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Plastics Challenge

Secondary, Middle

Description

In this comprehensive STEM resource students investigate the properties of plastics and  find solutions to problems caused by plastic waste globally. The increased use of plastics is creating a huge environmental challenge for both industrialized and developing countries and these materials highlight the need to rethink our choices as consumers and our waste reduction strategies. The resource looks at world poverty and the role we all must play to improve the quality of life for everyone and students learn to apply STEM skills by completing an enterprise project.

Using an inquiry based & hands-on approach related to real-world applications, the activities encourage critical, and creative thinking, problems solving, and team work as students develop products made from re-used plastic.

The resource is divided into four sections, each with several activities. These include a 'starting point' activity to build empathy and generate interest, a section containing several investigations to learn more about the plastics we use in our everyday lives, a product design and entrepreneurial project section, and a wrap up plenary activity, which includes the creation of a video.

After examining a photographic case study focusing on how poverty forces thousands of people in Nepal, including children, to make a living collecting garbage from the streets and sorting that garbage to re-sell plastics for re-use and recycling, students perform eight investigative activities that explore a wide range of issues. These include comparing properties of different plastics through testing, using a key to sort plastics on the basis of their properties, looking at the chemical structure of plastics, investigating which materials take the longest to decompose, examining the life cycle of a plastic drink bottle, exploring the efficacy of the 4Rs to reduce the environmental impacts of plastics, and the efficacy of recycling plastics into usable items. Students also make plastics in the classroom and research the difference in environmental impact between oil-based and bio-based plastics.

Following these activities, students are encouraged to use their STEM skills to develop solutions for the big impacts of plastics.  Suggestions include making products from bio plastics and developing products from waste plastics to sell for enterprise. These "designing and making" activities involve examining consumer wants and needs, establishing criteria, designing and creating the product, collaborating with others to improve designs and evaluating marketing and selling strategies.

After creating a video to share their entrepreneurial journeys, students reflect on their values and what they have learned in a Belief Circle activity.

This resource highlights a cross-discipline approach with interesting activities, strong links to videos/video clips, links to useful websites and many easy- to-use black line masters. 

General Assessment

What skills does this resource explicitly teach?

  • Critical thinking/creative thinking
  • Problem solving/decision making 
  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Working cooperatively with team members to develop and design a final product
  • Inferring and explaining relationships
  • Using tools and apparatus to conduct investigations
  • Proposing solutions to a problem being investigated
  • Identifying and using a variety of a variety of sources to gather inofrmation
  • Creating written and media text

Strengths

  • Has a multi-disciplinary approach, with an emphasis on inquiry-based learning, and incorporates real-world applications
  • Has opportunities for experiential learning
  • Open-ended solutions and strong action opportunities
  • Resource offers a wide-range of learning activities which encourage critical thinking and creativity
  • Links are relevant to the topic and appropriate to the teacher and the student and include links to suggested video clips
  • Resource is up-to-date and has local focus
  • Fosters empathy
  • Plenary activity provides time to reflect on learning and values as well as the role of STEM activities in addressing global probelms associated with plastics
  • Outcomes addressed in business studies and entrepreneurship
  • Excellent black line masters for data collection,life cycle analysis, graphic organizers for plastics research and comparisons, and pages to assist with marketing strategies, product design, criteria, and evaluation, 
  • Excellent Power Point which assists in lesson delivery

Weaknesses

  • Written for a UK audience, so some additional prep may be needed to rework some lessons
  • The date for participating in the "Challenge" has passed
  • Some assessment tools and rubrics need to be developed

Recommendation of how and where to use it

This resource can be used to address science outcomes associated with habitat loss or in geography and social studies classes to emphasize the link between human activity, and environmental and economic sustainability. Business studies classes could use this package as an entrepreneurship activity with real world connections. It could be used as a project for a STEM expo or as enrichment for an environmental club.

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Themes Addressed

  • Citizenship (1)

    • Sustainable Consumption
  • Economics (1)

    • Poverty Reduction
  • Ecosystems (1)

    • Habitat Loss
  • Human Health & Environment (1)

    • Quality of Life
  • Science and Technology (1)

    • Alternative Ways of Doing Science
  • Waste Management (4)

    • Cradle-to-Cradle
    • Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
    • Solid Waste Disposal
    • Source Reduction

Sustainability Education Principles

Principle Rating Explanation
Consideration of Alternative Perspectives Good

Students gather facts and information from experiential learning opportunities, case studies, and research. They are encouraged to reach their own conclusions regarding the issues of plastic waste, and to brainstorm their own solutions.

Consideration of Alternative Perspectives:
  • Satisfactory: absence of bias towards any one point of view
  • Good: students consider different points of view regarding issues, problems discussed
  • Very good: based on the consideration of different views, students form opinions and  take an informed position
Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions Very Good

The resource effectively links the environmental challenges associated with the overuse of plastics in society with the choices made by consumers. The "convenience" of plastics has implications on a global scale but the recycling of these plastics and developing useful products for resale has potential for improving the quality of lives in both the developed and developing world and in reducing habitat loss around growing landfills.

Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions:

Effectively addresses the environmental, economic and social dimensions of the issue(s) being explored.

  • Satisfactory: resource supports the examination of  these dimensions
  • Good:  resource explicitly examines the interplay of these dimensions
  • Very Good:  a systems-thinking approach is encouraged to examine these three dimensions
Respects Complexity Good
Respects Complexity:

The complexity of the problems/issues being discussed is respected.

Acting on Learning Very Good

Students are given the opportunity to design and develop a product from waste plastic that could be sold for profit. This would not only help reduce plastic in landfills but the product design could be taught to the people in developing countries and perhaps generate a small income which could improve the quality of their lives.

