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The Science of Plastics

Just what is plastics and what are its environmental implications?

Secondary, Middle

Description

This resource has students discover what plastic is, why it was created, and how it is made. Students will conduct a scientific enquiry into single-use plastic products, identifying their properties, uses and environmental implications. 

Students will: 

  • Learn how plastic is made, its importance in the world and the challenges of plastic pollution
  • review some background information on plastic, why it was created and how it is made
  • carry out a scientific enquiry on a plastic item
  • learn how plastics are affecting wildlife and wildlife habitat
  • discuss what they can do to follow the principles of refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, recycle, and rethink. 

The resource offers multiple ideas for follow up activities to extend the learning and supporting documents for the lesson plan.

General Assessment

What skills does this resource explicitly teach?

In this resource, students will learn how to do a scientific enquiry of a plastic item. 

Strengths

  • This activity asks students to think about their own consumption of plastics
  • The lesson is well detailed for teachers
  • All worksheets needed by students are available and ready to copy
  • A presentation to accompany the lesson is provided in the resources. This presentation has presenters notes as well to help with delivery
  • Follow up activities are included in the resource
  • Useful links are included

Weaknesses

  • Ideas for evaluations of students learning or rubrics are not included in this resource
  • Activities or modifications for struggling learners are not included in this resource

Recommendation of how and where to use it

This resource would be excellent to spark discussions on how human actions are affecting the environment. As well, to get students thinking about how they can change their behaviour in terms of plastic consumption. 

Relevant Curriculum Units

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Themes Addressed

  • Ecosystems (2)

    • Habitat Loss
    • Wildlife Protection
  • Waste Management (2)

    • Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
    • Source Reduction
  • Water (1)

    • Marine Environments

Sustainability Education Principles

Principle Rating Explanation
Consideration of Alternative Perspectives Very Good

The Science of Plastics provides students with background information on plastics and the tools needed for them to form an informed opinion on the issue of plastics. 

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 strongly supports the environmental dimension and touches on the social and economic manner through the concept of reusing, recycling, and looking beyond the 3Rs such as rethinking, refusing, repairing, etc

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 Very Good

A wide range of information on plastics is provided to students during this lesson, therefore students gain a true understanding of what impact plastic can have on their world. 

Respects Complexity:

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

Acting on Learning Satisfactory

Students are asked to think about how they could change their plastic consumption, however, they are not asked to put these ideas in action. 

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 Very Good

This lesson has reflection question as well as multiple discussions where students can express their opinions and their values. 

Values Education:

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

Empathy & Respect for Humans Poor/Not considered

This is not a focus of this resource. 

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

Students will take a quick look on how plastics are being left in the environment and how it is affecting wildlife and wildlife habitat

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

Students will do an enquiry of a plastic item that is part of their life and discuss how they could reduce their own personal plastic use. 

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 Very Good

Students will look at how plastics are made, how they end up in the ocean, the repercussion that we are seeing now with plastic and think of ways to diminish the amount of plastic used. Therefore, they are looking at all three dimensions. 

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 Very Good

Students have the chance to voice their own opinion in the reflection questions and discussions that are part of the lesson. 

Open-Ended Instruction :

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

Integrated Learning Satisfactory

This lesson is mostly geared towards Science classes. 

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 Satisfactory

One suggested activity invites students to research bioplastics or alternative science and present to the class.

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 resource has a variety of activities that meets the needs of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners. However, there are no strategies included for learners with difficulties.

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 lesson plan is information based and has some activities. Students will also do a simulation through the scientific enquiry. However, students will not be learning beyond the school walls. The follow up activities does suggest an experiential learning activity but it is note a main component of the lesson plan.

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

Students will need to work in groups in this lesson. 

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 options are not provided in this resources. 

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

One suggested activity invites students to  research bioplastics or alternative science and present to the class.

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

A number of real life examples of where plastics have been found in the ocean are described in the presentation to students. 

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
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.