Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Cleaning Up an Oil Spill

Lately, my science class has been learning about natural resources and what they are used for.  We discussed the differences between renewable and nonrenewable resources.  We also talked about the necessity of being careful with our natural resources. 

On Monday, we created and and then tried to clean up our own oil spill.  I wanted to share our little science project with you.

Most of the materials needed for this science project are common household items you may already have on hand.  You will need:
*Some kind of container {I prefer something I can throw away because I don't want to clean out the mess at the end.}
*Vegetable oil
*Paper towels
*Cotton balls
*Plastic spoons
*Medicine dropper
*Dawn dish soap
*I also have out an extra pan to put the oil and garbage in.

We start by talking about some of the ways that oil spills are cleaned up in real life.  You can find out more about this topic at How Stuff Works.  We compare the tools used in real life to the tools that we have available to use.

Next, we hypothesize about which tools we think will work better.  The students list the tools in the order they think they will work {best to worst}.  Then we create our oil spill. {We just pour vegetable oil into our water filled pans, but the students think it's exciting anyway!}  I also have them notice how the oil spreads out and stays on top of the water.  I usually mention that the spreading oil is called an oil slick.

Finally each student or group starts using their tools in an attempt to clean up the oil spill.  {I would recommend that students save the Dawn dish soap for last.  The soap changes the makeup of the oil and makes it harder to separate from the water.}  Encourage the students to leave as much water as they can in the pan while still getting out all the oil.

Cleaning up the oil is very slow going.  If I am honest, it is very rare for me to have a student or group that actually cleans up all the oil.  Once the students have spent a while trying different tools, they often start to loose focus.  After letting the students work for a time, we compare our notes on how each tool worked and which tool worked the best.  

I also like to point out to the students how long it took us to clean up our tiny oil spill.  We then talk about how long it would take to clean up the huge oil spill from a tanker ship or broken oil well.  The project gives them a good sense of how hard that task would be!
 This is a fun project for almost any age group that teaches them about real world science problems and solutions.

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