Spork Mystery: A Pollution Problem and Proposed Solution
In 2019, Spruce Elementary School’s second grade teacher Dr. Jennie Warmouth traveled to Arctic Svalbard as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow with National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions. Spruce Elementary School’s 580-student body tuned in and followed along virtually through her website www.globalwarmouth.com. The kids were thrilled to see daily images of polar bears, arctic foxes, and blue whales thriving in their natural habitat but were also troubled to see evidence of macroplastics washing up on the remote archipelago’s otherwise pristine shorelines.
Upon her return to Spruce, Dr. Warmouth developed a problem-based curricula in which she invited her students to research theories to explain how the plastics she photographed reached a part of the planet where no humans live. As their investigation evolved, her students realized that the plastic garbage photographed in the High Arctic resembled the single-use spork (combination spoon-fork) utensils used for breakfast and lunch service at their own school each day. Applying their developing math skills, the second graders estimated that their own school was disposing of as many as 70,000 single use plastic sporks and straws wrapped in plastic each year. Bothered by this, they decided to take action.
Dr. Warmouth and her second graders partnered with the Director of Food and Nutritional Services to create a plan to replace all single use plastic utensils with reusable metal silverware in their school. The Director was excited about this change, but worried that some of the children may accidentally throw the metal silverware into the garbage as they always had the plastic sporks. Dr. Warmouth’s students knew that the kids at Spruce could change their ways with a little support…and The Silverware Patrol was born!
Second graders got busy creating signs, producing informational powerpoint slide shows, writing and delivering one minute informational speeches, and launching an environmental club that would monitor the school’s meal service garbage cans to ensure that no metal silverware was thrown away. Sixty students applied to become Silverware Patrol Officers — donning green vests, special silver badges, and wielding magnetic wands and gripper claws to retrieve any misplaced utensils. The program launched in January 2020 and has been widely successful! The Silverware Patrol has successfully removed 70,000 plastic sporks from the school’s annual footprint and has also helped to promote environmental stewardship school-wide.