Creating a garbage monster

Garbage is on the timetable and cooperation between children and adults is becoming more important in the fight against marine pollution. 

Imagine: It is spring and the sun is spreading its warmth. Patches of snow are scattered in the shade, in full retreat from the sun's rays. Birdsong. Patches of new grass sprout alongside stubborn little flowers.

In the turquoise sea, something frayed and blue. Shiny grey things. The white plastic remains of tractor eggs. Yes, spring has come to the seashore. And the beaches are full of garbage.

Knowledge and the power to act

Now three researchers at Nord University have joined forces on an interdisciplinary project that aims to educate children and adults about marine pollution. An adapted teaching plan and workshop series puts clean seas in a pedagogical framework, with defined learning outcomes.

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Interdisciplinary: From left: Karin Stoll, Mette Gårdvik and Wenche Sørmo have developed a teaching plan about marine pollution. Photo: Hilde V. Falch

- This is education for sustainable development. We aim to give knowledge and develop the power to act through a comprehensive approach to the global problem of marine littering, says Nord University Professor of Natural Sciences, Wenche Sørmo.

- Today, many schools participate in clean-ups; however, but these efforts are not put in a wider context.

And this is what Stoll, Gårdvik and Sørmo aim to address.

Stimulating creative thinking

- We live a world with many problems. In order to solve these we need innovative people, who are encouraged to think in new and creative ways, says Karin Stoll.

Stoll is an Assistant Professor of Natural Sciences and passionate about finding good solutions to environmental challenges through a comprehensive approach.

- We have developed a teaching plan in sustainable development that is adapted to kindergarten, primary school, secondary school, teaching degrees and further education. The goal is to provide the right tools, attitudes and the ability to act, they say.

Teaching occurs both indoors and along the Norwegian shoreline.

Natural little scientists

Part of the teaching plan is letting the children conduct their own research on microplastics. In order to do that, the pupils use a microscope.

While they were initially a bit worried about how this would work for the youngest children, they were positively surprised:

- Even kindergarten-aged children are good a looking through a microscope. They are very objective scientists, says an excited Stoll.

Microplastic is a monster

Through film, pictures, discussions and their own research, the children gain knowledge and understanding of microplastics and marine pollution.

- We use the term 'the sea beast' or 'the litter monster' to help the children find a way of expressing this, says Gårdvik.

Before the children go down to the shoreline, they create monster drawings.

– In this way, the children are focused on what they might find before heading out to pick litter, and they regard their finds in a totally different way, says Gårdvik.

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Litter monster: Drawing by Sivert of Ytteren Miljøbarnehage/Ytteren Environmental Kindergarten. Photo: Mette Gårdvik

Facts about microplastics

Plastic waste in the ocean, including microplastics, has the potential to retain and accumulate environmental toxins. Researchers fear that plastic pollution has a serious negative impact on marine life, including contamination of fish and other seafood.

 Miljødirektoratet om marin forsøpling og mikroplast
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Need to work together

On the shoreline, the children work together to create a litter monster, based on found objects.

- There is no limit to what materials they use or how much space it requires. Everything they find can be used, including natural materials, Gårdvik says.

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Stranded monster: The children give new life to beach garbage. Photo: Båsmo School

- The children learn about what characterises a sculpture.  By cleaning up together, planning together and building together, they learn about democratic processes and cooperation.

Styrofoam and spoils of war

Fuses from roadwork, cartridge cases, bits of ropes from the fisheries industry, plastic cans, plastic bags, cotton buds and hay bale plastic are among the most common beach finds. However, the children have also found emergency flares, a bottle of methadone and, not least, a genuine treasure in the form of an American Air force ring, dating back to World War II.

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Genuine treasure: Amongst the rubbish, the children also found a ring dating back to World War II.

- We don't need mobile phones

The teaching plan about marine pollution also involves taking a critical look at oneself as a consumer.

- Here, we let the pupils use their own school bags and contents, such as lunch boxes, to encourage them to reflect upon their own consumption and possible alternatives, says Stoll.

- During one of these sessions, we experienced that several of the children in the 10-12 year group agreed that they did not really need to have a mobile phone.

Connecting to the beach

The trio has no doubt that the interdisciplinary and age-adjusted teaching plan plan has a positive effect:

- They get cold and weary, walk far, carry things; they really just work hard. And they learn that while working alone against the marine pollution can be overwhelming, cleaning up a beach goes fast when one cooperates.

It does not end there:

- Afterwards it kind of becomes 'their' beach. They establish a relationship to it and we experience that they want to keep taking care of it.

International cooperation

The group of researchers has cooperated with several local outdoor recreation committee: Polarsirkelen, Ofoten, Trollfjell and Helgeland.

The scientists at Nord University also maintain international cooperation with the University of Alaska, Anchorage. This work is supported by funding from the University of the Arctic, Polarsirkelen Outdoor Recreation Council, Nordland County Council and Nord University.