Protecting the Earth: Plastic Pollution

Students explore how plastic pollution is choking the world’s oceans, and explore a variety of solutions for reducing plastic waste and reducing the amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean.

Unit Summary

In this unit, students explore how plastic pollution is choking the world’s oceans. Students learn about the history of plastic, how plastic ends up in the ocean, how plastic in the ocean impacts the ecosystem, and why it’s so hard to remove plastic from the ocean once it’s there. In the second half of the unit, students explore a variety of solutions for reducing plastic waste and reducing the amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean. Students will learn about large policy-based changes that can be made and also explore smaller voluntary actions they can take that will make a difference. Finally, students end the unit doing a research project aimed at educating others about the dangers of plastic and its impact on the environment. 

In reading, this unit serves as the foundational informational unit of the year. Students will be challenged to explain the relationship between two or more scientific ideas, determine the meaning of domain-specific words, and understand the reasons and evidence the author uses to support a particular point. Since this is the first informational unit, routines and procedures for active annotation, discussion, and writing about reading should be introduced so that students are able to show understanding of the text and standards in multiple modes. 

Note: This unit extends student understanding of fifth-grade science standards. In fifth grade, students study ecosystems and are able to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment. The introduction of plastic into the ecosystem disrupts the movement of matter, shifting the food webs and food chains. If students are not familiar with ecosystems, we recommend using parts of our archived unit Life Science: Ecosystems to build student background. Access our archives.

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Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials

Assessment

These assessments accompany this unit to help gauge student understanding of key unit content and skills. Additional progress monitoring suggestions are included throughout the unit.

Unit Prep

Essential Questions

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  • Why do we have a plastic pollution problem? 
  • How is plastic pollution hurting the world’s oceans? 
  • What steps can be taken to lessen the amount of plastic pollution in the ocean?

Vocabulary

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Text-based

affordable artificial astounding biodegradability biodegradation biodegrade convenience decomposer discarded disposable dramatic emanate finite fragment grotesque incentive intrigued mechanism microplastic moldable plastic relentless synthetic tragic

Root/Affix

-able -less -tion bio- de- micro-

To see all the vocabulary for this course, view our 5th Grade Vocabulary Glossary.

Lesson Map

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  • Trash Vortex pp. 14 – 20

    RI.5.3

Explain how Leo Baekeland invented plastic. 

14

Assessment

Common Core Standards

Core Standards

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L.5.1

L.5.2.e

L.5.4.c

RI.5.3

RI.5.8

RI.5.9

SL.5.1

SL.5.4

SL.5.5

SL.5.6

W.5.1

W.5.1.a

W.5.1.b

W.5.2

W.5.2.a

W.5.2.b

W.5.2.e

W.5.7

W.5.9

Spiral Standards

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L.5.1.a

L.5.2

L.5.3.a

L.5.4

L.5.4.b

L.5.5

L.5.6

RF.5.3

RF.5.4

RI.5.1

RI.5.10

RI.5.4

RI.5.7

W.5.10

W.5.4

W.5.5

W.5.6

W.5.9.b