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news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Virtual Journey with a Plastic Boat

The science news this week is mostly centering on weather but the environment is cranking up the importance scale. It is not because of any single event but because of the rising importance and cost associated with garbage. I sit here drinking water out of my BPA free reusable water bottle and thinking about how many plastic water bottles I used prior to getting this one. Americans used over 31 billion water bottles in 2006. Stack that number of bottles and it would reach the moon and back over 6 times. That is one large pile of plastic and only about 10% is recycled. Using my reusable bottle is a small step but one I feel good about.


The science behind this can go any number of ways. Plastic is a fascinating material to explore but this week I want to take you to the ocean. That is not as strange a link as you might think. In the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California is the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” It is a patch in the ocean about the size of Texas that contains over 3.5 million tons of trash. The trash comes from a variety of sources but it is growing. Most of it is plastic and perhaps even some of my plastic water bottles are living there. http://science.howstuffworks.com/great-pacific-garbage-patch.htm

So, this environmental problem has links to science in environmental issues but also in ocean currents, forces and motion, density and a host of other applications. There is an expedition that is setting out later this year to explore this dump and they are doing it in a boat built with recycled plastic bottles. The video that explains the boat and the expedition is fascinating: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/10/091007-us-plastiki-missions-video-ap.html?source=email_ctw_20091012

I love having my students follow a real expedition. This one is rich with opportunities as it follows a current problem, involves lots of inquiry based science, has a female skipper on the boat (great career link for girls) and these folks are great at posting to their blog and updating findings. http://www.theplastiki.com/selector.php

The questions that arise from this idea are plentiful. How do you build a boat out of plastic bottles? Will it float in the ocean? Will it navigate or will there e issues due to the unusual material and drag or resistance in the water? What meteorological factors make this particular region of the ocean so prone to collect this floating debris? I am sure your students can come up with more.

This is a good way to get your feet wet following a real scientific expedition. They are funded by the National Geographic Society so the photos will be phenomenal. The learning should be rich too. So, I suggest grabbing your reusable water bottle and some fresh H2O and following along. It should be an interesting learning journey.

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