|Two teams of students from Johnson Elementary participated in the National Geographic GeoChallenge.|
By Robin Gee, City Council Beat Editor
More than six billion metric tons of plastic waste litters our earth today, and of that quantity, 91 percent is not recycled, according to a study by the National Geographic Society. Plastic takes more than 400 years to degrade so we will be living with it a long, long time.
This year, the Society challenged young people across the country to address the problem of single-use plastics through its GeoChallenge, a themed competition that encourages students in grades five through eight to develop creative solutions to real-world problems.
To address the challenge, students were encouraged to use many of the same skills promoted by Fort Thomas schools' Portrait of a Graduate program — teamwork, creativity, innovation, critical thinking and persuasive communications.
Johnson students step up to the challenge
Johnson Elementary teacher Kim Schnier entered her fifth grade students in the challenge. With help from technology teacher Heidi Neltner, they presented five potential projects. They discovered that of the 1,100 groups submitting projects, two Johnson projects were selected to be among the top 250 in the country.
"They could choose from dealing with plastics that were already here, or do some type of campaign to get people to not use single-use plastics," Schnier explained.
Her students chose to work on prevention and education. "One of the important parts of the project was to tell their impact story. So, we get people to stop using single-use plastics, get people to think about what they are doing, but what impact has that had?"
Her students took that question and the challenge head on, she said. "I’ve been amazed...I just gave them the driving question and they just took off."
One team, the "Cup Crusaders," decided to tackle the issue of single-use plastics in the form of coffee cups.
"We chose Fort Thomas Coffee to get them to reduce the amount of single-use coffee cups," said student Katie B. "We created a rewards card for them to use, and if they get a drink in their own reusable cup nine times they can get their tenth drink for free."
Bella B., another member of the student team, presented a poster the group made to promote their idea. "We designed it ourselves and we also made business cards for the customers to remember that when you get your card hole-punched."
Katie and Bella were joined by students Robbie K. and Jacob G. to create a commercial at the coffee shop. The shop was in the process of being sold at the time, but both the old and new owners have agreed to the project.
Innovation and creativity informed solutions
|Move Popeye the turtle by getting questions about plastic pollution right in the students' video game.|
The second group of students, formed a "Bloxel" group to create a video game that focused on education. Players move Popeye the turtle along the game board and answer questions on plastics use and facts along the way.
"It’s a you-choose game so that at each check point, you have facts about plastic and you have to make a choice," explained student Lizzie P. "Let’s say it might ask you to choose a plastic water bottle or a steel water bottle. If you make the wrong choice you have to go through all these obstacles to get to the right choice."
Abbie R., another student on the team, elaborated. "So you have to go through all these obstacles. I think there are four options. Plastic straw or paper straw, pre-packaged bags or tupperware, plastic water bottle or metal water bottle..."
Players who got facts about plastic or choices wrong would fall and have to face a series of additional challenges designed to educate them on plastics pollution. Other members of the team were Julian H., Noah V. and Oliver L.
"One of the components was to embed your research," said Schnier. "How creative is that!"
The students shared their work at the March Fort Thomas Independent School Board meeting and later presented on their projects at the Johnson STEAM night.