Oil Spill


Oil Spill (3rd-8th) 

This lesson provides students with a deeper understanding of the issues that surround an oil spill and highlights methods of environmental clean-up. Using a model of an oil spill in an “ocean,” students act as environmental engineers to test different methods for effectively cleaning up the spill, and determine the harmful effects that oil spills and their clean-up have on animals and the environment. This lesson requires water (not included).

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Lesson Overview

Students will:

  • Get introduced to oil spills and who is affected
  • Design a cleanup procedure, they create the oil spill & then the students contain and clean their spill according to their procedure
  • Explain their procedures and hold up their waste cup to display to other students and see other students’ results. They then evaluate their success/failure on cleaning up their oil spill
  • Learn about the Deepwater Horizon (2010) or Exxon Valdez (1989) oil spills

Lesson Objectives 

Students will be able to:

  • Describe the different methods that environmental engineers use to clean up an oil spill including booms, skimmers, vacuums, dispersants, and absorbents
  • Explain how an oil spill affects the environment

This lesson is aligned with these Next Generation Science (NGS) Standards.

Standards Covered

Disciplinary Core Idea (DCI)

ESS3 Earth and Human Activity – ESS3.C Human impacts on Earth’s systems

  • (3rd-5th) Societal activities have had major effects on the land, ocean, atmosphere, and even outer space. Societal activities can also help protect Earth’s resources and environments.
  • (6th-8th) Human activities have altered the biosphere, sometimes damaging it, although changes to environments can have different impacts for different living things. Activities and technologies can be engineered to reduce people’s impacts on Earth.

Science & Engineering Practice (SEP) 

Developing and Using Models

  • (3rd-5th) Identify limitations of models.
  • (6th-8th) Evaluate limitations of a model for a proposed object or tool.

Crosscutting Concept (CCC)

Stability and Change

  • (3rd-5th) Some systems appear stable, but over long periods of time will eventually change.
  • (6th-8th) Stability might be disturbed either by sudden events or gradual changes that accumulate over time.
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