KIDLANDIA: Trash Talkin’ with Kids by Julianna M. Cruz

No, it’s not what you think. Last week I was walking to my classroom, with my little charges following behind, and we walked right into a teachable moment. There was trash all over the lawn and in the hallway. I stopped everyone and said, “Oh, my heart is breaking! Please help me save the Earth!” I bent over to pick up a piece of trash and most of the kids automatically joined me. Before we even walked into the classroom our lesson for the day had begun. I take great pride in teaching by example, so as we walked in we sorted the trash by putting recyclables into our blue recycling tub and other trash into the trash can. I thanked my students and assured them that they had personally made a difference in the world that day. That got me thinking about a lesson I had written (and taught many times over the years), and I vowed to get going on it the very next week. Now, most of you are probably thinking, “When am I going to squeeze in another lesson?—especially one that is not already in my long-range plans!” My answer is, find the time—steal it if you have to! This is paramount! Anyone who would like a copy of the lesson plan and student/parent data collection sheets can feel free to leave your email address in the comments and I will send it to you.

Here’s what we are doing. Next week I’m going to introduce my students to the Scientific Method by conducting an experiment about how much trash we generate. Students will learn about the Giant Trash Gyre in the Pacific Ocean (just one of five) and discuss how they can keep from contributing to that mess. Then, they will predict how much trash they will generate in a 3-day period, and sort them into solid waste and recyclables. They will weigh the trash, and learn how to collect and record data by using a simple table. We will be using some math that’s a little advanced for the second grade, but it’s never too soon to introduce them to higher level math, with support—especially if it’s purposeful math. Hopefully after seeing how much of their trash can be recycled, they will think about waste management more responsibly. They may even look around and take responsibility for cleaning up, even if it’s not their mess—because it’s the right thing to do. If you are a parent and would like to help, please come in on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday to help weigh and sort. Please bring a bathroom scale and a calculator—we can do this experiment with the materials we already have!

Here’s a video of the North Pacific Gyre. Warning: do not show this video to your elementary class—they might cry—perhaps junior high or high school students would respond better to the video.

If you don’t find success with the link above, look up the Pacific Trash Gyre.

For younger students, I suggest Bill Nye’s Garbage video.

Thanks for helping me and all of our children make a difference.


Julianna M. Cruz is a teacher, an author, and an Inlandian.