Goodbye Ocean Plastic

During the month of November, 6th grade students at DeMarillac Academy engaged in a design-thinking unit to address a contemporary world problem — ocean plastic pollution. Students used resources from KQED teach to tackle a complex problem in a structured way. Students then integrated multimedia to communicate their solutions as the final stage of the design project.

6th Grade DeMarillac students Zeus and Huy An collecting trash with Save the Bay

At the beginning, it looked like an impossible unit to solve an impossible problem. Meanwhile, the unit seemed a perfect compliment to our field trip to Save the Bay, where students removed trash from the estuary. There were a significant amount of plastic products littered across the shore. This, students learned, was due to the recent rains that washed trash from the city through the sewer drains. Several project requirements and steps made me procrastinate around implementing the project. However, after starting and fully taking on the KQED curriculum, the project not only was doable but exciting and transformative. I had a lot of fun with both video-storytelling essentials and the engineering for good curriculum.

Spaghetti Marshmallow Challenge with DeMarillac 6th graders Emily, Juan, and Matthew

Students on day 1 engaged with the engineering design process in a hands-on way. With the Spaghetti-Marshmallow Challenge, they learned how fun it can be to innovate and develop new ideas. Conversations opened up possibilities to be creative. This set a positive tone for the unit. A couple of students were inspired by Amy Pickering’s work on cleaning drinking water in Bangladesh, especially the girls who saw a successful female scientist in the field.

The fact that students all had chromebooks made working through the Engineering for Good notebook effective and eco-friendly. It also allowed for creation of infographics and experience with online graphics editors. Students enjoyed working with a variety of programs to communicate information in an engaging way.

Infographic from Canva by DeMarillac 6th Grader Geysi Torres

Having students gather background research on the plastic problem helped them define the problems they were trying to solve. Students were eager to begin working with materials to begin prototyping solutions. I loved that students were using vocabulary words like “prototype, solution, and iteration.” The engineering notebook was helpful in that there were some sentence starters and frames for students to follow. There could be improvements in layout and differentiated content, but students of all ability levels were able to successfully complete the unit project.

DeMarillac 6th Graders Angel, Juan, and Karina recording a voice over in Ms. Tapia’s class

Students were provided legos, tape, cardboard, and glass baby food bottles to create their prototypes. Legos offered flexibility and allowed for creative solutions. Every team had a different project. Throughout the process, some teams tore down and rebuilt their concepts in the iterative phase. Even then, they found out that prototypes are never done, and that there is always room for improvement. This was evidenced in student sharing of their projects and feedback received from their peer reviewers.

When it came time to shoot the videos, I was a little nervous students would have a hard time. I partnered with our school’s digital literacy guru, Alicia Tapia, to establish collaboration between science and technology curricula. This allowed for an increased amount of time and being intentional around video editing techniques. Students enjoyed working with WeVideo, and creating shot sequences. They were asked to create their shots during Thanksgiving break, and I was impressed that every group had work to show the day they came back.

At the conclusion of the unit, students were happy with what they accomplished. Please find below some videos our DeMarillac 6th graders are happy to share with you.