Maths propels students to help save the ocean

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Students at St Margaret’s Anglican Girls School in Ascot are exploring the daunting environmental issue of plastic pollution in our world’s oceans in a study that combines technology and mathematics processes

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Students at St Margaret’s Anglican Girls School in Ascot are exploring the daunting environmental issue of plastic pollution in our world’s oceans in a study that combines technology and mathematics processes.

The Year 10 students are studying the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP)  ̶  the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world located between Hawaii and California.

Through the use of mathematical processes, science and technology, the students are determining the area of the outer region of the GPGP to establish the mass of garbage within that section.

This month, 24-year-old Dutch inventor and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup Boyan Slat launched a barrier system he has invented to collect and remove rubbish from the Pacific Ocean – a system he believes will lead to a 50 per cent reduction of the mass of garbage in five years’ time.

The girls are conducting their own investigations as to whether Boyan Slat’s claim is true.

St Margaret’s Head of Mathematics Faculty Vicki Strid said the task linked classroom learning to real world problems.

“It focuses the girls attention on a significant global environmental issue and, with The Ocean Cleanup System 001 recently deployed, the girls can see their own decisions being either confirmed or not in real time,” Ms Strid said.

Far from just numbers and statistics, this project also incorporates an enriching service learning aspect.

“The girls are witnessing the importance of sustainability first hand,” she said.

“They are serving our global community through investigating solutions to this significant world problem.

“This assignment is not just about how maths can be used in real life; it is also an assignment about social conscience and challenging what people see as an impossible task.”

Student Eva Campbell said she felt inspired that through this project she was also attempting to solve a significant world problem and is already making better choices when it comes to plastics and waste disposal.

“Understanding the magnitude of human rubbish that collectively forms the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is horrifying and would make anyone studying it want to take action and save the planet,” Miss Campbell said.

“In the future I will be far more cautious when it comes to plastic and waste disposal and will endeavour to take steps to minimise any harmful contributions to the environment that comes with western living.”

“Not only that, but I have definitely become more of an advocate for the ‘ban the plastic straw’ campaign!”

Many people believe that cleaning up the ocean garbage patches is impossible; however, Ms Strid believes in Boyan Slat’s solution.

“If this works, which I am confident it will, the girls will see that the impossible can and should be challenged,” she said.

“Through STEM, critical thinking and creative problem solving these young women can change the world.”

The project also has the added benefit of highlighting possible future STEM careers to the girls, with Eva Campbell now interested in a career as a chemical engineer.

“My first job would be to invent a biodegradable plastic that would be as strong as Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and as readily-biodegradable as plant-based hydro-biodegradable plastics,” she said.

“As a bonus, I would engineer it so that the break down by-products would double up as fish food!”

 

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