Alaska Sea Grant

Supporting Materials

Plastic on the Trail Teacher Notes

Formative Assessment Probes
The brief, formative assessment resources included with these units are called "assessment probes." They are called "probes" hikersbecause they are designed to probe and uncover student thinking. Teacher and researcher Page Keeley has written extensively about the probes as part of the Curriculum Topic Study approach to analyzing science and mathematics topics. See the Curriculum Topic Study website for more information. These probes are designed to be used diagnostically and formatively. They are intended to help you to tap into students' thinking about particular science topics -- topics that are identified by the National Science Education Standards as significant and developmentally appropriate for the target age level of the unit. While they are intended to sample students' thinking (and to probe for common misconceptions), they are NOT intended to measure what students have learned as a result of the unit content. We encourage you to use these tools--and to develop your own--to better understand each student's development as a learner, and to modify your teaching accordingly.

Ongoing assessment throughout the investigations is important for several reasons. It can reveal when students are confused or have misunderstandings, need more time to investigate, or need more explanation. You can tailor the investigations to meet the needs of your students, and change direction whenever necessary. Frequent assessment does not have to be time consuming or tedious. A quick assessment can give you a lot of information about student comprehension and understanding.

The purpose of this probe is to elicit students' ideas about human impact on the environment.

The best answer is Nancy's, "The trash and pollutants people put into the environment everywhere can affect the ocean, life in the ocean and on land."
Bob's idea is not the best choice. Since all watersheds eventually lead to the ocean, what happens on land and/or freshwater can have an impact on the ocean.
Chris's idea is not the best choice. Plastic can end up in a body of water and have an impact on animals.
John's idea is not the best choice. The ocean is indeed very large, and covers most of the earth, but not all garbage disappears in the ocean. Plastics in the ocean as well as other marine debris are a huge problem for the living things in the ocean.

Administering the Probe
Ask students to carefully read the probe, decide which student they most agree with, and explain their thinking.

Curricular and Instructional Considerations
In her book, Making Sense of Secondary Science, Rosalind Driver refers to a study conducted by Michael J. Brody regarding student understanding of science and natural resource concepts related to current ecological crises. The Brody study "indicates few changes in knowledge about ecological crises between the ages of 9 and 16. However, this study identified changes in children's ideas of pollution. Nine-year olds regarded pollution as something which is directly sensed by people and which affects people or other animals. They did not consider that harm to plants constitutes an environmental problem. They thought that air can somehow circulate pollution. Pupils aged 13 had a more conceptual understanding of ecological crises, including a concept of cumulative ecological effects." The following misconceptions were held by at least half of the students included in the study:
  • Anything natural is not pollution;
  • Biodegradable materials are not pollutants;
  • The oceans are a limitless resource;
  • Solid waste in dumps is safe;
  • The human race is indestructible as a species.

"By grades 3 and 4, students regard pollution as something sensed by people and know that it might have bad effects on people and animals. Children at this age usually do not consider harm to plants as part of environmental problems; however, recent media attention might have increased students awareness of the importance of trees in the environment. In most cases, students recognize pollution as an environmental issue,…"(National Science Education Standards, p.139)

"Due to their developmental levels and expanded understanding, students in grades 5-8 can undertake sophisticated study of personal and societal challenges. Challenges emerge from the knowledge that the products, processes, technologies and inventions of a society can result in pollution and environmental degradation and can involve some level of risk to human health or to the survival of other species."
"By grades 5-8, students begin to develop a more conceptual understanding of ecological crises. For example, they begin to realize the cumulative ecological effects of pollution. By this age, students can study environmental issues of a large and abstract nature, for example, acid rain or global ozone depletion. However, teachers should challenge several important misconceptions, such as anything natural is not a pollutant, oceans are limitless resources, and humans are indestructible as a species." (National Science Education Standards, p.167)

Related National Science Education Standards
K-4 Changes in Environment

  • Environments are the space, conditions, and factors that affect an individual's and a population's ability to survive and their quality of life.
  • Changes in environments can be natural or influenced by humans. Some changes are good, some are bad, and some are neither good nor bad. Pollution is a change in the environment that can influence the health, survival, or activities of organisms, including humans.

