The Garbage Patch:
Earth Day Lessons
Marieke van Woerkom
question for teachers: The two classroom lessons below draw from a 7-minute
video clip available on the web. Is it easy or difficult for you to access the
web in your classroom? Do you find it useful to incorporate web-based media with
your students? Please let us know: email@example.com.
Great Pacific Garbage Patch
introduced to Earth Day
online a clip about plastic bags and the "North Pacific Gyre"
learn what the North Pacific Gyre is and what effect it has on local wildlife
the "life cycle" of a plastic bag
minutes) What is Earth Day?
students a quick overview of the history of Earth Day by sharing the following:
April 22 is Earth Day. It is a special day to learn about our planet and how to
keep it healthy. In 1969 a Senator* called Gaylord Nelson was worried about our
planet. He had noticed how dirty the planet was getting and how many animals were
dying. He knew that he couldn't solve these problems by himself because they were
too big, so he decided to teach other people about what was happening so that
they too could help solve the planet's problems.
wrote many letters to his colleagues in Washington and published articles to convince
people around the country to have a special day on which everyone would learn
to care about the planet. On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day was held and
people across the country learned about the health of the planet. It was so popular
that very soon the idea of Earth Day spread around the world and now every April
22, people around the world make a special effort to learn about the planet and
do things to make it better.
A senator is someone who is chosen by the people of his/her state to represent
and speak for them in Washington.
pairs ask students to talk about a time that they asked for help because they
couldn't do something by themselves. What was that like? What happened? Give them
two minutes to share and let them know when the time is about halfway up so that
they can switch. Then reconvene the whole class and ask a few volunteers to share
their stories "popcorn style."
minutes) Check Agenda
that on Earth Day, April 22, students will join others around the world in learning
about the planet and ways of making it healthier.
minutes) Great Pacific Garbage Patch
groups of five and provide each student with a short description that introduces
them to one of the five characters in the video clip. In each group, all five
characters will be represented. (For the handout, click
here.) Ask students to read the description of their character, and instruct
them to pay attention to their character when watching the "Great Pacific
Garbage Patch" clip. Ask students to think about what the character contributes
to the team as they deal with the Hufflebot plastic bag problem.
students the video: http://www.greengorilla.com/video-post/great-pacific-garbage-patch
watching the clip, give each small group a few minutes to talk about what is called
the "life cycle" of a plastic bag: What happens to a plastic bag from
the time it is created in the Hufflebot Factory till it ends up in the ocean?
Ask students to think about real life and the plastic bags they and their families
use. Where do people get their plastic bags, what do they do with them and for
how long? What happens with these plastic bags once they've been used?
a few minutes, ask representatives from each group to share one of the life-cyle
stages they talked about. Jot them down on the board, creating a chart (click
here for a sample).
they've shared their stages, ask students to back up and think about what happens
before the bags are made at the factory. What about the raw materials that go
into the making of a plastic bag and the shipping of those materials to the factory?
Though it might be hard to believe, plastic bags are actually made out of oil
and/or natural gas. Think about it.
for the teacher: Plastic bags start as crude oil, natural gas, or other petrochemical
derivatives, which are transformed into chains of hydrogen and carbon molecules
known as polymers or polymer resin. After being heated, shaped, and cooled, the
plastic is ready to be flattened, sealed, punched, or printed on. (http://www.worldwatch.org/node/1499)
that all products have life cycles like this. Energy is used at every step of
the "product life cycle" which produces more litter, dirt, bad smell,
etc. Draw clouds, lines, etc. at different points in the chart to illustrate this.
Many products we use end up in the garbage, creating huge landfills and garbage
dumps all over the world. Some products don't even make it to the garbage, which
is how we end up with floating garbage patches like the one shown in the clip.
that the North Pacific Gyre exists in real life, not as an island that Dr. Hufflebot
is trying to build his empire on, but as a huge garbage patch floating in the
ocean north of Hawaii. As Soccet explains "the North Pacific Gyre is a ginormous
swirl of ocean currents that gathers millions of plastic bags and other trash
from all around the world." And as you saw in the clip, this garbage hurts
the local animals like fish, birds and turtles. They think the garbage is food
and end up with stomachs full of plastic, leaving little room for real food.
the question is, "now what?"
pairs ask students to talk about what solutions to the plastic bag problem the
band came up with. Are there other solutions your students can think of? Tell
your students that this is something they will explore in more detail in tomorrow's
your class that tomorrow, they'll continue looking at ways to help make the planet
students to bring a plastic bag to school.
