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Polymers for the Planet

In this module, students design a biopolymer to be used as an alternative to plastics. Students engage in the engineering design process as they define the design problem, develop and test possible solutions, and optimize their solution. Through their work developing biopolymers, students figure out that combining two or more substances results in a new substance with different properties. In addition, students consider ways individuals and communities use science ideas to protect Earth’s resources and environment.

NGSS addressed by this module:
3-5-ETS1-1   3-5-ETS1-3   5-PS1-3   5-PS1-4   5-ESS3-1

Grade Band: 5-8

Watch the Video

Engineering Design in the Classroom: Polymers for the Planet

Download the Lessons

Entire Unit: Polymers for the Planet
DAYS 1–10: Polymers Teacher Handbook Download

DAY 1: Why We Need a Better Plastic
Students are introduced to the design problem to develop a biopolymer that is less harmful to the environment than plastic. Download

DAY 2: Characteristics and Properties of Polymers/Plastics
Students identify characteristics and properties of plastics and use this information to identify specific criteria for their biopolymer. Download

DAY 3: Materials We Can Use to Make a Biopolymer
Students develop their formulas to create biopolymer compounds for testing. Download

DAYS 4 & 5: How to Make Prototype Biopolymers
Student teams execute their test plans for making the biopolymer formulations they defined in Day 3. Download

DAY 6 & 7: Characteristics and Properties of Our Biopolymers
Students determine the characteristics and properties of their prototype biopolymer coupons and conduct a tensile strength test. Download

DAY 8: Sharing Our Findings
Students review the data and share the findings compiled during their qualitative observations and quantitative testing trials. Download

DAYS 9 & 10: Final Presentations and Findings
Students present their findings and optimization plans. Download

Download Additional Resources

Polymers Student Handbook
All Days Download

Wooden Stick Mold Video
Days 4 & 5 View


The materials created by this collaboration were taught by the authoring teachers in Puget Sound and Houston and in 2015, a second group of teachers taught the lessons and provided feedback to improve the modules. As part of a second iteration of the modules, the senior science editor at Teaching Channel worked with Achieve to integrate the teachers’ feedback while more closely aligning the modules to The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) call for significant shifts in the way science is taught and learned. In 2016, a panel of science experts from around the country convened for a two day training with Achieve to learn how to incorporate the Educators Evaluating the Quality of Instructional Products (EQuiP) Rubric for Science. As part of the iterative process of improvement, the expert reviewers then completed an EQuIP Rubric for each module. Teaching Channel's senior science editor combined the reviewers input to create a third iteration of the modules that promotes a close alignment to standards while honoring the original expertise of the authoring teachers and engineers.

Centennial Education Partner Resources

The Next Generation Science Standards focus a lot on engineering practices and this project allowed me to strengthen my abilities in this area. It also allowed my students to be curious, to be inquisitive, to gather data and to consult each other and work as real scientists."

Jessica Levine
6th Grade Teacher, Seattle, WA

Partners at the Institute for Science and Math Education at the University of Washington and Educate Texas were instrumental in teacher recruitment and the necessary training for this initiative.