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        Investigate the Plastic Problem | Engineering for Good

        In this lesson, students will create an infographic based on what they learn about how we use plastics and how they impact our environment. This lesson is lesson 2 of 10 in Engineering for Good, a NGSS-aligned, project-based learning unit.

        KQED Teach is here to support you in doing these projects with your students. We encourage you to take or review our self-paced courses, Making Infographics and Video Storytelling Essentials, prior to beginning this unit if you are not already regularly integrating media projects into your classroom. Sign up is required (and free) to access courses.

        Engineering for Good Unit

        Lesson Summary

        In this lesson, students will create an infographic based on what they learn about how we use plastics and how they impact our environment.

        Time Allotment

        120 minutes

        Learning Objectives

        Students will create an infographic based on what they learn about how we use plastics and how they impact our environment.


        Essential Question

        How do plastics impact the environment?

        Introductory Activity


        1. Show students all of the items you have collected that contain plastic. Have students brainstorm what the items have in common. Once they have figured out that they are all made of plastic, ask students to look around the classroom or in their backpacks. What is made with plastic? As a group, create a list on the board.


        Learning Activities

        Guided Practice

        1. Have students work together in pairs to list what they already know about the benefits of plastic and its negative impacts in the chart on page 5 of their Engineering for Good notebooks

        2. Watch the video, The Reality of Plastic. Students should add to their charts on page 5 of their notebooks. You may want to show the video twice or pause the video so that students can take notes. 

        3. Have students read the background article on plastics independently, by doing a jigsaw or use your favorite reading strategy. Ask students to pull out at least three key points from each section and record them on pages 5 and 6 of their notebooks. 

        4. Then, ask students to record their initial thoughts and reactions to the article and video, on page 6 of their notebooks. What stands out to them?

        5. Discuss the students’ findings and reactions as a class. Explain to students that, over the next couple of weeks, they will be designing a solution to a negative impact of plastics on our environment.

        (If you are splitting the activity into two days, this is a good place to stop.) 

        6. Tell students that, based upon what they learned, they will create infographics that illustrate a problem with plastics and the environment. First, they will focus in on one way that plastics affect the environment. (Note: In the following lesson, students will define— very specifically—the problem they hope to solve.)

        7. As a class, generate a list of problems with plastics from the students’ notes on the video and article. The list could include problems like the following: most plastic is used once and then thrown away, plastics aren’t found in nature and so they don’t biodegrade, plastics enter the ocean through waterways, animals in the ocean mistake plastic for food, etc.

        8. Either as a class or in small groups, have students choose a problem from your list to focus on for the rest of the “Engineering for Good” project. Students can record the problem on page 7 of their notebooks. (Note: Small groups should consist of 3-4 students, based on the issue they are interested in pursuing. Students will remain in these small groups for the remainder of the project.)

        9. Look at examples of different infographics (links to some examples are listed in the “Resources” section below). Ask students where they have seen infographics (online articles, newspapers, textbooks, etc.)

        10. Define infographics and discuss.

        • An infographic is a visual image, such as a chart or diagram, used to represent info or data. They can be very simple to more complex.
        • Infographics can be made up of, or contain, pie charts, bar graphs, line graphs, icons, maps, timelines, etc.

        Independent Practice

        1. Have students create infographics* based on what they learned about plastic’s impact on the environment, specifically the problem the group chose to focus on. 

        2. Students’ infographics should include the following:

        • A title (related to the issue that they chose)
        • Three pieces of data evidence about how plastics impact the environment, in a graph, chart or timeline
        • Images or icons instead of lots of text
        • Citations for information sources (URL, title, author or institution, date accessed)

        3. Students can use page 7 in their Engineering for Good notebooks to record data for their infographics. Students can use data from the article and video, or do additional research.

        4. Students can use page 8 in their notebooks to sketch how they will represent their data and to sketch their infographics before creating them.

        5. Give each group a piece of butcher paper and some markers to make their infographics. 

        *As an extension, students can create their infographics using an online program, like Easel.lyPiktochartVenngageCanva, etc. If students create their infographics online, they can print/copy and paste their infographics, or record the URLs of their infographics, on page 8 of their notebooks.

        Classroom Notes: Share your infographics with KQED Learning and the Engineering for Good community of educators and students! Take photos of the infographics to post (or share online infographics) on Twitter or Instagram using #EngineeringForGood.

        Culminating Activity


        Have a poster session! Hang the infographics around your classroom (or school) for everyone to view. 


        Engineering for Good infographic rubric

        Example Infographics about Plastics

        The Unintended Consequence of Convenience


        Plastic Ocean (Ocean Conservancy)


        The International Coastal Cleanup Report (Ocean Conservancy) - download the latest report for a number of plastic pollution-related infographics 


        Marine Debris From Land and Sea (Sea Grant) 


        Threats to Wildlife (Ocean Conservancy) 


        The Most Dangerous Species in the Mediterranean (Government of Catalonia) 


        Plastic Bag Bans: A World Survey ( 


        Additional Information About Plastics in the Ocean

        Is Your Fleece Jacket Polluting the Oceans? (KQED video)


        NOAA Marine Program: Discover the Issue (NOAA website) 


        How Much Plastic is in the Ocean? (It's Okay To Be Smart video) 


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