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Designing Solutions:
The Marine Debris Problem

Have you ever had a great idea about something, but didn’t know how to shape it into a solution or get it to have an impact on a real problem?


We are going to use the design process to develop a solution to a major global challenge: marine debris threatening our ocean and marine life.

First, let's look at the design process.

Is there anything in this video that you have tried before when you were solving a problem?

What experiences have you had with the design process? Were any strategies particularly successful?

Investigating the Problem:

Let's jump in and explore the problem we are going to address.

This video, Trash on a Spin Cycle, shows oceanographic explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau visiting remote islands in the Pacific. While they were filming, they made a discovery that was so shocking that they documented it and included it in the show. We are going to explore this discovery and then you are going to design solutions that you can test.

This problem is called “marine debris.” After seeing this video, how would you describe this problem? What are some of the causes behind this problem?

It is hard to work on solutions before you fully understand what the causes of a problem are, so let’s watch another short video that explores where marine debris comes from. Take notes in the Student Worksheet as you watch. 

Marine Debris Student Worksheet

Develop a single statement to describe the problem of marine debris, and why it is an issue.

This will help to focus your brainstorming.

Here's more info about the issue, the types of marine debris of found, and its impact.

It'll help to get you thinking of design solutions.

Marine Debris Info Sheet


At this early stage of the design process, the emphasis is not on coming up with complete ideas of high quality, but rather on generating as many ideas as possible. 

No idea is a bad idea, because even a seemingly silly or small idea can spark other ideas that lead to good solutions. Off-the-wall suggestions often spark great ideas.

How creative can you be?

Whenever you come up with an idea, record it by writing it down on a single sticky note or index card. Each idea gets its own sticky note or card. 

Take 15 to 20 minutes to generate ideas. 

Student Worksheet Part 2: 

Come up with a list of criteria, or standards, that you will all use when evaluating your solutions.

Some examples for criteria when judging your solution: 

  • Effective: Is it easy to make it work or get the outcome that you desire?

  • Profitability: Does it yield a financial gain?

  • Sustainability: Does it not further deplete natural resources?

Write out the list on your worksheet. 

Lay out the idea cards/sticky notes that you brainstormed earlier.

Use the criteria for success that you generated to narrow down your choices.

Part 3: Designing your Solution 

On to the design and creation phase. At the end of this section, you will need to sketch and present your ideas to a guardian, relative, or friend.

Your presentation and worksheet will need to address the following main points:

1. Nature of the solution – The name and basic description of your solution (product or process)

2. Sketches – Detailed sketches to clearly indicate the parts of your design, where possible

3. Criteria – How your solution addresses the relevant criteria that you listed on the board in Part 2 

4. End user (who will use/do this) –This is the person that you will use the item or implement the process that you are developing. Define your end user as much as possible (age, use case, context of use, etc.). Examples include a factory-worker using it on an assembly line, a parent using something with their child, a sailor implementing a process on a fishing boat—to name a few.

5. Constraints – When evaluating solutions, it is important to account for any restrictions or limitations that end users will face. Consider social, cultural, and environmental impacts. Constraints may include limits on size, weight, or performance, for example.

Part 4: Presentation and Peer Review

Present your solution to a guardian, relative, or friend. 

Explain the problem in your own words and how to plan to help with your design. Explain your choices and go over the 5 main points from the previous section. Finally, allow your audience to ask questions and give feedback.

Record the feedback your received on your worksheet. 

Part 5: Redesign

Take the feedback your audience gave in part 4 and make adjustments to your design. Using the final questions on your worksheet, reflect on the design process and the solutions you came up with to address the problem of marine debris. 

What's the real-world potential of your solution?

Are there other problems to which you could apply this process to find a solution?

Well done!

Thank you to PBS Learning Media for this resource. 

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