Related National Science Education Standards
5-8 Natural Hazards

  • Human activities also can induce hazards through resource acquisition, urban growth, land-use decisions, and waste disposal. Such activities can accelerate many natural changes.

Related Benchmarks for Science Literacy
3-5 Interdependence of Life

  • Changes in an organism's habitat are sometimes beneficial to it and sometimes harmful.

Related Ocean Literacy Principles and Concepts

Principle 1: The Earth has one big ocean with many features.

  • Concept 1g: The ocean is connected to major lakes, watersheds and waterways because all major watersheds on Earth drain to the ocean. Rivers and streams transport nutrients, salts, sediments and pollutants from watersheds to estuaries and to the ocean.

Prinicple 6: The ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected.

  • Concept 6e: Humans affect the ocean in a variety of ways. Laws, regulations, and resource management affect what is taken out and put into the ocean. Human development and activity leads to pollution (point source, non-point source, and noise pollution) and physical modifications (changes to beaches, shores, and rivers). In addition, humans have removed most of the large vertebrates from the ocean.

Unit 5 - Glossary

Glossary for Unit 5

aquaculture: the farming of ocean and freshwater plants and animals for food.

bidarki: Russian word for “boat”.

biodegradable: able to decompose naturally: made of substances that will decay relatively quickly as a result of the action of bacteria.
biodiversity: the number and variety of species within an area or region.

chiton: mollusk with a muscular foot on the underside of its body and a shell that consists of eight, white, overlapping butterfly-shaped plates.

community: the plants and animals living and interacting within a specific area.

conservation: the protection, preservation and careful management of the environment and of natural resources such as forests, soil, and water.

contribution: act of giving in common with others for a common purpose.

controversy: strong disagreement between opposing points of view.

decomposition: the process of rotting or decay. The process of breaking down organic material, such as dead plant or animal tissue, into smaller molecules that are available for use by the organisms of an ecosystem. Decomposition is carried on by bacteria, fungi, protists, worms, and certain other organisms.

diversity: variety; a variety of something such as plants and animals in an ecosystem.

endangered Species: a population of an organism which is at risk of becoming extinct because it is either few in number, or threatened by changing environmental or predation.

extinction: A species becomes extinct when the last existing member of that species dies.

harvest: to gather, catch, take or remove for use.

hazardous: risky; dangerous.

intertidal: the area between the high tide mark and the low tide mark on a seashore.

invertebrate: an animal without a backbone.

keystone species: a species that is especially important in an ecosystem because it has an unusually strong effect on other organisms within the system. It might be an important predator or an organism like a coral or beaver that alters the habitat around it.

Leather Chiton/ Katy Chiton: a small chiton, with a tough, black, leathery covering on its back. Its scientific name is Katherina tunicata, with the first name, or genus, in honor of a woman scientist, Lady Katherine Douglas.

mariculture: cultivation of marine organisms in their natural habitats, usually for commercial purposes. Also called ocean farming.

marine debris: usually applies to floating waste such as bottles, cans, styrofoam, cruise ship waste, offshore oil and gas exploration and production facilities pollution, and fishing gear from professional and recreational boaters. Marine debris is also called litter.

mollusk: marine invertebrate having a soft unsegmented body. They usually have a shell of one, two, or more pieces that protect the body. Snails, bivalves, chitons, squid and octopuses are mollusks.

pollutant: something that pollutes, especially a waste material that harms the air, soil, or water.

predation: the capturing of prey in order to survive.

predator: an animal that lives by capturing and eating other animals.

preservation: to keep safe from harm or injury; protect or spare.

radula: a hard, file-like rasping band with many tiny teeth, that extends out of the mouth on the underside of the animal to scrape algae and other small organisms off rocks in the intertidal zone.

serial depletion: occurs when a predator or predators reduce their prey populations in sequence, first greatly reducing numbers of one prey species, then switching to an alternative prey species until several prey species become scarce.

stewardship: the responsibility to take care of our natural resources to ensure that they are sustainably managed for current and future generations. Stewardship of the environment can include recycling, conservation, and restoration.


sustainable use: use of an ecosystem’s resources (such as water or trees) so that is has time to replenish what is used and continues to meet the needs of the organisms that depend on it.

sustainability: to be able to keep in existence; maintain at a certain level.

