biology, chemistry, social studies
1. Introduce the topic of oil pollution and how it affects the global ocean. Make a pie chart to show the actual small percentage of oil (5 percent) that enters the ocean through oil spills. Then discuss oil spills with which students may be familiar, such as the spill off the coast of Rhode Island in January 1996 and the one in Prince William Sound in Alaska in 1989. You may wish to check your library or online sources for magazine and newspaper articles about actual oil spill events, perhaps an incident that occurred close to your region to make the topic more relevant to students.
2. Explain to students that crude oil is taken directly from its rocky source below ground or under the sea. It is often transported in huge tankers across vast distances to oil refineries. There the crude is distilled and refined into many familiar petroleum products. During the distillation process, petroleum is heated to extremely high temperatures to separate it into various components such as gasoline and kerosene. Students may not know that petroleum is used for waxes contained in petroleum jelly, lipstick, and many personal care products. Each of these petroleum products has different chemical characteristics. In general, the molecules that make up oils and waxes adhere to one another and are less dense than water; thus, they float on the water's surface without mixing. However, the currents and wind out on the open ocean cause the oil in an oil spill to spread and travel away from the spill site.
3. After an initial discussion, hand out Student Page A. In this page students can use problem-solving skills to decide what strategies they would use if they were actually cleaning up an oil spill. They can work in small groups and brainstorm to come up with answers cooperatively.