The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

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SWBAT participate in a class debate to evaluate options for cleaning up the mess known as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch".

Big Idea

As we have evolved, our needs have demanded the production of materials that are durable and weather-resistant - plastic! But what happens to all that plastic when we throw it away?


5 minutes

I start the lesson by playing The Majestic Plastic Bag - A Mockumentary. Kids love this because it is satirical in nature, but not too difficult to understand the content or the humor.

At the end of the video, I ask students to use TodaysMeet to explain which aspects of the video are true, which are exaggerated, and which merely are added for entertainment value.

Projecting a map to show the location, I explain to the students that just to the north of Guam, there is a region of the world known as The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP), an area of the ocean where marine debris has conjugated due to the ocean’s currents. This area contains a high density of plastics and other debris, estimated to be TWICE THE SIZE OF TEXAS!


30 minutes

In order for students to become familiar with the GPGP, I post the following videos on my website so that they can easily be accessed by the students. The students will watch each video at their own pace, stopping to take notes, rewind sections, etc, as needed.

While watching the videos, the students fill in the GPGP Cornell Notes I made on the Worksheet Works website. I give them three notes sheets - one for each video. Not only does this set the expectation for active participation and comprehension of each video, but it also helps students to organize their information easily.

The Pacific Garbage Patch


 Great Pacific Garbage Patch


The Nurdles' Quest for Ocean Domination


10 minutes

After watching the videos and completing their notes, I place the students in groups of 4 and use a Numbered Heads Together strategy to answer questions such as:

  • How was the GPGP caused?
  • Why is the GPGP so problematic?
  • How could this have been avoided?
  • What are "nurdles" and how do they affect the GPGP?
  • What can we do to solve this problem?
  • What is the most important thing you took from the videos today?


10 minutes

Next, I show my students the videos, Beyond Recycling and How the Oceans Can Clean Themselves


After watching the videos, I ask my students to consider whether or not the ideas presented would actually work.  I allow students additional time (at least 15-20 minutes) to research these ideas, then hold a class debate to hear students ideas and the evidence they have found to justify their claims.

In addition to the research that the students have found, they may also review the videos we watched in class and use information from them as evidence to support their claim. (I like to hold the debate the following day if time permits, in order to allow students time to properly research and prepare their arguments. If not, a shorter version of a class debate could be held during the same class period.)


5 minutes

I assess class participation and overall understanding by taking observational and anecdotal notes during the Explore and Explain sections of the lesson. By reading their Cornell notes and listening to student conversations, I am able to determine who needs additional support, video playback,  (one-on-one conversations, sentence frames, etc) throughout the lesson.

Students are assessed on their summative knowledge and participation in the debate based on the debate rubric (provided by Northern Illinois University).