(Art work provided by an art club student, 2016)
Throughout the day art students asked me several times if we were going to meet this afternoon. I assured them we would and they were very excited. They wanted to know what we were going to do and I would tell them, "It's a surprise." As soon as the bell rang they started filtering in the studio. I had one question written on the board. "What is plastic and what do we know about it?"
Immediately students began to describe it.
"Plastic is soft and flexible."
"We can see through it."
Okay, so now we know what it looks like. "How do we use it?"
"We use it everyday."
"Yes, we use lots of water bottles."
"You can use it for many things."
So we established that we know what it looks like and we use it a lot. What happens when we are finished a wrapper or bottle? What if the plastic did not get recycled or thrown in the trash, how long would the plastic last? How is it made anyway?
The students could not answer all these questions. These children have grown up in a plastic covered world.
In order to answer some questions we watched Diana Cohen's Ted Talk: The Tough Truths About Plastic . Cohen (2010), discusses the plastic pollution that is occurring in the oceans at alarming rate. She explains that the pollution in the oceans is mostly generated from inland sources carried through streams and rivers into the ocean and it is destroying our wildlife and polluting the water.
The reaction to the video was evident. The students expressed that they had no idea that animals were dying and getting hurt because of the plastic. The pictures of plastic in the water disgusted them.
As a study of how much plastic surrounds us, the students looked through their back packs found all the plastic they could. Those without a backpack found items around the room. With a variety of materials provided, they drew their collections.
After they completed their drawings I shared with them the plan!
"We are going to collect in one day all the plastic that we use on campus. Not just us, but the entire campus. Then after collect it we will make art with it. How much plastic do you predict we will collect?"
After some thought I received the following answers:
3600 lbs, 23 lbs, 1,000,000,000 lbs., 4000 lbs
300lbs, 1- 10 lbs.,4000 lbs.,20 lbs., 52 lbs, 152 lbs., 360 lbs., 4 lbs.
Then as a reflection I asked:
"What is something new that you learned today about plastic?"
"It hurts animals."
"Plastic is made from petroleum."
"I learned that plastic is bad for animals and the whole ocean."
"We use it a lot and some people throw it in the trash sometimes, they throw it on the beaches and the animals eat it and they die."
"The animals eat it."
"We learned it can hurt you and animals."
"It’s all over us and the world."
"We use it a lot."
"You can make art with plastic and other stuff."
"It is made out of gas."
"I learned that plastic is recyclable."
The stage has been set. In the first day students have already started their quest to know more and create art.