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The Back to School Plastic Challenge

Start the school year by breaking up with single-use plastics.

Elementary, Middle

Description

This activity based resource developed by the UN Clean Seas campaign contains a series of projects that involve students in identifying and quantifying plastic waste at school and home.  The problem-based learning experience develops environmental citizenship skills to reduce the deluge of plastic debris that is littering our oceans. A multi-disciplinary approach strengthens critical thinking skills as students:

  • Audit the types of plastics they use on a daily basis.
  • Examine attitudes towards recycling with a community survey.
  • Develop and present strategies for plastic waste reduction.
  • Identify personal action goals for reducing reliance on single use plastics.

General Assessment

What skills does this resource explicitly teach?

  • Advocacy
  • Research
  • Communication
  • Presentation

Strengths

  • Strong connections between the learning activities and the local community
  • Actively involves students in changing behaviours to benefit the environment
  • Uses a student-centered pedagogy

Weaknesses

  • Requires a significant time commitment as each activity requires several days to complete
  • Does not include any assessment strategies

Recommendation of how and where to use it

The student-centered projects in this resource support science outcomes related to properties of materials, pollution and waste management.  The activities also reinforce verbal and written communication skills while involving students in learning about local communities. 

The emphasis on individual action provides an outstanding opportunity to extend the learning with an environmental citizenship plan that focuses on becoming a more sustainable school.  Students could initiate a community bottle recycling program that raises funds for local sports teams.  Pollution challenges could recognize pupils and teachers who demonstrate a commitment to reducing waste generation with personal changes.  “Trash Talk” facts could be prepared for morning announcements and a class could work with administration to source school supplies that use recycled plastic in their products. 

Relevant Curriculum Units

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Themes Addressed

  • Citizenship (2)

    • Community-Building and Participation
    • General Guide to Taking Action
  • Waste Management (1)

    • Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Sustainability Education Principles

Principle Rating Explanation
Consideration of Alternative Perspectives Very Good

A balanced approach identifies the significance of plastic as one of our most innovative technological advances while recognizing that responsible consumption is essential to mitigating the negative environmental impacts of such a useful material.  

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 Good

This resource highlights reuse as the key to the sustainability of a product that reduces consumer costs and benefits economies.  The goal is to remove the single use products that are convenient but have huge impacts on ecosystem and human health as they degrade into the environment.  Students are also asked to consider the role of technological innovation in relieving the plastic burden.

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

The issue of plastic waste is often associated with visible objects such as  bags and bottles.  The activities also consider plastic pollution generated from products like synthetic fibres or dust from the abrasion of car tires.  Students develop an awareness that these invisible contaminants are equally damaging to ocean ecosystems but are much more difficult to remove from the environment.

Respects Complexity:

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

Acting on Learning Very Good

Throughout this resource students are engaged in considering how individual action can support global initiatives to reduce pollution.  The “Reduce the Use” and “Setting Targets” activities establish the framework for the development of personal waste reduction goals that are individually achievable and collectively create healthier oceans.

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

This resource uses an informed decision-making process to involve students in constructive behaviour changes that reduce reliance on  single-use plastics.  The emphasis on community-based action also makes the learning much more meaningful for students.

Values Education:

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

Empathy & Respect for Humans Poor/Not considered
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 Satisfactory

A beach clean-up would connect students with the natural environment while reinforcing an awareness of the local impacts of plastic pollution.

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 survey community attitudes towards recycling to learn about the challenges in reducing plastic waste at a local level.

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 Satisfactory

Student driven strategies for reducing environmental impacts support looking towards the future with long-lasting changes in the way they think about sustainability.

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

Students are able to self direct their research and formulate their own opinions as they identify personal action strategies.

Open-Ended Instruction :

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

Integrated Learning Good

The “Survey of Plastics” activity combines science information about properties of materials with mathematics tasks involving quantifying and recording data.  The lesson deepens understanding about the social aspects of their community in relationship to the broader global issue.  Students also actively engage in reflection and self-assessment and use English Language Arts skills to communicate information. 

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 Good

The teacher role in most of the activities is to support rather than direct student discussions. This strategy ensures there are many opportunities for self discovery which facilitates active student involvement in the learning outcomes.

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 Satisfactory

There are no specific differentiation strategies but the hands on approach will appeal to a variety of learning styles.

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 Satisfactory

The inquiry based lesson fosters an awareness of the relationship between action and results in confronting a global issue that is currently at the forefront of environmental concerns in maintaining a healthy Earth.

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 Good

A teamwork process actively involves students in peer interaction and supports open dialogue.

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 Poor/Not considered
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 Poor/Not considered
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 Satisfactory

Focusing on the topic from the context of small changes leading to big differences clearly demonstrates the strength of individual actions in addressing global environmental issues.

 

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 Poor/Not considered
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.