One of the best parts of teaching science is being able to talk about real-world issues. We can help our students see how the world is impacted by our actions (the good and the bad). In this specific unit, we dive into why coral reefs are important, as well as human impact on coral reefs and how plastic pollution affects them.
This isn’t some scientific theory that is hard for students to grasp – it’s happening right now. And through units like this, we can help students understand our world better and maybe even become advocates for change! To make this unit interactive and hands-on, I like to use project-based learning.
Before starting the PBL
Before you jump right into the project, you want to introduce the topic with a whole group lesson and guided notes. During this lesson, you can cover essential vocab like biome, biodiversity, microplastics, etc. Having this whole group lesson at the beginning really lays the foundation for a successful PBL experience. The importance of introducing this is to build background knowledge and help students understand why coral reefs are important.
Next, I like to have students practice the information with task cards and a food lab. During the food lab, students make an edible coral polyp with Twizzlers, sprinkles, gummy worms, fruit rolls ups, frosting, and Rice Krispy treats. It’s messy, but a fun way to represent the structure of coral polyp anatomy. After students have practiced, we’re ready to dive into the actual PBL experience!
PBL for Coral Reefs and Human Impact
For this project-based learning activity, students will answer the question: how does plastic pollution affect the biodiversity of the Coral Reef? Using their background knowledge on why coral reefs are important and the essential vocabulary, students are ready to dig deeper!
Here’s how I structure the PBL:
- Introduce the project. This really sets the tone for the unit and keeps students on track with a goal in mind. I like to write the question on the board and come back to it throughout the project.
- Create a sketch. Have students create a sketch of what they think a healthy, biodiverse coral reef looks like. They can apply what they know about coral reefs here.
- Research. Students will begin researching the coral reef and the current state of things. This can be done individually, with a partner, or even in small groups depending on your class size and dynamics.
- Create a new sketch. After researching, have students create another sketch that represents the “true” state of coral reefs based on what they learned.
- Create a PSA. Now that students know why coral reeds are important and what is happening with coral reefs – they can inform others! Put students into groups to create a PSA about biodiversity and how plastic pollution has affected coral reefs.
- Create an Action Plan. Finally, have students create an action plan that gets the school or community involved in efforts to reduce the plastic in the oceans. Their action plan will focus on why coral reefs are important and what the average citizen can do to help.
Want to bring this Coral Reef PBL to your classroom? Check out the Coral Reef Project-Based Learning resource. This PBL is done for you, so you can easily implement the project in your classroom. The resource includes paper and digital resources to help students illustrate, research, create, and reflect!