Academic journal article Science and Children

Ducks Overboard! Understanding Cause-and-Effect Relationships through Marine Debris

Academic journal article Science and Children

Ducks Overboard! Understanding Cause-and-Effect Relationships through Marine Debris

Article excerpt

In 1992, 28,800 rubber bath toys (i.e., ducks, frogs, turtles, and beavers) fell off a cargo ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (44.7[degrees] N, 178.1[degrees] E). To this day, rubber bath toys are still washing ashore on beaches all around the world (Ebbesmeyer and Scigliano 2009). What does this tell us about science? Better yet, how can this story provide meaningful science instruction while engaging students in the goals of A Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC 2012)? This article describes how this incident can provide an engaging context for a thematic unit.

Crosscutting concepts allow for integration of content while promoting critical thinking. As stated in A Framework for K-12 Science Education, "a major activity of science is investigating and explaining causal relationships and the mechanisms by which they are mediated" (NRC 2012, p. 84). The story of the rubber bath toys provides an opportunity to make multiple connections to crosscutting concepts (see Table 1) and to integrate science (e.g., floating and sinking, decomposition, and human impact on the environment) and social studies (e.g., movement of goods, geography, and human-environment interactions) under the auspices of environmental education. In addition, it presents students with a meaningful issue with which to examine cause-and-effect relationships and infer ways to mediate environmental problems by addressing a global issue with local action. The following miniunit is best suited for students in grades 3-5.

Table 1.

Unit overview.

       Content     Activities        Crosscutting Concepts

Day 1  Social      Examination of    Cause and Effect: Events have
       Studies     origin of         causes that generate observable
                   objects Read 10   patterns. Simple tests can be
                   Little Rubber     designed to gather evidence to
                   Ducks Image       support or refute student ideas
                   analysis of       about causes

Day 2  Science     Discuss why       Stability and Change: Some
                   rubber ducks      things stay the same while other
                   float Read Ducky  things change. Things may
                   Plan              change slowly or rapidly
                   investigation to
                   test what items
                   Make predictions  Human Impacts on the Earth
                   about what items  Systems
                   will float

Day 3  Science     Sort items and    Constructing Explanations and
                   discuss           Designing Solutions: Constructing
                   decomposition     explanations and designing
                   Conduct floating  solutions

                   Make claims and
                   provide evidence
                   about why some
                   things float and
                   others do not

Day 4              Make connection
                   to buying
                   locally Create
                   concept map with
                   whole class

Day 5  Assessment  Open response

Setting the Stage

Geography-related social studies content can be taught through an examination of ocean currents (e.g., the North Pacific Gyre), human-environment interaction, and the global movement of goods. We began this unit with a 60-minute social studies lesson in a fourth-grade classroom. To introduce the topic of global trade, we engaged students in an information-gathering activity in which they recorded and mapped the manufacturing locations of a number of household items. While items in the classroom could have been used, for efficiency we used pregathered household goods, including a bath toy. After all the items had been recorded and mapped on a projected world map, the students made observations about the origin of most of the items (most had originated from Asia). …

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