TAP Issue – Plastic Trash in the Sea

August 3, 2010 at 7:52 PM Leave a comment

An Exploratorium workshop “Understanding Plastics and Marine Debris in our Watershed” this week in San Francisco right near the Golden Gate, it’s top towers modestly wrapped in fog. A time for me to meet other educators interested in inquiry and the environment, and time to experience being a student again. It’s a blast with field trips, interesting conversations and SOMEBODY ELSE doing the planning. Thank you to Lori Lamberson, Tory Brady and Bryce Johnson of the Exploratorium Teacher Institute!

Trash was a big issue for many students last year – the heart-breaking pictures of sea turtles with plastic coming out their mouths, a dead albatross whose guts are filled with garbage, seals and gulls strangled by plastic six-pack rings. The giant garbage gyre in the north Atlantic the size of Texas. Plus the fact that they can take real action right here.

Here’s some great resources from Exploratorium TI staff:

Web and Print Resources

Ocean Conservancy Coastal Cleanup Day Reports, Images, and Data

California Regional Reports from Coastal Cleanup Day

Marine Debris 101, NOAA’s Collection of Resources Regarding Marine Debris

NOAA’s Marine Debris Outreach and Education Resources

Turning the Tide on Trash, A NOAA Collection of Activities For Grades K-12

Some stand-out facts (for me): 40% of all precipitation in California drains through the Golden Gate from the Central Valley Sacramento and San Joaquin water sheds. Every year, 1cm of mud accumulates across the entire bay. It’s gradually filling up with sediment.

30 million tons of plastic are produced every year. Many kinds of plastic adsorb a 100 million times the water concentration of toxins like PCB. Talk title “Why Pollutants Stick to Plastics” by Teacher Institute scientist Dr. Bryce Johnson. (I’ll add links to the presentations later as/if available).

Different kinds of plastic can be separated by density. There are 6 main kinds of recyclable plastic in our garbage, and a whole lot that can’t be recycled – the miscellaneous group 7. Less dense ones float, some are more or less neutral buoyancy. These make up the plastic islands and river detritus.

Polymers and polymerization can be shown by a fun, hand-holding demo. (Head and legs represent hydrogens, hold both hands for the double bond for ethene. H2O2 is the catalyst that undoes the double bond and sticks on one hand. The other loose hand opens up another ethene pair. etc.) Thanks to Teacher Institute scientist Dr.Julie Yu.

Putting myself in student shoes is a great way to figure out better ways to teach. Here are some things I’m picking up:

Predicting what you’re going to find before say, going on a beach clean up, is cool. Much more interesting and sets up the need to categorize what we found. Then you naturally start to wonder where different trash came from. (We found an enema syringe. “nuff said, lots of cigarette butts, straws, and bits of plastic, paper etc – it varies by beach. Interesting to consider why and how.) Leads into discussion of water sheds, creek and street run-off and concept of water shed.

Challenging to work with strangers! Fun, but a little scary to start with. Awkward to figure out who will do what, not wanting to be bossy, but wanting to pull my weight. Specially difficult when I know how to do something more quickly, or have the first idea. Really aware of not wanting to be a pain with a ‘me, me, me’ attitude. Was thinking of brainstorming a list of group work sentence starters with kids. Maybe including stuff like:

  • I have an idea how to start…
  • How about…
  • What do you think?
  • Does that make sense?
  • I like….
  • I think … will work but I’m not sure about ….
  • I don’t quite get this part…
  • I’m interested in …. Tell me more about it.
  • I wasn’t quite finished..
  • Oh, sorry, go ahead… (I’ll be using this one a lot – interrupting is a weakness I’m working on. Really!)
  • Re-state the challenge if the group gets off topic (we didn’t need to do this, we are such teacher’s pets :-).

What have you learned from being a student again?


Entry filed under: Class Management, Curiosity, Environmental Education, Workshop Reports. Tags: , , , .

What the kids had to say about TAP… New tricks for old teachers, old tricks for new…

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