Unit Overview

Students consider the effects of plastics on the marine ecosystem and community as they engineer filters to reduce plastic waste entering the ocean. 

  • Grade 5
  • Setting: In school
  • Science connection: Ecosystems, pollution
  • 9 lessons
  • 45 minutes per lesson

Standards alignment

We’ve developed each YES unit with careful attention to NGSS standards. YES units are also designed to integrate with the most popular elementary and middle school curricula. View Standards Alignment

Unit Map

Students are introduced to engineering by designing a model bench for people waiting at a bus stop. They learn about the Engineering Design Process as they reflect on how they solved the problem.
Students begin reading a comic about the plastic pollution problem in Mobile Bay. They consider how the problem impacts the community groups in the story and hunt for plastic pollutants around their school grounds.
Students sort cards to learn how plastics break down in the ocean and how these pollutants affect marine life and the food chain.

Students compare the properties of plastic and non-plastic materials to their functions in everyday items. They watch a video to observe how plastic pollutants can move about the environment.

Students explore the properties of various materials to determine which might work well in their plastic filters.

Students independently imagine ideas for their plastic filters. They work with a partner to plan one plastic filter design.

Students create their plastic filters and test how well their designs meet the criteria and constraints.
Students identify aspects of their plastic filters to improve. They make adjustments and test their improved designs.
Students share their designs with their peers through a gallery walk and reflect on their environmental engineering work.

Teacher Preparation Videos

Prepare the Model Bay

Test Materials

Videos for Students

Prepare the Model Bay

Model River, Regular Flow

Model River, Storm Event

Test Filter

Plastic filter icon

What’s Included?

  • Teacher Guide (PDF)
  • Teacher Slides (Google Slides)
  • Student Engineering Notebook (PDF)
  • Illustrated Story (Google Slides or PDF)
  • Print Materials (PDF)