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Perils of Plastic

Secondary, Middle

Description

Students learn about the world's largest "landfill," make a connection to their own lives, and calculate how much trash they generate in a week, a year, ten years.

General Assessment

What skills does this resource explicitly teach?

The skills involved are those associated with the collection and interpretation of data.

Strengths

The lesson plan focuses student's attention on a global issue of growing concern by using a local case study that is both personal and effective.

Recommendation of how and where to use it

The activity may be used in those units of study that focus on

  • responsible consumerism
  • citizenship education
  • threats to marine environments
  • government responsibility for the environment
  • pushes and pulls in the economic marketplace and corporate responsibility

Relevant Curriculum Units

The following tool will allow you to explore the relevant curriculum matches for this resource. To start, select a province listed below.

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  • Alberta
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        • Interactions and Ecosystems
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        • Knowledge and Employability Science: Environmental Chemistry (Social and Environmental Contexts Emphasis)
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        • Science 30: Chemistry and the Environment
  • British Columbia
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    • Grade 11
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        • Chemistry 11: Organic chemistry and its applications have significant implications for human health, society, and the environment
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        • Environmental Science 12: Living sustainably supports the well-being of self, community, and Earth.
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        • Interactions Within Ecosystems
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        • Geographic Issues of the 21st Century: Natural Resources
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        • Citizenship and Sustainability: Area of Inquiry: Consumerism
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  • New Brunswick
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        • Introduction to Environmental Science 120: Sustainable Development
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        • World Issues 120:Interdependence
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        • Canadian Geography 1202: Natural and Human Systems
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        • Science 2200: Ecosytems
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        • Environmental Science 3205: Water Use & the Environment
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        • AP Environmental Science: Aquatic and Terrestrial Pollution
  • Nunavut
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        • Chemistry and the Environment
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        • Science 30: Chemistry and the Environment
  • Ontario
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        • Natural Resources around the World: Use and Sustainability
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        • Environmental Science (Univ/College Prep.) Reducing and Managing Waste
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        • The Environment & Resource Management (Workplace Preparation): Human-Environment Interactions
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        • World Issues: A Geographic Analysis (Univ. Prep.):Sustainability and Stewardship
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        • Canadian Identity: Citizenship
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        • Geography of Canada 421A: Canada’s Global Connections
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        • Science 431A: Life Science, Sustainability of Ecosystems
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        • Environmental Science 621A: Environmental Challenges and Successes
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        • Chemistry 11: Organic chemistry and its applications have significant implications for human health, society, and the environment
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        • Environmental Science 11: Human practices affect the sustainability of ecosystems
        • Environmental Science 11:Humans can play a role in stewardship and restoration of ecosystems
    • Grade 12
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      • Environmental Science
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        • Environmental Science 12: Living sustainably supports the well-being of self, community, and Earth.

Themes Addressed

  • Citizenship (1)

    • Ecological Footprint
  • Waste Management (1)

    • Solid Waste Disposal
  • Water (1)

    • Marine Environments

Sustainability Education Principles

Principle Rating Explanation
Consideration of Alternative Perspectives Good

The lesson is essentially an exercise in data collection and interpretation in which both the data and the interpretation are generated by the students. 

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

While the focus of the lesson is on the environmental impact of our use of plastics, teachers may explore the economic and social reasons for our reliance on plastics and the consequences in each of these areas of a strategy to reduce or eliminate our addiction to plastics. The lesson plan is an effective starting point for such a conversation.

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

The drilling down exercise required to acknowledge the complexity of the issue is the teacher's responsibility. It is the teacher who should ask students to consider why we use plastics, the possible alternatives to plastics, the cost/ benefits of reducing or eliminating our dependence on plastics, who (government, corporations, individuals) must assume the responsibility for any change in current practices. 

National Geographic does reference other resources that would help teachers and students pursue these questions in some depth.

Respects Complexity:

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

Acting on Learning Good

The aim of the lesson is to have students recognize the amount of plastic they produce individually and the cumulative effect of their own use and that of others. Such knowledge, while not a guarantee of appropriate action, is, nevertheless, a pre-requisite to changing one's behaviour and lobbying to change that of others.  

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

Class discussion about our use of plastics may be expected to have students consider what value they attach to convenience and to the environment and what are the ethical implications of their individual actions - eco-ethics.

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 Good

The lesson helps students recognize the link between their daily lives (plastic consumption and disposal) and the natural world (marine environments).

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 Very Good

The lesson helps students recognize the link between the local (student use of plastics) and the global (deterioration of marine environments). It is an exericse in the principle, " think globally and act locally". 

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

The lesson has students to recognize our current dependency on plastics and to consider changes that improve the future of our marine environments.

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

The lesson has a limited goal - to have students recognize their individual and collective use of plastics and the implications of that use for the environment. While limited, this is a necessary first step in having students, in subsequent lessons, explore the reasons for our use of plastics, their environmental impact, and the alternatives to our current usage.

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 lesson, while introductory, opens the possibility for extending the lesson to have students consider the chemical properties of plastics(chemistry), the resources that are used in the making of plastics (geography), what happens as plastics break down (chemistry), the role of plastics in the marine food chain (biology), the cost/benefits of using materials other than plastics to meet our needs (economics), the question as to whether the issue may be resolved by individuals, corporations or governments (political science).

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

Students are presented with a question - How much plastic do they consume? - and, with teacher guidance, set about to answer that question. Other questions may arise as the lesson proceeds - What is the consequence of our use of plastics? What can we do to reduce or eliminate our dependency on plastics? Who has the responsibility for addressing the problems associated with our use of plastics?

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

This is a concrete, tactile, hands on lesson. Students bring their garbage to school, record the data generated, extrapolate that data to a larger setting and discuss the implications of that data.  

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

Students investigate the issue of plastic use by collecting, recording and analyzing their own use of plastics. 

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

Students work together to record their collective plastic use, consider the harm done to the environment by the disposal of plastic, and share what they have learned from the activity.

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 Good

Student assessment is informal. Teachers rate students on a scale of one to five on their participation

  • participation in classroom discussion about the plastic trash
  • contribution of recyclable trash to the class collection
  • participation in the "weigh-in"
  • extrapolation of data
  • link their plastic use impacts on the environment
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 Good

Students cooperate to collect and interpret data and share what they have learned from the activity.

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 Very Good

This is a case study of a designated group's use of plastics, the results of which are extrapolated to the larger society. 

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

The teacher proposes a question for class investigation - How much plastic do we use? - and the students proceed to answer the question. Pursuing the implications of their findings may be driven by further questions from the teacher or students themselves. 

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.
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