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Teaching the Interconnectedness of Things

Lesson Plan

One guiding principle of the ocean literacy framework is the idea of connection. The oceans are really all one big connected ocean, the web of life within the ocean is interconnected, and humans are connected and dependent on the ocean. There seems to be a disconnect, however, in this message being either communicated or interpreted in a meaningful way by humans. Enter Naomi Shihab Nye and her book of poetry, Cast Away: Poems for Our Time (Harper Collins).

Art offers a visualization of things that are unseen or not realized, and as a result, can be prophetic. Naomi Shihab Nye is one of these “voices in the desert” with her work, and in Cast Away she gives a startling image of what waste looks like, but with a gentle touch so as not to shut the receiver of her message down. She does this with such skill, and this often involves questions.

This reminded me of one method of parenting that I work with from time-to-time (borrowed from a sermon, of all things), when I can see a fear build up in my son’s body about something. When I see this, I often try to calm the fear by asking, “What would happen if _(insert fear)_happened?” More times than not, he realizes the truth of his situation, and we can move forward. As an adult, this form of cognitive-behavioral work also is extremely useful, when my anxieties overwhelm me.

Shihab then, works in a similar way with questions, as if trying to reprogram the reader’s brain to think in an environmentalist framework. Her questions slowly nudged me towards the gravity of millions and trillions of small pieces of plastic, and what they all add to. Her questions, like the micro-particles of plastic, add up to compose the big question of, “What will you do to stop this?”

Here are a few of the questions that show up in her poems:

Why recycle?

“Don’t Mess with Texas” was said to be the anti-litter campaign that really worked?

Good custodians?

Kids are better than grown-ups?

And what of the mind? The drifting little thoughts that never find a place to land?

If that single telephone number had stayed safe in your pocket instead of blowing away from your lap…A whole different life?

Who do you think you are?

Who stands here smoking in the dark?

Did some guy pitch it from his car after the night shift heading home?

Where would we begin to stitch our country back together?

Who will make the button hole?

Z for zipper but who among us could really craft one?

Bulldozers dropping a red satin ribbon?

Why are we so messy?

What will happen to us?

As a teacher, I can’t help but think these questions are what our students need to hear, and with inquiry-based learning trending, I thought Cast Away would be a perfect guiding text for teaching ocean literacy, especially if it were a project that partnered the English and science classes together.

As a result, I created a unit plan that works with Cast Away, and the questions it creates. I thought this book could be used for anyone from 5th-8th grade, so I created a lesson plan using framework for an upper middle-grade class in mind.


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