in school and community settings. D4.3.6-8: Present adaptations of arguments and explanations on topics of interest to others to reach audiences and venues outside the classroom using print and oral technologies (e.g., posters, essays, letters, debates, speeches, reports, and maps) and digital technologies (e.g., internet, social media, and digital documentary). D4.3.6-8.: Construct arguments using claims and evidence from multiple sources, while acknowledging the strengths and limitations of the arguments.

What You’ll Need

Required Technology

  • Internet Access: Required
  • Internet access: Required
  • Tech Setup: 1 computer per classroom, 1 computer per learner, 1 computer per pair, Monitor/screen, Projector, Speakers

Physical Space

  • Classroom
  • Other
  • Outdoor natural environment
  • Parking lot
  • School playground


  • None


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

Accessibility Notes

Students with mobility difficulties should be assigned areas of the school that are easily accessible and smaller rather than larger, more distant areas such as the playfield.

Other Notes

This will take more than one class period unless you have a longer block. The way in which students conduct the interviews will impact the length of the class period.

Background Information

Strong policy proposals are grounded in data. Social scientists use a wide array of methods to collect data, including interviews, surveys, geography, information spread, and demographics. Once data has been collected, it is analyzed and can lead to ideas for proposing a solution. For the problem of plastic waste, many solutions fall into one of the following categories: refuse or reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Prior Knowledge

  • None

Recommended Prior Lessons

  • None


Plural Noun

(singular: datum) information collected during a scientific study.


area of land that has been prepared for agricultural use.


scientific studies done outside of a lab, classroom, or office.


having to do with geography and location.

geospatial technologies

computer hardware and software which allows users to evaluate geographic data.


visual representation of data. Also called information graphic or graphic.


the process of getting data by asking people questions.


chemical material that can be easily shaped when heated to a high temperature.


set of actions or rules.


to clean or process in order to make suitable for reuse.


to lower or lessen.


to give up, renounce, be unwilling to accept.


symbol of something.


scientific observations and investigation into a subject, usually following the scientific method: observation, hypothesis, prediction, experimentation, analysis, and conclusion.

research scientist

person who studies and tries to discover facts about a specific problem, question, or field of learning.


to use again.

scientific method

method of research in which a question is asked, data are gathered, a hypothesis is made, and the hypothesis is tested.

waste stream

the sum of wastes by a single entity.