Acting on Learning:

Learning moves from understanding  issues  to working towards positive change — in personal lifestyle, in school, in the community,  or for the planet

  • Satisfactory: action opportunities are included as extensions 
  • Good: action opportunities are core components of the resource
  • Very Good: action opportunities for students are well supported and intended to result in observable, positive change
Values Education Good

The final "Belief Circle" activity gives opportunity for all students to clarify their values and opinions on the excessive use of plastics as well as finding ways to help the environment and improve the quality of life of the poor.

Values Education:

Students are explicitly provided with opportunities to identify, clarify and express their own beliefs/values.

Empathy & Respect for Humans Very Good

The starter activity showing the photographs of children in Nepal sorting through huge piles of garbage to find plastics provides a powerful set induction and fosters empathy. It will also motivate the students to learn more about plastics and be part of the solution to not only decrease the amount of plastics heading to landfills, but also to improve the lives of others.

Empathy & Respect for Humans: Empathy and respect are fostered for diverse groups of humans (including different genders, ethnic groups, sexual preferences, etc.).
Personal Affinity with Earth Good

The photographs of the landfills of Nepal, the product life cycle analysis and the research on oil-based and bio- plastics all highlight the huge environmental impact of waste plastic and the need for planet stewardship.

Personal Affinity with Earth:

Encourages a personal affinity with -the natural world.  

  • Satisfactory: connection is made to the natural world
  • Good: fosters appreciation/concern for the natural world
  • Very Good: fosters stewardship though practical and respectful experiences out-of-doors 
Locally-Focused Learning Good

Students quickly realize the huge amount of plastic products which are present in all areas of their everyday lives. Their consumer choices play a role in the global problem and this may motivate them to re-access the use of these products and to find innovative ways to re-use and re-cycle them.

Locally-Focused Learning:

Includes learning experiences that take advantage of issues/elements within the local community. 

  • Satisfactory: learning is made relevant to the lives of the learners
  • Good: learning is made relevant and has a local focus
  • Very Good: learning is made relevant, local and takes place ‘outside’ , in the community 
Past, Present & Future Good
Past, Present & Future: Promotes an understanding of the past, a sense of the present, and a positive vision for the future.

Pedagogical Approaches

Principle Rating Explanation
Open-Ended Instruction Good
Open-Ended Instruction :

Lessons are structured so that multiple/complex answers are possible; students are not steered toward one 'right' answer.

Integrated Learning Very Good

The attention to integrated learning contributes to a deeper understanding of the far reaching effects of plastics-use and the inter-relationships with the environment, the global economy, and the quality of life of people in the developing world.

Integrated Learning:

Learning brings together content and skills  from more than one  subject area

  • Satisfactory: content from a number of different  subject areas is readily identifiable
  • Good:  resource is appropriate for use in more than one subject area
  • Very Good:  the lines between subjects are blurred 
Inquiry Learning Very Good
Inquiry Learning:

Learning is directed by questions, problems, or challenges that students work to address.   

  • Satisfactory: Students are provided with questions/problems to solve and some direction on how to arrive at solutions.
  • Good: students, assisted by the teacher clarify the question(s) to ask and the process to follow to arrive at solutions.  Sometimes referred to as Guided Inquiry
  • Very Good:  students generate the questions and assume much of the responsibility for how to solve them.  . Sometimes referred to as self-directed learning.

 

Differentiated Instruction Good

The resource has a wide variety of instructional approaches including videos, Power Point presentations, hands on learning opportunities, research projects, product design and production, and also includes useful graphic organizers, T-tables, and comparison charts.

Differentiated Instruction:

Activities address a range of student learning styles, abilities and readiness.

  • Satisfactory:  includes a variety of instructional approaches
  • Good: addresses  the needs of visual, auditory &  kinesthetic learners
  • Very Good: also includes strategies for learners with difficulties
Experiential Learning Very Good

Excellent hands-on learning opportunities are provided involving both scientific investigations and the design of a recycled plastic product as part of an enterprise project.

Experiential Learning:

Authentic learning experiences are provided

  • Satisfactory: learning takes place through ‘hands-on’ experience or simulation
  • Good: learning involves direct experience in a ‘real world context’
  • Very good: learning involves ‘real world experiences’ taking place’ beyond the school walls.
Cooperative Learning Satisfactory
Cooperative Learning:

Group and cooperative learning strategies are a priority.

  • Satisfactory:  students work in groups
  • Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught and practiced
  • Very Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught, practiced and assessed
Assessment & Evaluation Satisfactory

Students are asked to do a group evaluation on their recycled plastic product and a rubric is supplied. There are no other assessment tools provided to assist in evaluation.

Assessment & Evaluation: Tools are provided that help students and teachers to capture formative and summative information about students' learning and performance. These tools may include reflection questions, checklists, rubrics, etc.
Peer Teaching Satisfactory
Peer Teaching:

Provides opportunities for students to actively present their knowledge and skills to peers and/or act as teachers and mentors.

  • Satisfactory: incidental teaching that arises from cooperative learning, presentations, etc.
  • Good or Very Good: an opportunity is intentionally created to empower students to teach other students/community members. The audience is somehow reliant on the students' teaching (students are not simply ‘presenting')
Case Studies Good

The starter activity offers an authentic case study which is effective in fostering empathy and motivating further inquiry. There are also additional video links provided with mini-clips of other real-life situations.

Case Studies:

Relevant case studies are included.  Case studies are thorough descriptions of real events from real situations that students use to explore  concepts in an authentic context.

Locus of Control Very Good

Students have complete control over their entrepreneurial project, and creativity is encouraged.

Locus of Control: Meaningful opportunities are provided for students to choose elements of program content, the medium in which they wish to work, and/or to go deeper into a chosen issue.