Reduce Reuse Recycle
introduced to American consumption and wastefulness
the notion of "reduce, reuse, recycle"
today's agenda on chart paper or on the chalkboard
paper and markers to chart the "what can we do?" list
Ask students to talk
in pairs: Can you think of a time when you helped clean up something up? How did
it make you feel? Get a few volunteers to share what they said with the whole
minutes) Check Agenda
Go over the day's
plan and ask if it seems okay.
minutes) Plastic bag strand
students to take out the plastic bags they brought to class. In the groups of
five from yesterday's lesson, ask students to work together to tie their plastic
bags into a strand of five bags. When a group is ready, get the students to pair
up with another group to tie their two strands together, and so on until all bags
are tied into one long strand. Take a look at this strand and think that there
are 20 or so bags tied into this strand. Now consider the 1,000 bags used per
American family per year. Imagine how long that strand would be.
14 billion (14,000,000,000) bags are used in the U.S. alone each year. When tied
together these bags could be wrapped around the world 26 thousand (26,000) times!
about the fact that only 0.6 percent of these plastic bags is recycled. That is
less than one out of every hundred. And most of the rest of the bags never even
make it to landfills/garbage dumps. Instead they fly into the air after people
are done with them--getting caught in fences, trees, even the throats of birds,
fish and turtles and, as we saw in yesterday's clip, clogging gutters, sewers,
and waterways, ending up in the ocean as ginormous garbage swirls.
minutes) Gorilla in the Greenhouse Recap
your class to think back to yesterday's Gorilla in the Greenhouse clip. Get a
show of hands of who was asked to follow KJ? Scoot? Bucket? Cypher? Socket? Then
present your students with the following questions:
the clip, the band sings about "cause and effect." What do you think
solutions for the plastic bag problem did the band come up with?
do you think about these solutions? Are there others?
you think it is something that you and your family could do?
about other things to help improve the planet's health?
you ever heard of the phrase "reduce, reuse, recycle?" What do you think
minutes) Reduce, reuse, recycle
your class to form groups according to their characters from yesterday. Those
who followed KJ form one group, as do those who followed Scoot, Bucket, Cypher,
and Socket. In their groups ask students to talk about what ends up in the garbage
at school or at home that they might be able to reduce, reuse or recycle. Think
about school lunch for instance (the sandwich bags, juice boxes, styrofoam trays,
etc.), as well as the classroom garbage (lots of paper). Also think about home:
What ends up in the garbage there?
about the waste of other things as well. Is there a way to save some of the water
we use, the heat or cooling of our classrooms and homes, the gas for the family
car, the power to machines like fridges, freezers, lamps, computers, phones, televisions,
radios, MP3 players, and anything else your students come up with?
students to discuss this, first in their small groups. Then have students bring
their ideas to the large group. On chart paper titled "What can we do?"
make a list of their responses, using the three categories of 1. Reduce, 2. Reuse,
and 3. Recycle.
this list a work in progress. You can check in with your students over the coming
weeks to see which of the actions on their list they are implementing at home
or at school. Consider adding actions to the list as your students become more
aware about how to better care for the environment.
your class the following chant, line after line, and then together as a group:
job is too big,
No action too small,
For the care of the earth,
task for us all."
your students to first do what the band did in the Gorilla in the Greenhouse clip:
Before they took action, they tried to get a better understanding of the situation.
Ask your students to do some lunch room research: What waste is produced during
lunch? Then, based on the research, help students figure out a plan of action.
Divide up the various tasks among your students. Consider informing the rest of
the school of the garbage problem by making posters, announcements, presentations,
etc. Have students share their ideas for reducing waste during school lunch.
to the Gorilla in the Greenhouse website and check out the suggested activities
to the creators of Gorilla in the Greenhouse for permission to use their materials.
did this activity work in your class? Please share your stories and other feedback
with us! Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.