'Wave of Plastic' partnership brings watershed education to Calvert and St. Mary’s students

January 29, 2019

The Chesapeake Biological Laboratory has received funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) program to support the “Wave of Plastic,” an education partnership program that will help Southern Maryland students understand the connections between actions on land, plastic pollution in local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay, and student environmental stewardship.

“Our increased use of plastics has resulted in a proliferation of plastic pollution. Plastic debris and microplastics are prevalent in the Chesapeake Bay and ocean, and can harm aquatic life, including oysters, sea turtles, dolphins and other species,” says principal investigator and UMCES' Chesapeake Biological Laboratory Associate Research Professor Helen Bailey. “All of these plastics come from people and everyone can make a difference by making choices that reduce the use of plastics and its entry into our oceans. A Wave of Plastic is a perfect opportunity for middle school students to have a real impact on the health of their local ecosystem!”

This three-year partnership between UMCES Chesapeake Biological Laboratory and Appalachian Laboratory, Calvert County Public Schools (CCPS), and St. Mary’s County Public Schools (SMCPS) will produce a new middle school curriculum unit focused on plastic marine debris and will provide 43 science teachers and 10 art or media teachers with professional development to support outdoor and in-classroom student learning. Ultimately, by systemically implementing the Wave of Plastic unit in all 6th grade SMCPS science classes and 8th grade CCPS science classes, an estimated 2,200 students will participate in schoolyard-based watershed experiences each year.

"Wave of Plastic builds directly from our NOAA-funded Making the Link project," said Cat Stylinski of UMCES' Appalachian Laboratory. "It partners teachers with scientists and environmental educators to co-design lessons that align with science standards, use real-world science practices, and empower middle school students to can make a real difference in our environment."

The Wave of Plastic program kicked-off on January 22, 2019, with a two-day professional development workshop for the curriculum development cohort at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory.

“We're excited about using school grounds as outdoor classrooms for this meaningful and sustainable program. Our students will participate in a scientific investigation that makes the current societal issue of marine plastic pollution locally relevant while developing the research and analytical skills needed for so many different 21st century career pathways,” said Janel McPhillips, Calvert County Public Schools’ Supervisor of Science for pre K-8th Grade.

Lessons within the Wave of Plastic unit will see students survey plastic pollution in their local community, study the degradation of plastics in the environment, discover land-to-water pathways for plastic debris, research the impacts of plastic on the marine environment, and take action to prevent or reduce plastic debris impacts while engaging their wider community. The curriculum will integrate into existing county programs and will help schools meet national and state education standards. 

“As our county continues to implement the Next Generation Science Standards, a partnership with university scientists from the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory will provide our students authentic research experiences based on real world phenomena and three-dimensional learning associated with the Standards,” adds Jason Hayes, Supervisor of K-12 Science for St. Mary's County Public Schools.

NOAA’s B-WET program is a competitive grant program that promotes Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences: activities driven by rigorous academic learning standards that aim to increase participants’ understanding and stewardship of watersheds and related ecosystems. To read more about the NOAA’s B-WET program, visit http://www.noaa.gov/office-education/bwet.