The microplastic detectives

School: 8th Primary School of Nea Filadelfeia, Athens, Greece
Name: Stavroula Skiada
Participants: Stavroula Skiada (Computer Science teacher), Ioannis Makris (headmaster) and the students of the 6th grade (11 to 12 years old)
Implementation Dates: 15/3/2022 – 15/4/2022

Abstract

Based on the Scientix resource of Futurum: «Detecting Microplastics in a great lakes watershed» by Julie Peller, the students of the 8th Primary School of Nea Filadelfeia implemented an interdisciplinary project of the STEAM methodology. Specifically, the project aimed to raise awareness of the adverse effects of the widespread presence of microplastics in the oceans and in the food chain. The students gained a basic understanding of the plastic life cycle, the fragmentation of plastic to microplastics, and the variety of sources that plastic particles can be originated from. Moreover, they became citizen scientists by participating in a meaningful scientific research about microplastics (microbeads) in cosmetic products. In addition, they did experiments to discover hidden microplastics not only in the chemistry lab but also as an outdoor activity to a nearby lake.

Context of implementation

The project was implemented in the ICT and chemistry lab during the ICT and Natural Science lessons. Four disciplines of STEAM methodology were included (Science, Technology, Art, and Mathematics) and the collaborative and inquiry-based learning educational approaches were followed. Additionally, the teachers that participated in this project (the ICT teacher and the headmaster of the school) played the critical role of the facilitators providing the necessary scaffolding and teaching of skills when necessary. Moreover, the equipment of the chemistry lab was used (conical flask, stirring rod, filter funnel, and mass balance) in parallel with the technical equipment of the ICT lab (workstations, internet access, projector, interactive whiteboard). In the final phase of the project, an active learning and experimentation in the outdoors took place to boost motivation, physical skills, and the ability of students to work cooperatively in the nature.

Stages of implementation

let’s meet plastic

In the beginning of the project, the students were introduced to the notions of plastic, plastic waste and plastic soup using the interactive lessons of Life Terra – “Terra Mission Waste” and “Terra Mission Water”. To deepen their knowledge of further issues relating to the plastic problem, the students watched the interactive video “The story of plastic“. At their own pace in the ICT lab, they answered questions regarding the plastic’s life cycle and the true causes and consequences of the global plastics crisis. After that, to have a complete knowledge of the harmful effects of plastic, the students studied and analysed given infographics and wrote in a google doc their thoughts and concerns about the global impact of plastic pollution.

The interactive lesson of Life Terra – “Terra Mission Waste”

let’s meet microplastics

At this phase, the students acquired new knowledge about the microplastics and their categories. Firstly, they studied the vocabulary of “microplastics” from Julie Peller’s article and her interview about chemistry. Thus, the students learned how to talk like a chemist, how a plastic is fragmented to microplastics and how a research is conducted. Secondly, in groups, they searched the web to find information about the hidden microplastics in everyday life, the categories of them (microbeads, microfibres, nurdles, foam, and fragments) and their harmful effects in people’s health. Further, the teams created a digital wall (padlet) and “hung” on it all the images and their browsing-related information.   

Studying Dr Julie Peller’s article from the Scientix resource repository

the Discovery of the hidden microplastics

The students were familiarized with Citizen Science by watching a relevant video and installing the citizen science app “Beat the microbead” to the ICT lab’s mobile devices. Subsequently, in groups, they scanned the ingredients on packaging of school’s cleaning products using the app and recorded the microbead findings to the team’s class worksheet. As a homework, the students used the same app, with the assistance of their parents, scanned the ingredients of their personal care products and kept records of their research results to a similar worksheet.

The young Citizen scientists collect and share data through the “Beat the Microbead” app

the young girl chemists and their experiment

At the chemistry lab of the school, the “Discover the microbeads” experiment took place by the girl students to excite and empower them with knowledge and confidence in STEM. For this purpose, the young girl scientists calculated the mass of microplastics (gr) in a certain volume of water mixed with the cosmetic product. In the next step, with data given by the teachers and information obtained from the experiment, the students calculated the mass of microplastics (gr) a person generates in a year while using the specific product. Finally, they calculated the percentage of microplastic in the whole mass of the product.

“Discover the microbeads” experiment

The lake experiment

During this outdoor activity, the students visited the artificial lake of Nea Filadelfeia’s park. The students were inspired by the experiment that Dr Julie Peller’s team did. Specifically, the team of Dr Peller tested for the presence of microplastics and microfibres in surface waters flowing into Lake Michigan. In like manner, the little scientists repeated the experiment using the lake’s water. At the beginning, with the chemistry lab’s equipment, they collected an amount of water (ml) from the lake and filtered it through cotton pads. In the aftermath, the mass of microplastics (gr) found into the water was calculated and the measurements were recorded to the experiment’s worksheet.

The lake experiment

At the same time, another group of students collected the plastic waste around the lake, and also weighed the mass of it. As a result, the data gathered were used for the calculation of the total mass of plastic around and in the lake. Most importantly, the students recycled the plastic waste to the appropriate bins.  

Dissemination through Art

To underline the importance of “A” (Art) in STE(A)M education, the final part of the project consisted of creating infographics and designing. In other words, using web 2.0 tools, the students visualized their proposals for a plastic-free life with engaging imagery and information data. They also painted, by hand or digitally, the life cycle of microplastics in the food chain. The creations of the students were used to decorate the school’s classrooms and corridors as a means of raising awareness to the school community.

“Micoplastic in food chain” designs

Furthermore, a content curation platform (Wakelet) was used to organize the educational material of the project, to post and share content, videos, photos, results of the experiments and learning outcomes. A video with all the sequential activities was made as well and was communicated through social media, school’s website, and e-magazine.     

The project’s activities: https://vimeo.com/703460056 .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.