Hunting for Plastics – Making Connections Through Lower Division Courses

Division of Science and Math Work Group: Julie Masura and Megan Schwartz (co-chairs) Bonnie Becker, Erica Cline, Jeremy Davis, Jutta Heller, Meg Henderson, Erik McDonald, Peter Selkin, Haley Skipper, and Cynthia Stanich

UW Tacoma students collecting and categorizing microplastics, macroplastics and megaplastics at Thea's Beach and Owen's Beach

UW Tacoma students collecting and categorizing microplastics, macroplastics and megaplastics at Thea’s Beach and Owen’s Beach

 

In 2014, twelve faculty from the Division of Science and Math joined together to develop high standards for lower division students taking Natural World courses as a part of the CORE curriculum. Action among this faculty stems from the reconciliation of the vision for the CORE experience from the Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs and the Office of Undergraduate Education. Four faculty attended a conference on lower division biological education which they shared with the Science and Math faculty (see www.pulsecommunity.org). The result of that conference led to reformatting our Lower Division undergraduate courses through implementation of high impact educational practices as identified by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (see www.aacu.org/leap/hips).

The workgroup created a curriculum for our freshmen class to be followed by faculty teaching in the CORE, and committed to not only providing faculty development, but also perform an assessment measuring science attitudes and skills of students taking these classes. Each student taking a Natural World course will be exposed to data collection, field and laboratory experiences, field and laboratory reports, academic research, data analysis, and place-based activities. Our intention is a pledge to ensuring every student experience the “science” in interdisciplinary arts and sciences.

During the summer of 2015, Erik McDonald restructured his Natural World course using the framework developed by Julie Masura’s CORE course ‘Oceans Full of Trash.’ One of the activities/experiences for his students was to collect and categorize microplastics, macroplastics, and megaplastics at Thea’s Beach on the Thea Foss Waterway and Owen’s Beach at Point Defiance Park (see figure). For another part of the lesson, the students graphed their data (including uncertainty) in Excel and wrote a report on their experience. They will continue to explore the impacts of plastics pollution on ecosystems, while understanding their social responsibility of educating others and modifying behaviors to lessen the effect on their environment.

-Article written by Erik McDonald and Julie Masura

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