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  • Subject:
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. Biodegradable materials are those that are capable of disintegrating easily in nature.
2. Discarded items made of biodegradable materials take up less room in a landfill and are therefore preferable to items made of materials that take many years to break down.
3. Inventions that use only biodegradable materials are more "friendly" to the environment than others.


Students who choose to make models of their inventions will determine and obtain the materials they need on their own.
Computer with Internet access
Research materials about biodegradable materials


1. Review with your students what they know about biodegradable materials. Be sure they understand that biodegradable materials are those that disintegrate easily in nature.
2. Continue the discussion by asking students why biodegradable materials are more "environment friendly," and therefore preferable to those that are not.
3. Tell your students that in the early 1990s, a young student invented a golf tee made entirely out of biodegradable substances. Discuss with the class why this invention was important. (Millions of golf tees are used each year, and many people leave them on the golf course after they have used them. Standard golf tees take a long time to disintegrate.) Then challenge students to come up with their own biodegradable inventions.
4. Divide the class into pairs or small groups, asking each group to dream up a product that consists only of biodegradable materials they can find in their homes or outside.
5. Have them begin by brainstorming ideas for products and writing down their ideas. For ideas, they can do research on the Internet.
6. Students should then write a list of materials they would need for each product and then determine which idea seems most practical. They should research their materials to make sure they are, in fact, biodegradable.
7. Once groups have chosen their inventions, they should either make models of their products or draw detailed diagrams, showing how and where each material would be used.
8. Have groups create marketing campaigns to convince other people to purchase their environment-friendly products.

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Adaptations for Older Students:
Have students explain, in scientific terms, why the materials they have chosen are biodegradable and how they biodegrade.

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Discussion Questions

1. Do you think that one day most of our clothing or other everyday items, such as notebooks or paper cups, will be made from recycled materials? What changes would have to be made to society in order for this to occur?
2. Are you more likely to buy a product if you know it is made from recycled materials? What if that product isn't quite what you're looking for—not as close, say, as a similar nonrecycled product? What if it was more expensive?
3. Discuss whether you think some countries are more interested in recycling and the environment than others. Explain your answers.
4. Explain the reasons why someone might not choose to recycle in their home. Discuss the things you could say to this person to convince him or her to recycle.
5. Think about the packaging that you see in grocery stores today. Discuss and debate whether most products are packaged in an environmentally friendly way.
6. Hypothesize the reasons why some communities have set up elaborate recycling programs while others have no recycling programs at all.

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You can evaluate your students on their products and marketing campaigns using the following three-point rubric:
  • Three points: products use only biodegradable materials; models or diagrams clear and carefully executed; marketing campaigns persuasive and creatively conceived

  • Two points: products use only biodegradable materials; models or diagrams adequate; marketing campaigns moderately persuasive

  • One point: products use only biodegradable materials; models or diagrams unclear or inadequately executed; marketing campaigns weak

You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining criteria for a strong marketing campaign.

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Where Does Your Garbage Go?
Ask your students to research what happens to the garbage in their community. This might best be done by having an employee or spokesperson from the city sanitation facility come into the class or, if possible, having students tour the facility. Students could also send a letter or e-mail to someone at the facility asking that person specific questions about what happens to their garbage. Their research should answer questions about where the garbage goes, what happens to it when it gets there, how long it survives, any alternate uses to which it is put, total garbage amounts for their local area, and how the garbage affects the environment. Have students create illustrated reports on their findings, including action plans for ways to reduce the amount of garbage or more appropriately deal with the garbage that presently exists.

Adult Attitudes toward Recycling
Have students interview parents, grandparents, or other adults to find out what differences they notice between societal attitudes toward recycling and the environment today and the attitudes that were prevalent when the interviewees were young students. Students should first write questions to ask in the interviews, such as these: "Did people talk about the environment much when you were a kid?"; "Did you recycle?"; "In what ways are people's attitudes toward the environment different today?" After they conduct their interviews, students should write up their findings and share them in class. Then they can discuss the differences or similarities they have found between environmental interest and awareness today and in the past.

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Suggested Readings

Issues in the Environment
Patricia D. Netzley. Lucent Books, 1998.
Issues of recycling fill this detailed book, which provides a fine overview of the topic. Primary source quotations, charts, and tables support the thought-provoking text. The book also contains an annotated bibliography that will allow the reader to pursue further research on the topic.

Garbage and Waste
Charles P. Cozic, ed. Greenhaven Press, 1997.
This book considers recycling an important issue in an industrial society. The pros and cons of recycling are presented in a clear, interesting manner. The book also offers a bibliography and a list of organizations that offer information about recycling.

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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
A text based site with information onthe benefits of recycling as well as ideas for accomplishing the task.

Internet Consumer Recycling Guide
An extensive site with good information on the recycling and the environment

Environmental Factoids
A Commercial site with informationon climate change, forests, waste and energy reduction

Environmental Defense Fund
You will find not only up to date environmental information but a page for kids and a page for teachers are available

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    biodegradable
Definition: Capable of being broken down especially into innocuous products by the action of living things.
Context: Biodegradable materials will disintegrate easily in nature. Things that aren't biodegradable will take a very long time to disintegrate and are therefore more wasteful.

speaker    environmentalism
Definition: Advocacy of the preservation or improvement of the natural environment; the movement to control pollution.
Context: In the name of environmentalism, it is important to reduce the amount of garbage with which we burden the environment.

speaker    landfill
Definition: A system of trash and garbage disposal in which the waste is buried between layers of earth to build up low-lying land.
Context: When garbage leaves a house, its most common destination is a landfill, where it will join other garbage in a giant pile.

speaker    polyester
Definition: Any of a group of polymers that consist basically of repeated units of an ester and are used especially in making fibers or plastics.
Context: A polyester fleece can be made from recycled plastic.

speaker    recycle
Definition: To process in order to regain material for human use.
Context: Scientists have learned how to recycle plastic materials into fleece jackets.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: technology
Understands the relationships among science, technology, society, and the individual.
Knows ways in which technology and society influence one another (e.g., new products and processes for society are developed through technology; technological changes are often accompanied by social, political, and economic changes; technology is influenced by social needs, attitudes, values, and limitations and cultural backgrounds and beliefs).

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: geography
Understands how human actions modify the physical environment.
Understands the environmental consequences of people changing the physical environment (e.g., the effects of ozone depletion, climate change, deforestation, land degradation, soil salinization and acidification, ocean pollution, groundwater-quality decline, using natural wetlands for recreational and housing development).

Understands the ways in which technology influences the human capacity to modify the physical environment (e.g., effects of the introduction of fire, steam power, diesel machinery, electricity, work animals, explosives, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, hybridization of crops).

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: geography
Understands the changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources.
Knows strategies for wise management and use of renewable, flow, and nonrenewable resources (e.g., wise management of agricultural soils, fossil fuels, and alternative energy sources; community programs for recycling or reusing materials).

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: geography
Understands global development and environmental issues.
Understands the possible impact that present conditions and patterns of consumption, production, and population growth might have on the future spatial organization of Earth.

Understands how the interaction between physical and human systems affects current conditions on Earth (e.g., relationships involved in economic, political, social, and environmental changes; geographic impact of using petroleum, coal, nuclear power, and solar power as major energy sources).

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Betsy Hedberg, former middle school teacher, current freelance curriculum writer and consultant.

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