September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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.



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 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:

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


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State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw


This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.