Ocean Issues Research Rubric

Ocean Issues Research

Poster Directions/Components

Audience: Address people who may not be aware of the issue or problem.

Purpose: To inform and educate others about the problem or issue and offer suggestions to help alleviate or solve the problem.

Format: Colorful poster including graphics and text.

Information to include:

  • State the topic of the poster.
  • Choose 3-5 important facts to present.
  • Describe how science helps to research/address and/or solve the problem.
  • Offer several ways that individuals can help address or solved the problem.

Graphics: Illustrations, photographs, and/or charts and diagrams to support the information included.
Posters should be eye-catching, and easy to read. Information should be presented in an organized format

Additional documents required:

Bibliography: All resources used in research. (Format?)
Narrative: Two to three pages that answer the four focus questions in depth and detail.

Ocean Issues Research Poster: Example Rubric






Presentation of focus topic

Informs and educates others who may not be aware of the issue or problem.

Message is clearly visible, and communicated clearly.

Topic and message are present.

Message and/or topic of poster is unclear.

Limited awareness of audience and/or purpose.


Illustrations, photographs and/or charts and diagrams support the information included.

All graphics are effective and well balanced with amount of text.

Graphics are effective, but there are too few or too many.

Some graphics are effective but their use is not balanced with text use, and don’t add to the poster message.

Graphics are neither neat nor accurate, and don’t appear to relate to the topic.

Too few images or models are used to be an effective presentation.

Layout and design

Poster is eye-catching, easy to read, and organized.

Display is interesting and attractive. Overall organization, use of color, and use of space help to make the poster interesting and appealing.

Display is interesting and attractive. Information is organized in a well-constructed manner.

Information and illustrations are generally organized and clear to the viewer.

Display is uninteresting, not tidy.

Information and illustrations are disorganized and leave the viewer confused.


*The topic of the poster is stated.

*3-5 important facts are chosen and presented.

*Describes how science helps to research, address, and/or solve the problem.

*Offers several ways that individuals can help address or solve the problem.

The content is exemplary and suggests the student has discovered the important ideas of his/her topic.

The content is good and suggests the student has discovered most of the important facts of his/her topic.

The content is fair/poor and suggests the student has not discovered most of the important facts.

The content is poor and suggests the student has not done sufficient research.


Poster is highly original, reflecting creativity and a lot of thought.

Good creative effort. Poster is neat and shows evidence of time spent on it.

Poster is neat. Some creative attempt made to add originality.

Poster has sloppy appearance.

Little attempt to add originality.

Supporting Documentation/Research Narrative: Example Rubric







All sources are accurately documented and in the desired format.

3 or more sources were used.

All sources are accurately documented and in the desired format.

2 or 3 sources were used.

Most sources are documented and in the desired format.

1 or 2 sources were used.

Sources used are not properly documented.

Quality of information

Details from each focus question are clearly addressed and explained.

Important information is included.

Focus questions are addressed. Information is relevant and related to the issue, but not of highest quality.

Information is included, but it does not answer the focus questions.

Few details from research are included.

Grammar, punctuation, spelling

There are no grammatical, spelling, or punctuation errors.

Few minor errors in grammar, spelling or punctuation.

Major grammatical, punctuation or spelling errors.

Errors make it difficult for the reader to read.


Narrative is organized logically and is compelling to read.

Narrative is well-organized and easy to read.

The narrative is hard to follow in some places.

The narrative lacks organization.

Research Guide

Research Guide

What is the topic or issue that you have chosen to research?


As you begin to answer the questions, think about how your topic relates to or impacts the following areas:

Food webs








1. Why is this use of the ocean important?
To answer this question, you might describe the use, the benefits of using the ocean this way, who benefits from the use, etc.

2. What is the problem or issue? What species of marine life are harmed? Do any benefit?
To answer this question, you might describe the evidence of current and potential harmful impacts and/or the reasons that people disagree about this use of the ocean. Try to find out about both sides of the issue.

3. How can science help to solve the problem?
To answer this question, you might research what scientists have found out, what they are trying to find out, and what methods they use.

4. What action can we take to help solve the problem?
To answer this question, you might find out about a current stewardship effort, or find suggestions for possible actions that would help to alleviate the problem.

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Alaska Sea Grant University of Alaska Fairbanks Alaska Department of Education and Early Development NOAA