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Investigate Plastic Pollution

After examining the number of plastic products in their homes, students will conduct research to learn more about the history of plastic, problems caused by plastic and potential solutions. They will identify the solution they think will work best within their family, school or community.

PROCESS:

  1. Invite students to look around the classroom. What are the first three things they see that are made of plastic? Then have students think about their homes. How many plastic products do they think they would find there? Have each student guess and record his or her guess on a piece of paper. That evening, have students go home and count the plastic products they see.
  2. The next day, invite students to report their tallies. Add them all up to get a class total. Are students surprised at the total? Were they aware that there was so much plastic around them? Encourage students to share their reactions.
  3. In pairs or small groups, have students conduct research to learn more about plastic. Assign topics including the history of plastic, problems caused by plastic, and potential solutions. Instruct students to create a list of bullet points that summarizes the most important things they learned.

ASSESSMENT:

Invite students to share their findings with the class. Instruct the class to pick one solution that students think would work best. Then have students brainstorm ideas about how they could get their family, school or community to follow their lead and implement this solution.

CUSTOMIZE THE LESSON:

Grades 3-4:
Before students search their homes for plastic items, brainstorm a list of things they might expect to find, such as toys, dishes, bags, hair dryers, etc. You might also want to limit findings to 25 items per student to make the search more manageable. After examining tallies, divide the class into three groups. Assign each group a topic: the history of plastic; problems caused by plastic; or potential solutions. Provide assistance as needed as students conduct research. Challenge each group to write five bullets listing the most important points about their assigned topic.
Grades 5-6:
Before students search their homes for plastic items, brainstorm a list of things they might expect to find, such as toys, dishes, bags, hair dryers, etc. You might also want to limit findings to 50 items per student. After examining tallies, divide the class into three groups. Assign each group a topic: the history of plastic; problems caused by plastic; or potential solutions. Challenge each group to write 10 bullets listing the most important points about their assigned topic.
Grades 7-8:
As students search their homes, challenge them to identify and record as many plastic items as they can. After examining tallies, introduce the research topics to the class. Have the class brainstorm potential subtopics for each issue. Problems, for example, could be divided into impact on water, land, animals or people. Divide the class into pairs. Assign each pair one subtopic. When students are finished with research, have those investigating the same overall topic compare notes. As a group, challenge students to write 10 bullets identifying the most important points related to their overall topic.
Grades 9-10:
As students search their homes for plastic items, challenge them to also record the number of each type of item they see. For example, plastic grocery bags would count as one item but there may be 50 plastic grocery bags in the home. After examining tallies, introduce the research topics to the class. Divide the class into small groups. Assign each group one topic. Challenge groups to identify important subtopics related to their issue. Problems, for example, could be divided into impact on water, land, animals or people. Encourage groups to divide the workload so each subtopic is covered. When their research is complete, have groups write 10 bullets identifying the most important points related to their overall topic. As students present their findings, compare and contrast results of groups that investigated the same topic.