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Blue Like a Berry Red Like a Cherry

How can an empty water bottle that is dropped in a stream in America end up on a beach in Africa? How could birds and other wildlife mistake trash for food? Make a map tracing the travels of a piece of trash on the world’s waterways.

  • Grades 7 and 8
  • Multiple Lesson Periods
  • Directions

    1. Discuss watersheds and water routes. Familiarize students with terms such as spring, brook, creek, river, estuary, tributary, and gyre.
    2. Display a large map of the United States of America. Point out major rivers. Show how something dropped in one of their tributaries could travel to the river and from the river to the ocean.
    3. What is an ocean gyre? Have students locate the five major gyres on a world map. Explain how plastic waste, particularly the lightweight empty water bottles that float, accumulates in these gyres. Ask students why they think so much ocean waste (almost 90%) is this floating plastic. Look at some plastic lids and drink caps. Why do students think birds and other wildlife might mistake plastic for food? What happens when they eat it?
    4. Ask each student to pick a town somewhere in the United States and research its watershed. What streams are near the town? Where is the nearest major river? Ask each student to visualize the route an empty plastic water bottle might take if it were to travel from this town to the sea. What ocean gyre might it be pulled into?
    5. Discuss longitude and latitude. Have each student use a world map to identify the approximate latitude of the town being studied. Ask them to trace the latitudinal line across the ocean. What are some places across the ocean with a similar latitude? Perhaps their trash will end up there.
    6. Provide students with small maps of the United States and the world to use as desk references. Ask them to create watercolor paintings illustrating the possible path a piece of plastic trash from their town might take. Label all waterways. Ask them to include an ocean gyre and a possible landing place for the trash they are following.
    7. Various water color techniques can be used to create the artwork. Students could draw with crayon before applying watercolor. When the paint is added on top of the crayon, the sketch will surface as the wax resists the watercolor. Texture can be added to the ocean by sprinkling some salt on the paint while it is wet. Colors will pull towards the salt granules, making an interesting texture. Brush salt off when painting is completely dry. Once everything is dry, label the ocean gyre and all the waterways with markers. Draw arrows to show the direction of the gyre currents. Outline states and countries and name them.
    8. Display finished work and ask students to tell the class about their maps.
  • Standards

    LA: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

    LA: Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; summarize complex concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate studies, science, and technical texts, at the high end of the grade level text complexity band independently and proficiently.

    LA: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.

    LA: Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

    SCI: Design engineering solutions for stabilizing changes to communities by: (1) using water efficiently, (2) minimizing human impacts on environments and local landscapes by reducing pollution, and (3) reducing the release of greenhouse gases.

    SCI: Ask questions to refine and develop an explanation for the way technological monitoring of Earth’s systems can provide the means of informing the public of ways to modify human impacts on Earth’s systems.

    SS: Give examples of conflict, cooperation, and interdependence among individuals, groups, and nations.

    SS: Examine the relationships and tensions between personal wants and needs and various global concerns, such as use of imported oil, land use, and environmental protections.

    SS: Identify and use various sources for reconstructing the past, such as documents, letters, diaries, maps, textbooks, photos, and others.

    VA: Select and use the qualities of structures and functions of art to improve communication of ideas.

    VA: Describe ways in which the principles and subject matter of other disciplines taught in the school are interrelated with the visual arts.

    VA: Intentionally take advantage of the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes to enhance communication of their experiences and ideas.

  • Adaptations

    Find out about community projects designed to improve your local watershed. Arrange for students to participate in a local steam clean up project.


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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