Lesson Plan

Oil Spills and Environmental Disasters

Living Environment / Biology / Environmental Science - Research Project on Environmental Disasters and Humans' Impact on the Environment
Tom A.
Special Education Instructor
Edward R Murrow High School
Brooklyn, NY
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My Grades 9, 10, 11, 12
My Subjects Science

Teacher Instructions Recorded on GoogleDoc here.

Students will learn about environmental disasters and their impacts as they relate to the Living Environment / Biology high school curriculum.  They will use the Deepwater Horizon oil spill as an initial exploration and learning opportunity.  Afterwards they will perform small group research on another environmental disaster and present their research to classmates.  To record these presentations for posterity, students will construct a class wiki page in which they link all of the materials they have accumulated and presented.

Students will be sitting in small teams of 3-4 with laptops and wifi for this lesson flow.  The flow will take approximately one week, with some time allotted for completion of tasks outside of school, as homework or independent research.

Grades 9 - 12
All Notes
Teacher Notes
Student Notes

1 Background - Short Teacher Introduction Model and Documentary - Deepwater Horizon

Backchannel Chat
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Teachers use a small cup of automotive oil and a beaker of water to demonstrate some of the properties of oil.  Small plastic figurines of aquatic animals are added to each beaker to signify delicate life forms dwelling under the water’s surface. Students are instructed to devise a method of removing the oil without disturbing the life forms.  Available tools are nets, plastic bags, spoons, etc.  Students must wear goggles.  After this introductory activity, the class watches clips from the documentary Oil Disaster (Deepwater Horizon): The Rig That Blew Up.  

Student Instructions

Students record their thoughts using Backchannel Chat.  They may do this first as a reflection on the oil activity, then simultaneously while watching the documentary, and finally they are also given 5 minutes of time after watching the film to reflect.  The guiding questions for their discussion are:

What made the removal of oil so difficult?

What are the challenges that an environmental cleanup team might face?

How could your devised methods be extended to a large scale?

Why was the oil being collected in the first place?

What are the most egregious impacts of the oil spill?

Is harvesting of natural fuels worth it, when weighed against the risks and costs?

2 Explorations - Search Google Trek for sources and information

Teachers guide students using a SMARTBoard and direct them to check out the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on GoogleMaps, using the lesson provided on Google Treks.  They follow the links provided and engage in a webquest, evaluating sources as they go.  

Student Instructions

Students are asked to record notes for the various sources, using padlet.com. Criteria are as follows:

Did the source have important information about the oil spill?

Was the source engaging? Did it interest you?

Did the source cite sources of its own? (Is it part of a broader network of well-supported research?)

3 Presentation - Develop a 15 minute “lesson” about another environmental disaster

Teachers break students into small groups of 3-4 who do independent research and record their findings about another environmental disaster caused by humans.  Possibilities include:

Exxon Valdez




Chestnut Blight

2006 Zakouma elephant slaughter

Sydney Tar Ponds

Three Gorges Dam

Student Instructions

Students will create a presentation using Prezi that can be shared with their classmates on the following day.  All sources must be cited using APA format.  Students may use citation machine to assist them.

Was the disaster “fixed?”  If not, can it ever be?

How did the disaster impact ecosystems, food webs, biodiversity, and humans?

What can we learn from the disaster about the way we should manage human behavior in the future?

4 Class Publishing for Posterity - Students accumulate thoughts on a wiki page for future classes and the broader public to see.

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Teachers direct students in presentation best practices.  Students are given time to present using the SMARTBoard.  While each group does so, all other students are responsible for generating feedback using padlet on their laptops.  Each presentation will be given a separate page on padlet for later reference.

Student Instructions

Extension (To be completed for homework) - Students accumulate notes from their classmates and use them in tandem with their presentations to turn their chosen disaster into a wiki page, using Wikispaces. Each group will be responsible for a complete page with images, links to their presentations, sources, and a brief overview of their disaster.  Most of this can by copied directly from padlet and from their presentations on Prezi.