In this lesson, 5th grade students will build an engineering device to separate oil from water in a simulated oil spill. Students will have an opportunity to learn about the impact that humans can have on the environment, both positively and negatively.
This is an Engineering Design Challenge that is best used after a unit or lesson that is aligned to the science standard SC.5.P.8.2. This challenge provides students a means to use their knowledge of the way materials will or will not dissolve in water to create and design an oil spill removal tool while learning the Engineering Design Process and being exposed to the field of engineering. This lesson is not intended as an initial introduction to the standard and would be best utilized as a culmination lesson for a unit aligned to SC.5.P.8.2.
Learning Objectives: What will students know and be able to do as a result of this lesson?
Students will use the scientific method to guide their engineering design challenge, solving the real-world problem of how to clean an oil spill.
Students will record changes to their designs and the reasons for the changes. They will share their results with their peers.
Students will observe and analyze properties of the oil and water (density) to guide their decisions for materials used in their designs.
Students will measure and compare the volume of oil and water.
Students will review the use of non-renewable resources and their need within society.
Students will recognize ways that humans impact the environment.
Prior Knowledge: What prior knowledge should students have for this lesson?
To ensure success in this lesson, students should have experiences with or understanding of the following:
physical properties of matter
the scientific method
how to work collaboratively in groups
how to measure liquid volume by selecting the appropriate tools
renewable and non-renewable resources
how to evaluate the amount of a liquid using measuring cups and graduated cylinders
For best practice, students should have already conducted many investigations and recorded their data throughout working with each of these terms and concepts. Additional resources on these topics can be found on CPALMS.
Guiding Questions: What are the guiding questions for this lesson?
How do you plan to separate the oil from the water?
How do you plan to remove the oil from the water?
Which materials do you predict will be the most effective at separating and removing the oil from the water?
Which materials are the most effective at separating and removing the oil from the water?
Do these materials resemble items outside of the classroom that could be used to separate solutions or be used for cleaning?
How can data we collect be shared?
Why is it important to collect data throughout trials and experiments that you conduct?
Engage: What object, event, or questions will the teacher use to trigger the students' curiosity and engage them in the concepts?
Note: all video links will open in SafeShare, a site that streams YouTube videos but removes ad content.
Begin the lesson by watching the YouTube video "Oil and Water" by Sick Science! to activate students' prior knowledge of matter and the properties of liquid water and oil. After the video, ask students to explain why the liquids acted the way they did.
Display chart papers around the classroom with the following titles: plants, animals, economy, water, future life. Explain to students that they will be learning about an environmental problem that affects all of the areas listed on the chart papers.
Explain that students will view a couple of videos and read an article that will explain an environmental problem. Their purpose is to listen for how these different areas are affected by the environmental problem. After the videos and reading the article students will record their learning on the chart papers.
As a group, read the article "The Oil Spill Nightmare Continues" by Laura Leigh Davidson for Scholastic News. As you read, have students take note of how the oil spill affects the areas listed on the chart papers.
Now place students in pairs or small groups and have them rotate around the room, adding to each chart paper as they rotate. Allow 1-2 minutes at each chart paper before asking groups to switch or move on to the next chart.
Students will work to complete the chart papers around the room by listing the effects of an oil spill on plants, animals, economy, water, and future life. The teacher can choose how they would like students to complete this activity. Suggestions include creating lists or thinking maps.
When students have completed the rotation, discuss what was written on each chart. Review renewable and non-renewable resources as you discuss each chart. For example, oil is a non-renewable resource, along with fresh water.
The teacher will want to review concepts the students have already studied about matter, dissolving, and solubility. The teacher can say, We have already conducted testing of various materials/substances that either will or will not dissolve in water and explored how dissolving rate can be affected by things like temperature and agitation. Think about what you already know to help you answer the following questions:
What substances do you know will dissolve in water?
Explain experiences you have had that prove these substances dissolve in water.
What substances do you know will not dissolve in water?
Explain experiences you have had that prove these substances do not dissolve in water.
Does temperature affect the dissolving rate of all substances? Why or why not and how?
