Plastic waste is a big problem worldwide. Because of this fact, we wanted our 4th grade students at Wheatland Elementary to participate in a project that would allow them to better understand the magnitude of the problem and to learn about some possible solutions. In October of 2019, we began our Plastic Wastes Project. We first introduced the topic to the students through a Skype session with a turtle hospital in South Carolina. The students were able to see how plastic waste in the ocean was hurting and killing sea creatures that mistake the plastic waste for food.
Next, students researched about the problem of plastic waste – how long plastic takes to decompose, how it makes its way to the ocean, and what effects it has on the environment and wildlife. Students also did a Plastic Inventory, where they collected and recorded how much plastic waste their family uses in one week. The students logged each piece of plastic waste their family used and then brought in a bag full to be used for a later part in the project. We found out the total pieces of plastic the students had collected over the week. To gain a better understanding of how much plastic we all use in our everyday lives, we multiplied the total amount of plastic pieces for the class by how many classes we have in our school. Then we multiplied that by how many schools in our district, and how many districts in Kansas, and so forth. By the end, students were amazed at just how much plastic waste we all produce and its impact on the environment.
Students showed their learning in a couple of different ways. First, students chose three of their plastic waste items that they had brought in to school and transformed them into a sea creature. Then they took a picture of their plastic waste sea creature in front of a green screen and then overlaid it on an ocean image and wrote a short problem and solution on that image. The second way students shared their learning was by creating a Buncee. Using text and images, students showed what the problem was with plastic waste, how it gets in to the ocean, and talked about ways we can help reduce the amount of plastic waste. Students even used the recording feature in Buncee to create a short video explaining about their families’ Plastic Inventory. They loved the creativity Buncee allowed them in sharing their knowledge on the issue.
We also wanted to share our knowledge with others in order to help educate other students and perhaps inspire them to be part of the solution, as well. The fourth-grade teachers and art teacher constructed a giant sea turtle out of chicken wire that was about 12-feet long. After the students had brought in a portion of their families’ plastic waste for the week, they filled the giant wire sea turtle with their plastic waste that they had collected at home. We displayed this giant plastic waste-filled wire sea turtle in the front lobby of the school. It provided great talking points for the other students in the school, as well as the parents and faculty. Later, we even Skyped with a Spanish class at Andover High School that was looking to do a project on plastic waste, too. My 4th grade students shared about our project and what they had learned with the high school students, and evaluated and gave suggestions for the high school students’ ideas about their own upcoming projects.
This project was a great chance for my students to engage in a real-world, global issue and share their knowledge with others inside and outside of our own school. Hopefully it will inspire them to think about their responsibility as consumers and global citizens.