Saturday, May 22, 2010

Teachable Moment: The Gulf of Mexico oil spill

I read a tweet the other day that really got me thinking about what we do as teachers and how we make learning relevant to students’ lives. It was short and to the point. “Gulf Oil Spill…a teachable moment.” It can be a teachable moment, so how are we going to make the most of it? There are important things like this happening in our world every day that shape and mold our students. With a little creativity, we can use these events to make learning more relevant and authentic. There is just something special when we can anchor our teaching to things happening around us right now. Students will see footage on TV, articles in newspapers, and discussions on the Internet as the problems surrounding fishermen who are completely out of work during the crisis and the amount of money it will take to fix the leak. Math teachers can create all different kinds of problems with the numbers in the news about things like the rate of they are learning about it in class. It’s real.

There are many issues surrounding the Deepwater Horizon oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Social Studies teachers might want to focus on the history of oil transport and spills, or the history and politics of offshore drilling. Science teachers have lots of options for biology and chemistry activities related to oil, wildlife, and oil-related problems in the ocean and on shore. Economics teachers can explore the leak, the size of the slick, and the amount of time it takes to clean each animal.

Joann discussed some excellent resources available on The Gateway on the topic of oil spills. Although most of them are intended for students in 6th-12th grades, I worked with a creative kindergarten teacher who used some of them to create a very fun and meaningful day of learning about oil spills for his class. I was amazed at the interest level in these young kids and how they truly rose to a challenge when they were given the chance. They were having so much fun making their own oil slicks and experimenting with different tools to clean them, I think most of them forgot they were learning! Between Joann’s resources and some other online tools, you should be able to easily take advantage of this teachable moment like he did.

To truly understand the impact of this oil leak, students need to be able to see what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico. There is a huge amount of pictures and videos you can find on the web. There is a very nice set of pictures from the Boston Globe with detailed captions. I am working on using online photos and videos to create an Animoto movie that you can use as an introduction to an oil spill lesson. I will post the link on our Facebook and Twitter pages. There is also a nice video on CNN that shows the speed of the leaking oil with an underwater camera. Kudos to Mr. Kruckewitt for leading me to so many great pictures! Here is the link to the Animoto movie.

Now that the students have seen pictures of the disaster, how to we get them to understand the sheer size of the mess it is creating? Paul Radamacher created a tool with Google Earth that compares the spill to different metropolitan areas. You can even type in your own city, and it will superimpose an outline of the spill over it. I thought it was a really neat tool, since students can relate the size to an area they know.

The kindergarteners were especially excited to learn that hair was being used to aid in the cleanup by absorbing the oil. They experimented by cleaning up their own oil slicks with wool, and it worked really well. They are collecting pet in their classroom to send to a company that uses the hair to sop up excess oil. Some of the kids are even holding a bake sale to raise money for the cleanup, and to collect more pet hair. I love the social action in these little kids. Look at for more ideas for including social action lessons in world topics like this.

I know some of you are finishing up your school year already, and some of us have a little time left. We are just finishing some standardized testing, so hands-on activities like this are a very welcome addition to the classroom. I hope some of these resources will be useful to you. As always, please let us know what you think as we continue the discussion on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

~Peggy's Corner - 5/22/2010~

1 comment:

  1. I finished the Animoto movie, although I had trouble getting the free educational account. I recommend signing up for an account a couple of weeks before you want to make your movie... Here's the link!


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