Alaska Sea Grant

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