Children ask many questions in their attempt to understand their world. Helping them to understand the world through words alone can be very difficult as the language of adults is often lost on children and their limited point of reference. Hands on activities are very beneficial in helping children understand. The following activities are designed to help children understand how difficult it will be to clean up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Oil Spill: What does that mean?
• Cooking oil
• Cocoa powder (optional)
• Drinking straws
• A feather
• Assorted items to try to clean up the “oil spill” such as paper towels, cotton balls, grass, kitty litter, spoons, cornstarch, sand, etc.
Why do we need oil?
Oil is used to make fuel for our cars, trucks and airplanes, heat our homes, make plastic and even to make medicines.
Where does oil come from?
Oil was created from the remains of plants and animals that lived millions of years ago. When these things died, they were covered by sand and dirt and over time they changed into what is called crude oil. The oil is found underground. Holes are drilled into the ground and pipes placed in the hole bring the oil to the surface to be collected.
What is an oil spill?
When oil is being collected, sometimes parts break and the oil leaks into the ground or water. These leaks are called oil spills. When oil is spilled in water, it rises to the surface of the water and quickly spreads out into a very thin layer called a slick.
Step 2: Pour a small amount (2-3 tablespoons) of cooking oil into the water. If you want your cooking oil to look more like crude oil, mix about 2 teaspoons of cocoa powder into the oil before pouring it into the water.
Step 3: Observe what happens to the oil and water.
How can we stop an oil slick from getting bigger?
Oil containment booms are long structures that float on top of the water are used to prevent oil slicks from spreading. View photos of oil containment booms by following this link: http://mpccontainment.com/oil-booms.shtml?gclid=CNCnp8iLsqMCFR9UgwodCwRW3w
Step 1: Place a drinking straw in the water at the edge of the oil slick. If you have a large container, you may want to hook several straws together by pinching the end of one straw and inserting it into the end of another. What happens to the oil slick?
Step 2: Gently tip the container to create waves. Now what happens to the oil slick?
Why are oil spills a problem?
Spilled oil is very difficult to clean up and is very harmful to plants and animals.
Step 1: Think of some types of water birds, for example, ducks and seagulls.
Step 2: Think about what feathers do for birds. Feathers keep birds warm, make them waterproof and help them fly.
Step 4: Try washing the feather. Does water clean the feather? Does dish soap clean the feather? What else could you use to try to clean the feather?
Step 5: Imagine trying to wash a wild bird.
How can an oil spill be cleaned up?
Step 1: Select clean-up materials to test such as paper towels, cotton balls, grass, kitty litter, spoons, cornstarch and sand.
Step 2: Try to clean up the oil with each of the test materials. Does anything change? How well does each material work? How do you know how well it worked?
How much oil spilled in the recent BP oil spill?
It is hard to know exactly how much oil spilled and there are many different guesses as to how much spilled. What is certain is that that it is a lot. To see what it would look like if the spill happened by your home, go to the link www.paulrademacher.com/oilspill and enter your zip code. How long would it take to drive from end to end of the spill? How many times could you watch your favorite video in that amount of time?