Written by Maggie Menkus, Grade 6 Teacher

As grade 6 students read the book Flush by Carl Hiaasen for their literature class, their curiosity about the human impact on the environment led them into a real-world situation. Through their investigation, they discovered that water pollution is a bigger issue than they thought, and the accumulation of plastic is a real concern in the ocean. This led the students to participate in Kids Recycle Day, an event to recycle plastic bags and film which was sponsored by CHaRM (Center for Harmful to Recycle Materials).  

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Students, left to right:  Hunter Guttery, Zoe Schroeder, Addie Haylett, Hope Holloway, Zach Rizzo, Kiefer Hurtado and Giselle Singh

As students engaged in this initiative, it was decided that public awareness campaigns (PAC) should be developed to educate others about the plastic problem (#plasticproblem).  Not only did “Kid’s Recycle Day” give their campaigns an authentic purpose, but it made students more aware of the plastic products used/thrown out in their OWN households (now it became personal).  Their recycled plastic products were used as artifacts to help them build empathy for the situation and how they were personally involved in it.

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Students, left to right:  Josh Cagwin, Jack Allen, Miller Woodall, Virginia King

The DEEPdt “design thinking” process was used in the development of the campaigns because it is people-centered problem solving, a unified framework for innovation and a practical tool for integrating 21st century skills into the classroom.  Their development was guided by practical insights from others involved in this issue.  The Upper School Environmental Prefect, Megan Lienau, was joined by juniors and seniors from the US Green Club in the feedback process of the public awareness campaigns.

This project helped students embrace a complex challenge and develop/present answers to a real-world situation. They reached outside the classroom and encountered a world they did not know existed.  This project changed their perceptions about our planet and its environment because they took on the challenge to understand it.  Who knew their curiosity in a literature class could provide so many insights about the future of their planet?

One student, Hunter Guttery, reflected “ It has helped me because Flush was like a ‘preview’ for pollution . . . and doing the PBL helped me a lot.  I will now try to put all of my plastic in the recycling bin and then when I am at the grocery store I will try and tell some other people about the use of plastic bags and if they do use them, they should know where they should go.”

Another student, Aubrey Ellis, stated, “ . . . just knowing these facts help me understand how bad plastic is  . . . I can help persuade people not to use single-use plastics or just (don’t use) plastic at all.   . . . I will definitely be more careful of buying and using plastic. I will definitely remind my mom to bring cloth groceries bags instead. Instead of throwing away plastic, we can use them for other things like watering cans, marker holders. And, don’t throw away plastic; put it into the recycling bin.”

Emma Dickie mentioned, “The research and reading Flush really helped me because it informed me about how bad plastic is for the environment and that there is a lot of pollution in the water.  I will recycle more and stop using plastic water bottles and plastic bags.”

Zach Rizzo said, “Now, I think twice before throwing something away. I make sure the object is recyclable or if it is not it makes its way in the trash. I have started to use less plastic material and I have been trying to use reusable materials. I haven’t really been reusing the plastic I use, but I have been recycling the plastic I use. “

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