In 6SA, we were faced with the environmentally themed challenge of how to clean up after an oil spill on water.

We looked at examples of such disaster on a global scale and the problems created for environmentalists. How do you separate oil from water without wasting water or polluting it further?

On a smaller classroom scale, in groups we were tasked with how to clean up oil from a tray of water (we added feathers to mimic the effects on marine wildlife such as sea birds). We were given a variety of materials to help us such as: spoons, filter paper, cotton wool, strips of cotton, and card. Additionally we needed to retain as much clean water as possible in the tray!

It certainly was a challenge!

The children set about their task, working in pairs or groups of three to try and separate the oil from the water. There were lots of different approaches: some were messier than others! After their first attempts, the children then had time to consider what changes they could make to their approach, sharing their ideas and experiences to move forward with the challenge. One point made was that the more the water was disturbed, the more the oil ‘spread’, therefore creating even more problems.

By the end of the challenge, the class had experienced some success! However, the difficulty of the task cast a new light on the problems experienced in real life oil spill situations.

Finally, the class came back together to discuss how they thought the challenge had turned out. The discussion revealed that the children hadn’t realised how problematic the task would be.