Did you know that on March 24, 1989, an oil tanker struck the Bligh Reef in Prince William’s Sound and spilled 10.8 million gallons of oil into the ocean? This major oil spill was one of the first that devastated Alaska. Wildlife was in danger – if not already dead. The people were also in danger of becoming sick. At that point in time, we had little experience trying to clean oil from water, but now we have learned special techniques and even developed new tools. ‘
Our students will likely have more experience with this as we continue to drill off the coastlines for oil, so it’s time that we teach our kids about the mistakes we have made in the past and what successes we have learned about keeping our ocean waters healthy.
I created this Earth Day STEM Challenge from the heart.
Okay, I’m a sucker for the salty ocean. I absolutely adore sea turtles, dolphins, whales, and sharks, you name it! I love surfing at the beach (before kids came along), and I love the beach life. What I’m trying to say is that this little project came from my heart.
I knew I had to do something when the Deepwater Horizon spilled 672,000 gallons of oil off of the coast of Louisiana. Can you believe the dolphins are still struggling today! To start this project, my kids and I create KWL charts. We ask questions about what we know and want to know about oil spills off our coast. The discussions are fascinating!
Then I divide the class up into five groups. We spend about five minutes at each station testing the properties of different kitchen oils. This takes about 30 minutes in total, so this is pretty much all we do on the first day. It sounds like common sense to us adults, but to the kids, oil is kind of like magic. They find it shocking how it reacts with water – and it really kind of is magical.
The next day we read about oil spills. I have several good books for this. We study how they happened in the past, the damage that occurred, and the unsuccessful and successful ways that scientists have discovered to clean it up. You can use these books for younger students; however, I have included reading passages for the older students.
The following day, we complete an Earth Day STEM Challenge. My students create a boat with a boom and a skim. They create this and test it in a large bowl. I was lucky enough to have access to a kiddie pool and a water hose one year, so we made it really big! It’s not necessary to make it really big, but it does make it more fascinating to watch as it blows around in the wind. It was a lot more challenging to create this boom and skim than it looks! Click here to learn more about a boom and skimmer. We actually used motor oil since we were outside.
Finally, I had the students create an informative writing piece about how oil spills happen, what kinds of damage it causes, and how we can help to clean up and prevent them. This Earth Day STEM Lesson was a lot of fun for my students and the learning was DEEP! It was fascinating to learn about this with my students and watch them become caring citizens.