What are some ways to speed up the dissolving rate of various substances?
Explore: What will the students do to explore the concepts and skills being developed through the lesson?
Pass out the Data Collection Sheets (attached).
On page 1, students are challenged to design and build a device that will effectively remove oil from water. They are told that there has recently been an oil spill off the coast of Florida. They are given the choice of 13 materials and will be able to choose 4 to create a tool to remove the oil, but they will need to consider the budget they are given and the cost of each item. They may purchase the same four materials multiple times as long as they do not exceed the budget of $500.
The students will first be able to observe and manipulate the materials to try and decide which materials they feel would work the best. They then will begin to formulate a plan for the tool.
Individually, the students will get ideas for the tool and work by themselves to begin the creative process. They will need to understand that the tool they will eventually build will be a group effort and that all of their ideas may not be utilized; they will need to compromise. As they are deciding which tools they think will work best, they will complete the first section of their attached worksheet, Imagine.
Now the teacher should give students time to share their ideas with the group. They will explain their reasoning for their choices and will listen to the other students' ideas.
Together, they will decide on the 4 materials they use to build their tool to try to remove the oil, while considering their allotted budget. They may make multiple purchases of the same material as long as it does not exceed the constraint of 4 materials and the $500.00 budget.
Once the teacher has approved the design and verified that the budget table has been completed accurately, the groups will get their supplies and build their tool.
Build and Test: Note - Testing should be uniform for each group to control variables. One variable to consider will be separation of the two liquids once they are poured into the testing container, since it will take some time for all of the oil to float to the top. Groups will not be able to accomplish pouring the water and oil in a uniform way so consideration should be given for how to have each group start with the same conditions for testing. Students may need to wait several minutes after pouring for the oil and water to separate completely. Allowing settling time would ensure each group is starting at a relatively similar place with their testing liquid.
Students will be given 2 trays or shallow bowls and 2 graduated cylinders. The second container will be used to hold the tool after it is tested.
Students will use their graduated cylinders to collect 450mL of water and 150 mL of vegetable oil for testing.
Students will pour the oil and water into one of the trays, then wait several minutes to be sure the liquids separate fully. The teacher can use this time to review previous content on these topics and ask questions concerning physical properties and solubility of matter.
Students will set their tool into the model "oil spill" for ten seconds, then remove it and transfer it to the second tray.
Students will then pour the remaining test liquids into their large graduated cylinder. Allow time for the liquids to settle so that the oil is floating on top of the water.
Show the students how they should measure the remaining water and oil. The teacher will show the students how they should do this. One technique would be to count up to the top of the water, which will be the amount water remaining. Students can then subtract this amount from the measurement at the top of the oil to calculate the amount of oil remaining. Students will record these values on their data sheet.
Students will then subtract the values for oil and water remaining to calculate how much oil and how much water was removed.
Improve: Note - It is important to understand that groups should not be starting over; the idea is that they analyze what worked well and what did not work well with their current design and then tweak it where needed. This models the actual engineering process. This will be a struggle for students to not want to start over from scratch, so the teacher should emphasize that they are improving, not starting over.
The group will then come together and discuss what materials worked and which need to be replaced. Students should answer the questions on the "Improve" section of their worksheets.
Students will now have the option to replace up to 3 of their items to improve upon the original design of their tool, again considering their budget.
Students will have to come to an agreement and get teacher approval on design and budget before they can get their supplies and build their second tool. The teacher should be verifying that the students did not start completely over on their tool and that they did not exceed the budget of $500.00 with either design.
At this time, the teacher should circulate the room engaging student groups with multiple questions about the choices they have made and their reasoning, while prompting them to use the science vocabulary from the lesson in their discussions.
Before testing again, the students should empty the tray with the oil spill model from the first round of testing. The groups will use fresh water and oil for the second test, repeating the steps from above. Be sure students begin with the original amounts for the second round of testing—450 mL of water and 150 mL of oil.
Students will test their improved tool according to the same procedure as before. They will again measure and record the amount of oil the tool was able to remove from the oil spill as well as the amount of water it removed.
