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  • This unit plan shows how teacher Dianne Christenson used the online citizen science (OCS) project The Plastic Tide as part of a year 2–4 unit to develop students’ science capabilities in a unit on sustainability. Although this OCS project has been completed, several similar projects exist – see Litterati and Litter Intelligence. Read more about Dianne’s experiences implementing the unit in this case study.

    In this unit, students did a lot of hands-on learning about litter by doing regular lunchbox audits and LittaTrap audits, sorting beach samples and using the OCS project The Plastic Tide. The core focus of the unit was developing the science capabilities ‘Gather and interpret data’ and ‘Engage with science’.

    Through the kaitiakitanga unit, students were able to connect their regular stream monitoring work with some big questions about the amount of litter found locally and then globally and to reflect on what changes are needed to reduce litter.

    Download the Word file (see link below).

    Related content

    Read about Dianne’s experiences implementing this unit in The Plastic Tide – case study.

    New Zealand science organisations Royal Society Te Apārangi and the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor have created reports and resources to help us rethink plastic, this includes a timeline of plastic innovations and impacts. In December 2019, the findings were released in a report titled Rethinking Plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand.

    Plastic is a wicked problem that offers a rich context for learning – our planning pathway will help you get started.

    This article curates a wide range of Science Learning Hub resources for primary teachers related to recycling and biodegradability in the Material World strand of the New Zealand Curriculum.

    Find out about the Ocean Plastic Simulator – an interactive computer tool that shows where virtual plastic is likely to end up when it is dropped in the ocean.

    Oceans of rubbish provides insight into the breadth of the pollution problem in our seas.

    Read the Connected article Down the drain to see how students in Petone, Lower Hutt, took action to prevent rubbish from entering their local marine environment. They also used LittaTraps.

    Activity ideas

    Use these activities with your students to further investigate litter and the impact it has on our environment:

    Citizen science

    Try these similar citizen science projects with your class: Litter Intelligence and Litterati.

    Useful links

    The Plastic Tide citizen science project has now finished, but many relevant learnings can still be taken from it.

    See the Royal Society Te Apārangi website for the report Plastics in the Environment and other resources.

    Visit the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor website for information about Plastics and the environment and the Rethinking plastics report.

    Find out more about the LittaTrap and how it works.


    Dianne was a teacher researcher in the education research project Citizen Scientists in the Classroom funded through the Ministry of Education’s Teaching & Learning Research Initiative. Read about some of the research outcomes in Using the Web for Science in the Classroom: Online Citizen Science Participation in Teaching and Learning.

      Published 30 October 2020 Referencing Hub articles
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