Oil and Water

Page history last edited by Denise Oppenhagen 13 years, 1 month ago

Project Overview ~ Form courtesy of Buck Institute for Education (www.bie.org)                     page 1


Team members: 

Dale Glass

PLEASE JOIN! Florence Duarte, Denise Oppenhagen



Name of Project:


Oil and Water (Middle School Science)




3 weeks


Earth Science (in conjunction with FOSS "Water Planet" Unit)

Grade Level:


Other Subject Areas to Be Included:

General science, scientific reasoning, technology, LA, library


Project Idea

Summary of the challenge, investigation, scenario, problem, or issue:

Investigate ways oil and water interact through earth systems including the water cycle and energy cycle, understand the problems of the Gulf spill, develop oil clean-up solutions.

Driving Question

The oil well exploded, leaking oil into the Gulf of Mexico, now what?  What happens to the oil?  Where does it go?  What affects the movement of the oil?  What problems does it cause?  How can we get rid of it?

Content and Skills Standards to be addressed:

(From AAAS Benchmarks; some are "by the end of 8th grade students should know that...." and some are at the 5th grade level since new 6th graders may need review and reinforcement of earlier topics)

Nature of Science: Scientific Worldview

  • Science is a process of trying to figure out how the world works by making careful observations and trying to make sense of those observations. 1A/E2**
  • Science can sometimes be used to inform ethical decisions by identifying the likely consequences of particular actions, but science cannot be used by itself to establish that an action is moral or immoral. 1A/M4c*

Nature of Science: Scientific Inquiry

  • Scientists differ greatly in what phenomena they study and how they go about their work. 1B/M1a
  • Scientific investigations usually involve the collection of relevant data, the use of logical reasoning, and the application of imagination in devising hypotheses and explanations to make sense of the collected data. 1B/M1b*
  • If more than one variable changes at the same time in an experiment, the outcome of the experiment may not be clearly attributable to any one variable. It may not always be possible to prevent outside variables from influencing an investigation (or even to identify all of the variables). 1B/M2ab 

Nature of Science: Scientific Enterprise

  • Clear communication is an essential part of doing science. It enables scientists to inform others about their work, expose their ideas to criticism by other scientists, and stay informed about scientific discoveries around the world. 1C/E2
  • Doing science involves many different kinds of work and engages men and women of all ages and backgrounds. 1C/E3

Physical Setting: The Earth

  • The earth is mostly rock. Three-fourths of the earth's surface is covered by a relatively thin layer of water (some of it frozen), and the entire planet is surrounded by a relatively thin layer of air. 4B/M2ab*
  • Water evaporates from the surface of the earth, rises and cools, condenses into rain or snow, and falls again to the surface. The water falling on land collects in rivers and lakes, soil, and porous layers of rock, and much of it flows back into the oceans. The cycling of water in and out of the atmosphere is a significant aspect of the weather patterns on Earth. 4B/M7*
  • Fresh water, limited in supply, is essential for some organisms and industrial processes. Water in rivers, lakes, and underground can be depleted or polluted, making it unavailable or unsuitable for life. 4B/M8*
  • Thermal energy carried by ocean currents has a strong influence on climates around the world. Areas near oceans tend to have more moderate temperatures than they would if they were farther inland but at the same latitude because water in the oceans can hold a large amount of thermal energy. 4B/M9*
  • Some material resources are very rare and some exist in great quantities. The ability to obtain and process resources depends on where they are located and the form they are in. As resources are depleted, they may become more difficult to obtain. 4B/M10ab*
  • Recycling materials and the development of substitutes for those materials can reduce the rate of depletion of resources but may also be costly. Some materials are not easily recycled. 4B/M10c*
  • The wasteful or unnecessary use of natural resources can limit their availability for other purposes. Restoring depleted soil, forests, or fishing grounds can be difficult and costly. 4B/M11a*
  • The benefits of Earth's resources—such as fresh water, air, soil, and trees—can be reduced by deliberately or inadvertently polluting them. The atmosphere, the oceans, and the land have a limited capacity to absorb and recycle waste materials. In addition, some materials take a long time to degrade. Therefore, cleaning up polluted air, water, or soil can be difficult and costly. 4B/M11bc*

Physical Setting: Processes that Shape Earth

  • Human activities, such as reducing the amount of forest cover, increasing the amount and variety of chemicals released into the atmosphere, and intensive farming, have changed the earth's land, oceans, and atmosphere. Some of these changes have decreased the capacity of the environment to support some life forms. 4C/M7

Physical Setting: Structure of Matter

  • Equal volumes of different materials usually have different masses. 4D/M2*

Living Environment: Flow of Matter and Energy

  • Over the whole earth, organisms are growing, dying, decaying, and new organisms are being produced by the old ones. 5E/E3
  • Over a long time, matter is transferred from one organism to another repeatedly and between organisms and their physical environment. As in all material systems, the total amount of matter remains constant, even though its form and location change. 5E/M2

