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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

PBL Camp: Grades 6-8 (Week 1)

PBL Camp: Grades 6-8 (Week 1)

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How will you make the oil spill relevant to your students? This is our brainstorming thread for the middle school community. Any and all ideas and thoughts welcome!

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Erika Saunders's picture
Erika Saunders
6th-8th Special Ed, LS & Mentally Gifted teacher

I always try to start where my kids are. I would probably relate the oil spill to something in their community - impoverished, inner-city of a large urban city. There are always devastating events that happen around them: fires, shootings, crime, drugs, etc.

I would probably connect the oil spill to a tragic building fire that destroyed an apartment building not far from our school. They could relate to the similarities: destruction of property, lives lost, pollution to the environment, ripple effects throughout the community, fault, clean-up, etc. It's often so much easier to get the kids to relate when you can compare it to something they know.

I would want this to have cross-curricular elements, although it would be primarily a literacy project. An idea: they are reporters given the assignment to report the oil spill here in Philadelphia. Only, they are upset that the news in their own community is taking a backseat - again! It's up to them to find a way to not only do their job, but to also connect it to their own community so that the issues they relate to most are reported as well!

I'd love for them to have many options to present the information: writing, podcast, acting it out, interview, news report, etc.

Diane Lewis's picture
Diane Lewis
7th grade world history/8th grade language arts teacher from Newark, Ohio

Coming from a lower SES community, many of my students do not have the experience of a trip to the beach.  Lots of visual images and videos can remedy that.  I want the students to understand the far-reaching effects of this natural disaster and to understand what people living on the gulf coast are dealing with.  Then we could connect to other diasters, such as the earthquake in Haiti and even hurricane Katrina.  I want students to become environmentally aware and to understand that they have a responsibility to save, or at least take care of, the world they live in. 

Elizabeth Eldridge's picture
Elizabeth Eldridge
8th and 9th grade math teacher from Dover, Delaware

I need to get my students to think about how what is happening in the gulf will effect them - if not today, tomorrow or in the future. Most of my students are rural, poor and have never been out of the state. Many have never been to the beach areas that we have here in Delaware. I want them to understand the depth of the spill - area and volume. I want them to see what our state would look like if we had the same size spill. We have had minor spills and continue to have them as large ships travel the Delaware bay. I want them to graph every aspect of the spill - use every type of graph. They should be able to tell which graphs are depicting the information accurately and which are not.

Because our local bird rescue people are in the gulf cleaning oiled birds, it opens a lot of math to the students. At Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research in Newark, Delaware, it takes a staff of 4 people two hours to clean an oiled goose. It takes many gallons of water and of course Dawn (which is diluted or it will kill the bird. My students will be calculating what it takes in manpower and materials to clean the birds that are done by our local group. Since I am a volunteer at the bird rescue, I have a lot of information that never hits the news. SO much math.....

Fred Dias's picture
Fred Dias
7th Grade Science Teacher in Deerfield Beach, Florida

Hello Middle School Science Teachers,

I teach middle school science just north of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in the city of Deerfield Beach.

With the new school year starting August 23rd, I would like to create a sister school relationship with your school. The goal would be to conduct communications and lessons back and forth whereas both sets of students could learn more about the environment and the effects of the oil spill as well as life itself.

The types of projects or assignments are just vague ideas at the moment but are open for discussion, either between us as teachers or combined with the students and their brainstorming and interests.

Last year, I taught 7th grade, the year before 6th, and the year before that, 8th. Therefore, I am flexible and can work along with any grade level. Also, I feel more than one teacher and team at your school can work as well.

I believe this is an opportunity that can benefit all of our students. Real world events are the best teaching and learning tools!

If interested or if you have any questions regarding the above, please contact me.

I pray that you are all having a great summer recovery period (aka vacation) aside from the oil spill.

Fred Dias, Science Teacher
Deerfield Beach Middle School

Terry Heick's picture
Blogger 2014

[quote]I've big ideas how to use this PBL for my Math class.  However, I need some help finding specific Math content.  The idea that was given during the Webinar for helping students realize millions, billions, etc. was an excellent idea.  Any other ideas of how to make the topic specifically address Math?[/quote]

I'm not a math person, but a few simple ones:

Percentages/Fractions: percentage of population impacted, ocean, etc.
Perimeter: Coastline impacted
Estimating/Rounding: Oil released; damage done, etc.
Rate: Oil released per hour/day, etc.
Measurement: measuring effectiveness of clean-up efforts, etc.; coastline impacted

Jeffrey Decker's picture

For chemistry/phyical science...there is a Seaworld type attraction on the other side of Florida which gets its marine water right out of the Bay. They are worried the oil will get into the Gulf Loop and comprimise thier marine water source. They are researching technologies for filtering petroleum and keeping the water source from being toxic to their captive sea critters. Toxicity studies are possibel...why toxic?...at what level?...foodchain affects?...etc then become possible.

Jeffrey Decker's picture

It might be interesting to send surveys out to students in different parts of the country and see how location impacts the way kids view the oil spill. Perhaps connections can then be made to connect Gulf Coast students with kids who are more indirectly impacted via skype,email,...other technologies? Graphing results of surveys would also be possible.

Jeffrey Decker's picture

Is history doomed to "repeat"? The BP oil spill is not the first time this type of spill has happened.


It might be fun to collaborate with "sister" schools in the communities impacted by this older spill and see what type of impacts kids in those communities still have today. Research on any studies done on ecosystems, food sources, impacts on communities could be a way to chase kids into finding relevant information using the internet and searching data bases.

kathy obrien's picture

To make the oil spill relevant to students all over the world we must educate them on why they need to be more globally engaged. With the technology available and issues such as global warming, everyone should be focused on the fact that it does in fact impact us all. If we work backwards from the prior note that we consume 10,000 gallons of oil a second, have students brainstorm ways to reduce this number. Instead of asking parents for rides, how about walk or ride a bike. We need to empower our kids to look to solving the problems they are going to be handed. Just like we educate them on the content we need to be sure they are compassionate and involved people.

Jimmy Small's picture

I have seen several ideas that I am brainstorming how to use when school opens in September.

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