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Life Below Water

Tackling plastic pollution through creativity and critical thinking

Elementary, Middle

Description

The enormity of plastic pollution in our oceans has become one of the most serious environmental challenges of the 21st century. This resource explores this global issue with a collection of ten lessons that investigate how plastics enter and travel around the ocean, plastic impacts on marine life and positive steps towards resolving this problem. Students develop critical thinking skills as they expand their understanding of marine litter and ecosystems with the following learning activities:

  • Investigate how ocean currents transport plastic pollution.

  • Study how microplastics move through marine food chains.

  • Examine other human impacts on ocean ecosystems.

  • Debate ideas for addressing the problem of marine debris.

  • Design awareness materials to communicate this issue to peers.

  • Identify personal goals to reduce single-use plastics in their daily lives.

General Assessment

What skills does this resource explicitly teach?

  • Analysis
  • Inferring
  • Communication
  • Research

Strengths

  • Good support resources including a Powerpoint presentation and links to excellent videos
  • Strong emphasis on critical thinking
  • Engaging text such as "The Toy Trek Story" will capture students interest

Weaknesses

  • Learning goals are only provided in a very general sense with no specific objectives
  • There are no student assessment strategies for activities like the "mini-projects"

Recommendation of how and where to use it

The lessons in this resource can be used individually or collectively to support outcomes related to ocean science, endangered animals and loss of species, pollution, sustainable communities and global issues. Students also practice critical thinking skills through open-ended inquiry and there are many opportunities for creative collaboration with each other and other schools.

 

The last three lessons of the unit focus on solutions. Students develop public awareness materials, design and present strategies to solve the existing problem and present ideas for reducing single-use plastics. This information could become the basis of a community action project where pupils motivate citizens to become as plastic free as possible. A class could create and sell cloth shopping bags, initiate a letter writing campaign to ask local government to ban single-use food items like plastic straws and work with local pet stores to encourage dog owners to use biodegradable “poop” bags.

 

Relevant Curriculum Units

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Themes Addressed

  • Citizenship (1)

    • Sustainable Consumption
  • Water (1)

    • Marine Environments

Sustainability Education Principles

Principle Rating Explanation
Consideration of Alternative Perspectives Very Good

One key strength of this resource is that although the theme is plastic litter students have an opportunity to learn about other ocean stressors such as climate change and over-fishing. This will strengthen student awareness that pressure on marine ecosystems can be compounded by cumulative effects.

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

Beyond the obvious environmental issues of wildlife entanglement and ingestion, students are also presented with information that supports informed questioning about the direct and indirect impacts of plastic pollution on fisheries, food supplies, tourism and human health.

 

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 Satisfactory

There is a progressive building on prior knowledge to gain a clear understanding of all of the complexities in solving the plastic pollution problem.  This holistic approach provides many opportunities for students to think critically about the issue.

Respects Complexity:

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

Acting on Learning Good

Students are able to develop creative strategies for informing peers and community members about reducing the use of single-use plastics.  A guided inquiry approach also helps them formulate personal action goals.

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

An important goal of this unit is that students develop a self-awareness about how much plastic they use in their daily lives.  This information then provides the basis for discussions about personal conservation strategies.

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

This resource does not include an outdoor component.  Taking a class to a local beach to find and analyze plastic pollution would reinforce connections between the natural world and human impacts.

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 Satisfactory

An evaluation of the amount of plastic pollution in the local community could be used to reinforce how a local environmental problem is connected to the larger global issue.

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

Although the problem of marine litter can seem overwhelming this resource clearly identifies that our oceans can improve through active environmental stewardship.

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 have several opportunities for unrestricted dialogue throughout the lessons.  They are also able to process new learning and ideas independently.  

Open-Ended Instruction :

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

Integrated Learning Good

This resource focuses on marine ecosystems while supporting outcomes related to sustainability, understanding maps, and analyzing visual and written information.  Communication skills through debate and writing tasks are also an integral component of each lesson.

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's role in most of the activities is to support instead of direct student discussions and reflection.  This strategy ensures there are many opportunities for self discovery which facilitates active student involvement in the learning process.

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 Poor/Not considered
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

This is a classroom based unit but a field trip to a local beach would make the learning more meaningful.

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 Poor/Not considered
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

There are no specific evaluation tools, but the final project of developing an infographic for communicating the plastic pollution message could be used as a summative evaluation using standard English Language Arts rubrics.

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

Students actively engage with each other through peer discussions and problem solving.

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
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 Good

Students are able to create a choice of two mini- projects.  One task has them develop an "infographic" that can be used to communicate facts about ocean pollution.  The other project asks pupils to develop an innovative idea for tackling the problem of plastic waste and presenting their design to a "panel of experts".  

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.