I ask students to share any knowledge they have about oil spills. Some will know of the most recent Gulf Coast Spill in 2010. A few may reference the Dawn dish soap commercial, in which the soap is used to clean up birds after a spill. Others will have no background knowledge to draw upon. To help provide some background information, I have the students watch What Caused Exxon Valdez Spill, from the Travel Channel:
Now that the students know what an oil spill looks like, I want them to be able to understand the scale and extent of the damage it can cause. In order to do this, I feel they must first understand how large these oil tankers really are. For this part, we need to go outside.
Using a tape measure, I have the students mark off 100-foot piece of string or rope and stretch it across the playground. I have the students stand along the rope, looking at its length from end to end. I explain that using a 100-foot length like this, it would be necessary to step and repeat 10 times to represent the length of the Exxon Valdez- and it's only a medium sized tanker. Some can measure up to 1,500 feet long (15 lengths of string)!
Next, I explain that students will get the opportunity to participate in a few simulations to learn more about the consequences of oil spills. Place students in groups of 3-4, and distribute the Oil Spill Stations handouts. Each group rotates through the three simulations, spending approximately 15 minutes at each station. This provides ample time for them to investigate, discuss, and write their observations/reflections.
Before we begin, I assign students a specific role to fulfill throughout the activity:
I have found that these roles provide every student with the opportunity to be fully engaged and accountable for the learning task. In addition, this ensures that the lab runs smoothly and the area is left clean and ready for the next group. It also fosters a sense of responsibility for the classroom, the activity, and meeting the learning objectives.
*I have provided a teacher copy of the activity, which includes a general answer key, as well as a list of materials necessary for implementation (indicated in yellow). The student copy does not contain these additional notes.
Once each group has had a chance to participate in all of the stations and record their observations, it is time to reflect on the activities and discuss how the activities we completed relate to oil spills in the ocean. We start Day 2 discussing the students experiences in the simulations, as a class. While I give the students a chance to share their observations, I try to keep the discussion focused on how the stations relate to an actual ocean oil spill. I ask them to think about how the activities they experienced would relate to the experiences of the plants, animals, and people who reside in or near the ocean.
While students easily identify the more obvious consequences (slippery feather or fur, inability to clean all of the oil, etc.), they will not immediately recognize the more subtle effects of the oil. for example, as we discuss the wildlife rescue simulation, I explain to the students that feathers are constructed of strands of hair and miniature "hooks." This construction keeps the feathers close to the body, and maintains warmth and dryness. Oil compromises this ability, and endangers the bird's health, and even their life. The type of oil carried by tankers is much denser and harder to remove from birds' feathers than what we used in our simulation.
In order for students to learn more about the effects of oil spills on organisms in or near the ocean environment, I assign a reading passage from a different website to each table group:
The students jigsaw read the articles, discussing the key information from their article with table mates before moving into new groups to share out. As they read, students reflect on the text by completing the Reading Reflection chart. After reading and filling in the chart, they discuss in their table groups, sharing what they wrote on the chart and adding any information their partners shared that they feel is important. Then, they partner up with three other students who read different articles and each summarizes what they read to inform each other about the most important and/or impactful information presented. They do this twice, which covers every article. If you change the number of articles, or have different number of student, you'll have to adjust the numbers.
*Because I like students to have the opportunity to highlight and take notes in the margins, I tend to use Print Friendly to print the articles in PDF form without all of the ads and spam that tend to accompany them. However, reading them online is always an option.
Students have now learned a great deal of information about the effects of oil spills through a variety of hands-on, literary, and discussion opportunities. In order to wrap up the lesson and allow them the opportunity to share their feelings, I have them select one of the organizations below and write a business letter. In the letter, they should explain:
The organizations they may write to are as follows:
Students are provided with a Business Letter Checklist (made by Time for Kids) to help them evaluate their progress as they write. In addition, to meeting the criteria listed on the checklist, I assess the students' understanding based on the requirements listed above.