High School Lesson Plan: Hands-on “Garbage Patch”

High School Lesson Plan: Hands-on “Garbage Patch”

You may have heard about the “Garbage Patch”, an island the size of Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean, but it may not be what you imagine. Much of the pollution caught in all of our ocean’s gyres is actually a slurry of many-sized pieces of plastic; some smaller than the period at the end of this sentence.

Micro-plastic pollution threatens wildlife because when it is eaten, it cannot be digested. It can also cause poisoning, concentrating potentially deadly chemicals in the food chain. These plastics have also been found in the Great Lakes which supplies millions of people with drinking water.

Although not yet studied, it stands to reason that it may even be present in the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers as well. Our classroom activity is based on the work of teachers participating in ocean expeditions with the Scripps Oceanographic Institute. During this activity students will experience some of the challenges presented to scientists who are studying this problem.

Activities include: making a model ocean, concocting a slurry of pollutants, devising sampling techniques, collecting samples, analyzing samples, and evaluating the methods they chose to use.

Students discuss some implications of this challenging environmental issue. The unit is concluded with a critical thinking exercise in which students, in light of their gained experience, evaluate a collection of opinions about this topic for their validity.