Explain: What will the students and teacher do so students have opportunities to clarify their ideas, reach a conclusion or generalization, and communicate what they know to others?
The teacher should again review the properties of water and oil. If students are still unable to describe them, give the following explanation:
"Oil and water are both liquids, but they are very different on a molecular level. These differences explain why oil and water will never mix! When added to the same container, the water molecules will bunch together. Water molecules are polar, with a positive end and a negative end, which causes water molecules to want to clump together. Think of this like the way magnets will also attract to each other. Water molecules are so strongly attracted to one another that they effectively push out any of the oil molecules mixed in. The oil molecules will settle on top of the water molecules because they are not polar and are less dense than the water."
At the end of the lesson, students will complete the final section of the attached worksheet, Conclusion. Students will reason through their choices and analyze what worked and what did not in their designs (1 and 2). They will then decide what materials they would use if given a second opportunity to revise their tool.
Groups will share their results with the entire class.
Elaborate: What will the students do to apply their conceptual understanding and skills to solve a problem, make a decision, perform a task, or make sense of new knowledge?
Students will respond the the following writing prompt: "Think of scientists who need to solve real-world problems like oil spills. Can you think of any materials they might use in their solutions or other materials you could have used in your design?"
Student responses should show an understanding of materials that will absorb or collect the most amount of oil, leaving the water behind. Students should include science vocabulary from the lesson.
As an optional extension and if time allows, students can research scientists before responding to the prompt.
Students will be given conclusion questions to answer when they complete the assignment (located at the end of the attached document).
Which supplies were most effective in separating the oil from the water?
Which supplies were most effective in removing the oil from the water?
How did you use both supplies in a single tool?
What changes did you make? Did they improve the effectiveness of the tool separating and removing the oil?
If given a third trial, what changes would you make to your tool? Would you change the design? Would you change the materials? You can choose materials outside of those available in the classroom. Explain your reasoning for these changes.
At the end of the Engage section, after viewing the videos and reading the article, students will list the effects of oil spills on water, animals, economy, plants, and future life. Students will rotate to different chart paper stations around the room and write their ideas in groups. The class as a whole will discuss these ideas.
During the Explain section:
The teacher will ask students individually why they are choosing specific materials and what shape they plan to implement for their tool design. The teacher should prompt students to use key vocabulary such as absorb and density.
The teacher will ask students to justify group choices of materials and the shape of their tool by relating to real world situations such as, "What everyday tool is used for scooping or separating materials?"
When students are testing their tool, the teacher will ask about their measurements and recording of their data.
When students are looking at possible changes and new materials to use, the teacher will again ask students for justification of their choices and modifications.
Feedback to Students
Feedback to students will be verbal throughout the lesson.
The teacher will encourage use of key vocabulary, real-world justifications for their thinking, and collaboration within the group.
Accommodations & Recommendations
Student groups can be structured heterogeneously. The teacher may choose to put a high, medium, and low-performing student in each group.
If students are struggling to choose materials, the teacher will prompt them to think of examples outside of school that are used to clean and will ask students to compare those materials to real-world items.
Some students will need assistance working in groups, communicating in a positive and effective way, as well as taking the criticism of other students constructively.
If students need more structure, roles or jobs can be assigned for each student in the group.
Science vocabulary that is used in the lesson should be posted; a picture with definitions can be added for ELL students.
To extend this lesson, students could be tasked with building other types of tools used for the purpose of cleaning and explore new ways to improve a tedious job.
Suggested Technology: Document Camera, Computer for Presenter, Internet Connection, LCD Projector, Speakers/Headphones, Microsoft Office, Computer Media Player
Special Materials Needed:
chart paper and markers
2 trays or shallow bowls per group – for oil spill model and holding the tool after testing
2 graduated cylinders for each group
13 items to choose from when building the tool:
Copies of student worksheets
Copies of Scholastic article
As this is a hands-on activity, the teacher should establish clear expectations for the group work prior to the experiment.
This lesson would be an appropriate review of assessed fourth grade standards in the fifth grade classroom.
Source and Access Information
Name of Author/Source: Kathleen Congleton, Paula Jordan, Cynthia Moore