Can We Clean the Sea?

3 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT work together in teams to develop a plan to clean an oil spill.

Big Idea

Oil spills are real disasters that plague our oceans every day. This lesson will offer students a chance to work in teams to develop possible solutions to ways to clean up oil spills.

Setting the Stage

5 minutes

This lesson will focus on the best possible solution to cleaning an oil spill with three different materials.  The lesson takes longer than most and can easily be broken up into two days if necessary.  

This lesson comes after many lessons about the diversity in the oceans of the Earth.  I have taken time to carefully teach about the diversity of animals and life in the polar oceans during our unit on the Polar Regions. Then again as we moved into the warm oceans of the Earth, we explored more life with whales, sharks and ocean creatures that reside on the ocean floor.  I really want my students to see the importance of the sea life and what it contributes to the ecosystem of oceans.  

Pollution and oil spills are one of the biggest causes of the loss of ocean life.  It will be the responsibility of these students as they grow into young adults to begin to take care of the oceans.  

My hope is this will give them a small taste of the severity of the situation and help them to begin to think about solutions and their place in the cycle. 

Materials needed:

vegetable oil in a small container

cotton balls or cotton pads (I used cotton pads)

absorbent towels (I used the kind from our school)

small tubs with lids (for water)

food coloring

lots of paper towels and Wipes to clean up after the investigation



10 minutes

Earlier in my morning, during my reading block, I squeezed in time to read the children Prince William.  I like this book because it really does a great job of making an Oil Spill come to life for students in a clean and easy way. It is a narrative story....but brings in many strong visuals.  The main character is a little girl about the age of my students.  It personalizes the story for the children and hooks them in right away.  I don't explain to the children that this book will have anything to do with our science investigation later.  I just really want to plant a seed in their minds and lit it sit there.  

When the time arrives to begin our science lesson, I remind the students about the book Prince William that we had read earlier in the day. I explain that we are going to simulate an oil spill and work with some possible solutions to clean up the ocean.  Now that I have their attention, I am ready to begin.  

I quickly direct the children to look at the screen and see the title of the lesson.....Instantly, I hear comments.  "OH! I know what we are going to do."  We begin with a series of questions. 

I have put those questions on the screen for the students to see. Having the question on the screen and large is nice for those students who begin the conversation and need to be reminded again of the conversation.  Slide two explains that the children will have a conversation in their team. 

Do you know what happens when you mix water with oil? (Slide three)

What happens when oil mixes with ocean water? (Slide four)

Is it possible to clean the oil out of the ocean? (Slide five)

The questions, are solid leads to asking questions (SP1). 

Students share in their table teams first and then share out with the class when I ring the bell to gather their attention.  

After students share out, I explain that we are going to use oil and water to investigate this question further.  Excitement begins brewing....the children always know that this leads to fun and exciting results.  I have my materials prepared ahead of time....a container with a lid on it and water that is already inside.  I have also put vegetable oil with a small amount of food coloring in small containers that have a lid an pour spout ready to go as well.  The oil can make a big mess and the more I can control any possibilities of it spilling are a priority.  

I remind the students that they must work together in teams and the team leader for the day is the person who will take care of the materials.

This works well for me to use the team leaders.  This is a Cooperative Learning strategy I have adapted a bit to fit my needs.  Rather than having students assigned as "getters" and other responsibilities, I put my students into groups and one child is the leader who gets all materials, is the team speaker, takes care of all materials, whatever needs to be accomplished 



15 minutes

I show the children a quick video clip that shows the results of oil spills in oceans.  I want the children to connect this to the Ocean environment that we have been investigating so deeply for the last couple of weeks.  

The video can be used in either this portion of the lesson or in the Elaboration section of the lesson.  That is up to the discretion of the teacher and the needs of the students.  It works well in either place.  For my purposes, I used it here. 

I stop the video clip at 2:36 because the video then shares a message I do not want to explain to my students.  The video clip is a Youtube video and I am sure created not for education of students.  I don't have an opinion that supports or negates the feelings of the creators. I simply want to use the visuals and the music they have put together. 

The clip itself is beautiful in a really sad way.  The music grabs you from the beginning with the quietness of it and the images are very sobering. I want it to make an impact on my students. The students are stunned with the images and the information that is shared with the amounts of oil spilled grab their attention.  The higher readers are able to quickly read the comments about the amount of oil spilled in various spills.  They have a concept of this and at times are aghast. Their reaction grabs the attention of the other children. 

After watching the video clip, I ask the children about their thoughts concerning what they watch on the screen. I want the children to really see the lasting effects of what the oil can do to the life in the ocean.  My hope in doing this is to really make it more personal to them.  

I explain again that this investigation is going to be about us imagining we are environmental scientists and we have to help clean up an oil spill.  (Slide six)

I move to Slide seven and the excitement mounts.  The children realize that this step has already been taken care of.  However, the containers have the lids on and I instruct the children to take their lid off.  

I explain that we will use each tool in a specific order and they will need to listen to the order and the purpose of each tool to get the full effect of what we are learning about.  I have carefully put each step into place on the screen as well.  I want the visual available because the class can get a bit noisy during these types of learning lessons.  Having the directions laid out step by step on the screen offers that level of independence for the the students to complete the task if I am working with another group.  The simulation allows us the opportunity to create a physical replica to recreate an actual spill and work through possible clean up solutions (SP2). 

Slide eight shows the children the two materials we will be working with during the investigation.  I move to Slide nine and explain that we will work with one method at a time.  The first being their cotton pads. I also pass out a small documenting sheet for the children to write their observations down on.  I know that these pages could potentially get wet, but I explain to the children not to worry about this.  It is real science, and scientists who work with water have that reality every day.  

The children begin working with the cotton pads trying to soak up any oil they can.   As the children are doing this, I am circulating and making sure there are no spills or catastrophes that may need clean up. 

When the children have completed their cotton investigation, I remind them to document all their findings on their recording sheet.  I  then explain they will move on to the absorbent towel and see if that works any better.  Reminding them to document again on the second recording sheet. 

When both materials have been investigated,  I ring the bell and get the students attention.  I ask the students to share out their results.  Team leaders will share the major findings of their work.  I ask the children if they feel they could make a statement that stands behind one material....which one they believe is the best and why. (SP8)



10 minutes

When all the children have had time to explore the materials and investigate which they believe is the most absorbent with oil, I ask them to direct their attention to the screen.  Slide thirteen shows a picture with a description of a Containment Boom.  The method that is used often in oil spills today. 

I explain how the oil is cleaned on the surface of the ocean when an oil spill occurs.  I anticipate that someone will ask what the boom is made of....and then....did you make one for us to use? 

Ahead of time, I have made simulated booms.  (Because booms in the real world are mostly made of human and pet hair and fur, I contact my hair dresser and request clippings.  I use them to make the booms.  I put the hair in cheap nylon stockings and tie them off in a knot. I make one for each table team).  

I bring each team a boom and ask them to wait until all the teams have one.  I know the reaction in the water is quick and swift.  I want the children to see the reaction at the same time, rather than one team before the others.  


5 minutes

After the students have investigated the booms and the other methods, I want to make sure they are able to answer the original question from the beginning of the lesson.... Can the oceans be cleaned after an oil spill? 

I probe them further verbally to see what they have discovered.  I ask.."Which method do you believe was the best for cleaning our oil spill?" (Slide fifteen)

I expect them to answer with the boom and give the reasoning.   

I then explain that I want them to take their conclusions a bit farther than we have in past lessons. I move to Slide Sixteen....I further explain the idea of the Claims, Evidence and Reasoning.  

"You know I have used these words often in lessons, but we have not really dug into what these words mean.  We are going to really use these words in this lesson today.  We are going to use them to focus on our conclusion with this simulation." 

I move through the next three slides (Seventeen - Nineteen) quickly explaining the meaning for each element.  I show the children a foldable that they are going to fold and cut out.  We use this type of learning tool often, so the children are very familiar with the process. It doesn't take long for them to put it together.  

I pass out the smaller sentence frames that are exactly like the slides on the screen.  I talk the conclusions through with the students and they fill in their sentences frames with the language they believe is best.  

Through these conversations I am able to ascertain that the students understood the lesson, but the new language of the Claims, Evidence and Reasoning will need to be revisited many times before the end of our school year.