Marine plastic pollution is one of the major ecological crises of the 21st century. Over five trillion pieces of plastic are estimated to float in the ocean, and that number increases every day. Plastics affect over 600 species of marine wildlife, including species that humans eat.

 

In the first half of this unit, students learn about this crisis and its ecosystem impacts. They witness wildlife affected by plastics, and conduct a classroom plastics audit. In teams, students create an Ocean Plastics Movement Model and Food Web Infographic, which form part of their final project, a National Geographic-style magazine to help readers take action against plastics.

 

In the second half of the unit, students learn about the growing global anti-plastics movement, and advocate for solutions of their own. They compare ideas proposed by activists and engineers and pick their favorite solutions. Finally, they choose a target audience for their magazine and propose a concrete action plan for their audience to combat plastic pollution.

 

Use this unit at a glance to explore a brief outline of the materials included in this resource.

 

Use this pedagogical support to inform your teaching of this project-based learning unit.

 

Unit Driving Question: How can humans solve our plastic problem in the ocean?

7 hrs 5 mins

Students learn basic background information about the plastics crisis, including what defines plastics, where plastic pollution comes from, and how it gets into the ocean. Working together as part of a publishing team, they synthesize a variety of multimedia resources to create their own Ocean Plastics Movement Model explaining the forces that affect plastics on a global scale. This lesson is part of the Plastics: From Pollution to Solutions  unit.

4 hrs 10 mins

Students investigate the impacts of plastics on marine organisms in different marine ecosystems. They construct a food web for an assigned ecosystem, using it to illustrate the principle of biomagnification visually. Students draw on evidence presented in this lesson and in the previous lesson, Plastics, Plastics, Everywhere, to justify an argument about whether plastic pollution affects humans as well. This lesson is part of the Plastics: From Pollution to Solutions unit.

4 hrs 35 mins

Students research and compare several proposed solutions to the ocean plastics crisis. Then, publishing teams create their own rubrics to evaluate competing solutions and choose a contest winner. Finally, each publishing team identifies a target audience and begins crafting their Call to Action. This lesson is part of the Plastics: From Pollution to Solutions  unit.

4 hrs 35 mins

Publishing teams finalize their magazine’s cover and a Call to Action aimed at their target audience. They provide constructive feedback to other teams using the Final Project Checklist and Rubric. Finally, teams share their completed magazines and reflect on their experiences in this unit. This lesson is part of the Plastics: From Pollution to Solutions unit.

activist
Noun

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

adhere
Verb

to stick to or support.

apex predator
Noun

species at the top of the food chain, with no predators of its own. Also called an alpha predator or top predator.

argument
Noun

reason or set of reasons given with the aim of persuading others that an action or idea is right or wrong.

audience
Noun

observers or listeners of an event or production.

ban
Verb

to prohibit or not allow.

behavior
Noun

standard of conduct.

benign
Adjective

not harmful

bioaccumulation
Noun

process by which chemicals are absorbed by an organism, either from exposure to a substance with the chemical or by consumption of food containing the chemical.

biodegradable
Adjective

able to decompose naturally.

biodegradation
Noun

process of a material being broken down by decomposing organisms into harmless particles.

biomagnification
Noun

process in which the concentration of a substance increases as it passes up the food chain.

circular economy
Noun

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

community
Noun

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

compelling
Adjective

forceful or persuasive.

compostable
Adjective

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

concentrated
Adjective

items gathered closely together in one place.

constraint
Noun

limitation or obstacle.

constructive feedback
Noun

tool to enhance the teaching and learning process; highlighting strengths and achievements as well as areas for improvement.

Noun

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.

crisis
Noun

event or situation leading to dramatic change.

criteria
Plural Noun

set of standards or rules.

decompose
Verb

to decay or break down.

decomposer
Noun

organism that breaks down dead organic material; also sometimes referred to as detritivores

detrimental
Adjective

harmful.

disperse
Verb

to scatter or spread out widely.

economic
Adjective

having to do with money.

Noun

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

ecotoxicology
Noun

study of substances that are harmful to the environment.

entanglement
Noun

the state of being trapped or caught in something

entrenched
Adjective

firmly established

extraction
Noun

process by which natural resources are extracted and removed from the earth.

feasible
Adjective

possible.

Noun

all related food chains in an ecosystem. Also called a food cycle.

fossil fuel
Noun

coal, oil, or natural gas. Fossil fuels formed from the remains of ancient plants and animals.

hypothesis
Noun

statement or suggestion that explains certain questions about certain facts. A hypothesis is tested to determine if it is accurate.

impact
Verb

to influence or have an effect on something.

ingest
Verb

to take material, such as food or medicine, into a body.

ingestion
Noun

the act of eating or consuming.

macroplastics
Noun

pieces of plastic larger than 5 mm in size.

Noun

garbage, refuse, or other objects that enter the coastal or ocean environment.

maximize
Verb

to make as big as possible.

meditate
Verb

to engage in deep thought, contemplation, or introspection.

Noun

piece of plastic between 0.3 and 5 millimeters in diameter.

molecular
Adjective

having to do with the smallest physical unit of a substance.

obstacle
Noun

something that slows or stops progress.

Noun

an area of ocean that slowly rotates in an enormous circle.

photodegradation
Noun

process by which a substance is broken down by exposure to light.

pollutant
Noun

chemical or other substance that harms a natural resource.

Noun

introduction of harmful materials into the environment.

polymer
Noun

compound of high molecular weight derived by the addition of many smaller molecules.

primary consumer
Noun

organism that eats producers; herbivores.

primary producer
Noun

organisms, such as plants and phytoplankton, that can produce their own food through photosynthesis or chemosynthesis; also called autotrophs.

producer
Noun

organism on the food chain that can produce its own energy and nutrients. Also called an autotroph.

prototype
Noun

early version or model.

publish
Verb

to provide a written piece of work, such as a book or newspaper, for sale or distribution.

secondary consumer
Noun

organism that eats meat.

socioscientific issue
Noun

a problem that requires both scientific knowledge and evaluation of ethical concerns to solve.

supply chain
Noun

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

Noun

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

sustainable
Adjective

able to be continued at the same rate for a long period of time.

synthetic
Adjective

manufactured by people, not occurring naturally.

systematic
Adjective

following an orderly method or plan.

tertiary consumer
Noun

carnivore that mostly eats other carnivores.

toxin
Noun

poisonous substance, usually one produced by a living organism.

trophic level
Noun

one of three positions on the food chain: autotrophs (first), herbivores (second), and carnivores and omnivores (third).

ubiquitous
Adjective

existing or seeming to exist everywhere.

versatile
Adjective

able to adjust to different conditions.

waste
Noun

material that has been used and thrown away.

waste disposal
Noun

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