ISMAP: Lesson Plan links

Sea Secrets
Sea Connections
Ocean Market
Pollution Solution
Stranded Along the Coast
Reflections on the Sea

Pollution Solution: Procedure 2


  • Make a model of an ocean oil spill.
  • Evaluate the efficiency of oil spill cleanup methods.


  • For each group of four students, a shallow oblong pan, water, vegetable oil, cotton balls, teaspoon, medicine dropper, timer, plastic container for wastewater, and plastic bag for discarded cotton balls.
  • Student Page B
  • Optional: liquid detergent, brush, bird feather, wire whisk, pebbles


physics, mathematics


1. Advise students of the activity the day before so they can wear washable clothing. Divide students into groups of four. Each group can carry out the simulated oil spill and cleanup cooperatively. Arrange to have all the materials students need at each workstation. Guide students as they read through the directions on how to make an oil spill and then clean it up. Advise them to use their resources wisely, as they will be "charged" for each piece of equipment and the disposal of the oil.

2. In carrying out the activity, limit the "disaster" to a portion of the classroom or lab where surfaces can be wiped dry. Use clear plastic bags to collect the oil-soaked cotton balls so that students can count them and be charged accordingly. Use quart-sized, wide-mouthed plastic containers for the wastewater, which can then be carried to a sink for disposal. Have paper towels on hand to clean up spilled water and advise students of slippery floors.

3. Options: Before students begin, demonstrate that "oil and water don't mix" by pouring some oil into a clear container of water. Have students observe how the oil forms a layer on top of the water. Then use a wire whisk to stir up the oil and water. Students will see how oil can be made into smaller and smaller droplets that will disperse in the open ocean where there is room to spread out. This is similar to one of the techniques used in cleanup operations. If students use the whisk in their pans, it will make skimming the oil much more difficult, but you might challenge some students to do it anyway. Another interesting demonstration is to dip a bird feather in oily water and have students try to clean the feather using liquid detergent and a brush.You can also challenge one group to simulate an oil spill that hits a rocky coast by using pebbles at one end of the pan. Have students compare the amount of surface area for that cleanup with an oil spill on the open ocean.

4. After the groups have worked on their oil spills for twenty minutes, have them tally the cost of their efforts and clean up their spill sites. Students can then answer the discussion questions and compare their results.

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Last Modified April 8, 1998