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5th Graders Develop and Test Oil Spill Response Plans

As part of 5th Graders’ ongoing study of Hudson River Ecology, they are examining the effects of oil spills and working to determine what steps can be taken to prepare for oil spills and minimize the damage they cause. To begin this work, students learned about how crude oil is created, the process by which crude oil is refined, what refined fossil fuels are used for and how they are transported to NYC. Next, 5th Graders experimented with four different oil clean-up techniques that are employed after a real spill: absorbing, booming, dispersion and skimming.

Based on their experiences with each technique, students worked in small groups to devise an emergency oil spill clean-up plan, detailing a step-by-step procedure, the materials needed and the specific role of each person on the team. To test the efficiency of their response plan, each group then built a model of Hudson Harbor that included land, water, animals and an oil barge. These models were soon hit by environmental disaster when “spontaneous” oil spills occurred, sending each team into action applying their emergency response plan.

Post-cleanup, students reflected on the efficiency of their plan and determined what they might change about their response if confronted with another spill. Using all they had learned about the dangers oil spills pose to water quality and marine ecosystems – as well as their understanding of our reliance on oil for transportation, factories and plastic products – 5th Graders then confronted the complexity of the issue by considering why people might think using oil is ultimately worth the risk of a spill.