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Messages from the Mississippi: Lesson Plans

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Understanding Plastic Pollution Through Hands-On Environmental Education

The Mississippi River drains two-thirds of the continental United States, bringing its water—and pollution—through the city of New Orleans en route to the Gulf of Mexico. The citizens of New Orleans are actively seeking ways to understand and reduce the amount of plastic traveling downstream. This project leverages student and educator activities to engage the general public on the issue of marine microplastic pollution. This curriculum aims to educate students on microplastics through a series of outdoor experiential learning activities and hands-on projects. While this has been written with New Orleans in mind, this series of lessons can be adapted to riverine environments everywhere.

Lesson One: Plastic Pollution

Students will be able to describe types and sources of plastic pollution in the environment by creating a chart showing the movement of plastic in their local environment.

Participants will

  • Learn about macro- and micro-plastic
  • Explore pollution sources
  • Engage with content through videos and guided research

Lesson Two: A River of Plastic

Students will be able to illustrate the pollution of the Mississippi River following their participation in an outdoor learning activity and river cleanup.

Participants will

  • Survey plastic pollution along the Mississippi River
  • Trawl for microplastics
  • Collect data on plastic pollution for analysis

Lesson Three: Analyzing Data

Students will be able to explain the location and estimate the quantity of plastic pollution in local riverine environments through the creation of graphs and maps.

Participants will

  • Analyze data collected during their field experience
  • Illustrate the pollution heat maps showing plastic along the river
  • Create charts to explain their data to the community

Lesson Four: Reducing Plastics

Students will be able to assess the potential effect of bioplastics and plastic reduction in their community and will model the potential impact on riverine environments.

Participants will

  • Research plastic reduction strategies
  • Test bioplastics and plastic alternatives
  • Use student generated data to assess the impact and viability of plastic reduction methods

Lesson Five: Finding a New Way

Students will be able to synthesize what they’ve learned and select solutions to mitigate plastic pollution to present to their local community.

Participants will

  • Present plastic reduction proposals to the group
  • Choose a proposal to design an awareness campaign around
  • Learn about activism

Lesson Six: Building a Campaign

Students will be able to present and defend their proposed solutions through the creation of artwork and educational materials to share with community members.

Participants will

  • Create artwork from microplastics and marine debris collected during their field experience
  • Build educational content for posters to support their plastic reduction campaign

Additional Resources: