What is plastic and why is it a problem in the ocean?

Lesson overview

With plastics being ubiquitous in modern life, students examine what has made this material so popular. Students then learn what happens to litter when it enters the ocean. Finally, the lesson looks at how plastics affect turtles, and whether we have enough information to take drastic action on plastics, or whether we need to wait for more research to be conducted.

Learning outcomes
  • Consider how the properties of plastic make it so popular and so harmful
  • Rank how different types of litter biodegrade in the ocean
  • Suggest how plastics can harm turtles
  • Evaluate whether there is enough scientific evidence to take drastic action on plastics
Lesson steps
  1. The best thing about plastic (10 mins)
    The lesson starts with students considering what makes plastic such a great material by looking at common plastic items.
  2. What happens to plastic in the ocean (15 mins)
    Students plot the time it takes for different types of marine litter to biodegrade and discuss how this should influence our choice of materials.
  3. Plastics and turtles (10 mins)
    Turtles are one of the species where there is a good body of evidence for the impact of plastics. Students create statements on the harm caused by plastics using sentence segments.
  4. Do we know enough (20 mins)
    Action on plastics is being implemented by many cities and countries. Students need to evaluate the current evidence and decide whether drastic action is now required.
  5. The worst thing about plastic (5 mins)
    As a plenary, return to the starter and decide what the worst thing about plastic is.
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