Living Environment: Interdependence of Life

  • All organisms, both land-based and aquatic, are interconnected by their need for food. This network of interconnections is referred to as a food web. The entire earth can be considered a single global food web, and food webs can also be described for a particular environment. At the base of any food web are organisms that make their own food, followed by the animals that eat them, then the animals that eat those animals, and so forth. 5D/M4** (BSL)












21st Century Skills explicitly taught and assessed (T+A) or encouraged (E) by project work, but not taught or assessed:

Collaboration:  Group project with assigned roles








Presentation:  Combination of science-fair style 3-fold board, oral presentation (video taped), and wiki








Critical Thinking:  Development of hypothesis, appropriate experiment, data collection and analysis, conclusion, summary.








Culminating Products & Performances




 Presentation Audience:



















     Project Overview ~ Form courtesy of Buck Institute for Education (www.bie.org)                     page 2


Entry Event to

launch inquiry

and engage students:

Students explore what happens when they drop some colored vegetable oil into a basin of water.   They will make a preliminary concept map showing ways that the water and oil interact (density, diffusion, surface tension), ways that the oil location and properties might be affected (temperature, evaporation, currents), problems that the oil causes (water, land, wildlife), ideas of how to fix the problem (containment, decomposition, collection, deposition).



Formative Assessments

(During Project)

Quizzes/Tests (with SMART Responders)


Practice Presentations


Journal/Learning Log





Preliminary Plans/Outlines/Prototypes





Rough Drafts


Concept Maps



Online Tests/Exams





Summative Assessments

(End of Project)

Written Product(s), with rubric:




Other Product(s) or Performance(s), with



Oral Presentation, with rubric


Peer Evaluation



Multiple Choice/Short Answer Test





Essay Test








Resources Needed

On-site people, facilities:






Community resources:



Reflection Methods

(check all that will be used)

Journal/Learning Log



Focus Group



Whole-Class Discussion




Fishbowl Discussion












Comments (15)

Florence Duarte said

at 6:51 pm on Jul 27, 2010

I really like this project and -with your permission - would like to incorporate some portions of it into my own..." Alvin and beyond"

Dale Glass said

at 8:00 pm on Jul 27, 2010

Great! I love the Alvin project and will think about using some of it with my 6th graders in the winter as part of our Lego robots unit. I will be interested to see what's next here - please add in ideas and more.

suzieboss@... said

at 8:11 am on Aug 3, 2010

Hi Dale,
Good start here, and I see you're inviting feedback. So....
Here's one suggestion: Instead of trying to "cover" all these standards, pick one or two that you want students to explore and understand in depth.
The FOSS kits are terrific as inquiry-based activities. So think about how you can use them in support of your project. Once you settle on a Driving Question, how might these activities help students arrive at an answer? Think about what you want the learning activities to add up to.
Good luck!

Dale Glass said

at 4:50 am on Aug 5, 2010

Thanks, Suzie. These are all the standards that the whole FOSS unit covers, so that's why I've listed them all; some are more explicit than others (specifically the water cycle stuff and the thermal energy/energy cycle stuff); these are the ones that I'd like to focus on. Reverse engineering is certainly the way to go!

Denise Oppenhagen said

at 9:05 am on Aug 3, 2010

Dale -- I really like this. I would like to incorporate parts of it, too, like Florence.

Michelle Harrison said

at 9:27 am on Aug 3, 2010

I like this too and would like to add parts. I already do something similar and give the students each a feather to see the effects on the birds. I also give them a heads up that this lab is coming so they can bring in their own resources to "fix" the spill. This leads to discussions of how much damage can be caused not just by the spill but by the products that"fix" the spill. Since we are an area surrounded by water, the students get an idea of how catastrophic this could become.

Florence Duarte said

at 6:14 pm on Aug 4, 2010

May I suggest you use burnt automobile oil in your investigation instead of colored vegetable oil... It is thicker and black so resembles crude petroleum more closely. I have already gotten a couple of liters at the repair shop where I get my oil changes...with your permission I'd like to use your "entry event" in my project. can I?

Michelle Harrison said

at 7:58 pm on Aug 4, 2010

I love the idea of the burnt auto oil. It would have a better consistancy and would look like what the students perceive as crude oil. It could also be cheaper to use since we could possibly get that donated. I also had an idea for my own group. I think I will have them do a model that includes a beach, the sand would then be something else they would have to clean. I am actually thinking of this with my high school environmental class more than my middle schoolers. My students live on the east coast near the beaches so it could make the point stronger. I am seeing a couple of rubbermaid containers in my future, a smaller ocean one within the beach one.

Denise Oppenhagen said

at 8:06 pm on Aug 4, 2010

I've been trying to figure out what to use for oil. So far, I've come up with vegetable oil, mineral oil, and chocolate powder. It makes it a yucky color. Burnt auto oil is interesting -- can it still be separated like a mixture? And how would we clean up after that? I'm concerned about the disposal part. I think i would like to join this project officially, if I may.

Dale Glass said

at 4:39 am on Aug 5, 2010

Thank you for these ideas, Denise, Michelle, and Florence! I looked up the MSDS for used motor oil (will attach here if I can figure out how) and it looks ok for use with safety goggles. It should be disposed of properly; here in Maryland, that means a trip to the transfer station, aka recycling center. For 6th graders I think that simulated crude (ie cooking oil+ mix-ins) is better to use in experiments, but it might be good to have some real petroleum-based oil to examine; one group may even want to compare the model oil with the real thing.

We use long plastic trays for our landforms models, they're about 12"' x 30"' and only 3" tall. We put in 6 cups of a sand-clay mixture in them at one end, covering about one square foot of the tray. I've also seen people use diamataceous earth (inexpensively available in bulk as a pool filter material) There is a drain hole at the other end, taped shut with duct tape. We make a water source out of a plastic cup with a hole poked in the bottom (with an ice-pick), and then balance the cup on a ruler laid across the top of the tray. We run 1 liter of water through the system, creating interesting stream channels, delta, and an ocean. To start with oil in the ocean, you could run clean water through the system, creating the river bed etc, then drip some oil into the ocean area. Waves could be made by putting a cup in and out a few times. High tide could be simulated by adding water to the ocean to make it deeper, and then low tide could be made with draining some of the water out the hole. It would be interesting to see what happens at the beach and up the river channel through a tide series.

Michelle Harrison said

at 6:45 am on Aug 5, 2010

I love the way this has pulled together, I know my students will enjoy doing these labs and they are flexible enough that even small schools like mine (with no real science budget or resources) can put it together. There is a great deal in this that the students will learn from, they will LOVE it.

Denise Oppenhagen said

at 8:46 am on Aug 5, 2010

I agree with Michelle -- this is turning out great.

When I did this last year, I used disposable lasagna pans and had kids in groups of 4-5. I happened to be at a store and found plastic shoe box-sized containers that were 6 for $5. I am probably going back to buy those since then I can have each class do the project and keep their beaches for a time.

One thing I was thinking of doing as a possible extension was having something "happen" to certain boxes but not all of them between classes, like putting lemonade mix in them and having the kids determine acidity, etc. But I probably need to focus for the first year :-)

Thank for the MSDS on the used oil. It makes me feel a little better about using it. Dale - do you integrate the Chesapeake Bay at all?? I'm in Virginia, probably not far from you. Maybe we could set up a wiki or something for our classes to compare their findings. I teach 8th physical science

Florence Duarte said

at 4:40 pm on Aug 5, 2010

LOL...I love it...maybe some of my kids want go that way as well...making beaches and all...actually I plan on giving the kids choices and having them investigate different things...what time frame are you planning for?..maybe our kids can share impressions...mine are 8th graders...and I will try to have the entire class - I have four sections - complete this project before the end of the first semester....
here in Rio we have the Guanabara bay... very polluted :( specially with oil from ships and a huge refinery situated in inner shore.).this will also help me give this project continuity...meaning, I can focus on the local bay once the Gulf Oil spill becomes "old" news...
This is also a way of making the whole project more relevant to the kids...
see you all tomorrow during the webinar?
keep in touch...

see you online tomorrow?


Denise Oppenhagen said

at 6:42 pm on Aug 5, 2010

Florence - I'm going to try to attend. this is the first week I'm available during the webinar. I am hoping to start this near the beginning of the school year (September) and go with it long range. I do not have access to robots, though, that's why I can't do Alvin. I think it would be great to have the kids communicate with each other. I agree with the continuity idea -- we have the Chesapeake Bay near here plus our local polluted streams -- it would make for an easy transition perhaps to a service learning project.

Michelle Harrison said

at 11:33 am on Aug 6, 2010

I just did something similar with this for a summer program - I used some of the ideas here and from the kids. I let them bring in what they thought might work for the clean-up. We had a variety of items but dawn detergent was a big one. This lead (since most of the kids overdid the soap thing) a discussion of how to clean up a potential mess caused by the clean-up. Could the chemicals potentially be a problem - did Nemo and Flipper like swimming in soap? The kids got really involved and suggestions ranged from one extreme to the other. I even had some suggest using giant filters, the discussion went to how that was impractical.
I got my pans a Sams in bulk. I had one for each lab group that way. The feathers brought in the trouble experienced by the birds, the sand will be a new thing since I just thought of it after talking with you guys.
I have truly enjoyed this "summer camp" and though I have been working for most of it and have not been able to be as active as I would have liked, I like how we can still keep up and communicate with one another. Florence, you have done an AWESOME job. Thanks.

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