January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Using Beach Cleanups to Enhance Science Curriculum

Posted: Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

by Lori Walsh

Visiting an aquarium can be a powerful learning experience for students, providing them with opportunities to see first-hand the characteristics, adaptations and even habitats of marine animals. But as residents of California, you have an opportunity to help students experience such ecosystems first hand–and even improve them–through a beach cleanup activity. Environmental events happen frequently along the California coastline, offering opportunities to make authentic curriculum connections. Organizations, such as “I Love a Clean San Diego” (ILACSD) and “Heal the Bay” in the Los Angeles area, sponsor monthly cleanups at particular sites and larger, countywide events. Linking a volunteer event with science curriculum has the potential to show students the power of small efforts that can combine to create a massive environmental force.

Marine debris is a problem that affects aquatic species through entanglement, ingestion and habitat destruction. Plastic is one of the most commonly found items on beaches, and it is vital that it is removed as plastic does not biodegrade. The majority of trash in the ocean comes from litter, industry and garbage issues. More information about the marine debris dilemma can be found through the California Coastal Commission (CCC) webpage. This resource provides statistics about debris and videos suitable to use in the classroom. Because the majority of ocean trash originates inland, if you teach near a local park, stream or canyon you can still organize cleanups that will impact ocean health as well.

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There are several ways to link a beach cleanup to key science concepts at different grade levels. The most obvious connections relate to understanding habitats, adaptations and individual species. Students can choose an animal to research to see how this species might be impacted by marine debris. Having chosen their animal, students can then document the amount of trash they encounter that could impact their species. A tally sheet can be created to keep track of the kinds of trash found along the beach. This data can then be analyzed in the classroom to determine the most frequently found items and most unusual items.

Weather patterns also connect to a beach cleanup event. The Japanese Tsunami in 2011 has the potential to impact the amount of debris found on California beaches. Brief pre-visit activities might encourage students to predict the kinds of debris that might be found from the tsunami. A tsunami debris field guide can be a great addition to your lesson. There are several useful resources for learning more about tsunamis and debris. The native species of the particular site, erosion and beach creation can also be connected to the beach cleanup. Additional ideas about how to connect curriculum to the event are compiled on the CCC resource page.

Organizing a beach cleanup activity is easy. You can register your class with one of the conservation groups such as ILACSD, who often offer supplies (gloves, trash bags, etc) for volunteers. However, you can coordinate a cleanup simply by picking a location and creating a check in spot on the day of the event. Families should be encouraged to wear closed toe shoes, use sun block and bring water in a reusable bottle to the clean up. Parents should be required to participate with their child, and waivers should be completed on the day of the event. A sign-in table should be placed at the location, and external factors, such as parking and coordination with State Parks, should be considered in advance. All participants should receive safety information at the beginning of the event, such as what to do with hazardous items. Guidelines for beach cleanups can be found at ILACSD page for the Adopt-a-Beach program. Encourage students to bring a reusable container, such as a bucket or milk jug for trash collection and gardening gloves to limit the amount of waste created. Guidelines for Educators planning beach cleanups can be found at the CCC’s page for Educators. Make sure to figure out where trash and recyclables will go after the event and provide hand sanitizer for the volunteers. Additional ideas about how to connect curriculum to the event can be found at the CCC Educator Resource page.

An organized beach cleanup gives students learning opportunities in an informal setting. Volunteering for a beach clean up provides you with the chance to show the importance of environmental stewardship on a local level. Think out-of-the box and use beach cleanups to teach science. These events provide strong curriculum connections while combating marine debris and developing students’ sense of stewardship.

Lori Walsh is Education Specialist at SEA LIFE® Aquarium at LEGOLAND® California Resort. You can reach her at Lori_walsh@hotmail.com. She was invited to write for CCS by CSTA member Laura Henriques.

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

One Response

  1. Thanks for the great story! We are proud of our education presentations and love teaching kids about environmental conservation. If any of your readers are in San Diego and would like to schedule one, visit us at http://cleansd.org/e_presentations.php.

    ILACSD

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