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Oh No! An Oil Spill! (A Science and Writing Project)

Today I want to share a super fun science experiment and writing activity that I did with my first graders last week. We had a great time as we participated in a little experiment about the importance of keeping our planet clean.  
I filled up three big pails with water, vegetable oil, and feathers! I added food coloring so that the oil showed up more for the kids.  Then, as my kids came into the room, I said to them, in a panic…”There has been a HORRIBLE OIL SPILL and a lot of wildlife creatures need your help!” I went on to explain that they would be working together as scientists in small groups to try to save the wildlife and clean the water.  I warned them that the job would not be an easy one…dun, dun, dun! …they would have only a sponge and a spoon as their tools!
(Cue Dramatic Music)

 I explained that before my students could get to work saving the water and wildlife, they would have to discuss the situation with their fellow scientists and devise a plan of action. I SOO wish I could share the video with you that I captured of their discussions with one another. If you can imagine three small groups of eight children in each, huddled together over their oil spill, and seriously talking about the best way to retrieve the feathers and soak up the oil, your heart would be as full as mine was!  My room was buzzing with scientific discussion and critical thinking. <3

As always, our science experiments are connected and rooted in writing activity and skills. The students had to record the steps to their plans of action within their science journals. If you want to read another post about how I utilize science journals, you can click here

Here’s a little peek at one of my friends’ science journals.  This is the beginning of her plan of action. My students were intent as they wrote their plan of action. This cause is simple: Their writing had a purpose – the bucket of their “oil spill” was right there in front of them, ready and waiting to be used for hands-on learning! When our students’ writing has a hands-on purpose, their motivation is not only activated, but it is sincere and passionate!

After each student wrote his or her “plan,” it was time to get busy! Each group of scientists were handed their tools and they got to work, each trying to remove the feathers carefully and extract the oil from the “ocean.”

This was some of the conversation I heard during this part of the experiment. I have to admit, some of the discussion was thought-provoking, and some of it was just downright funny!
“I saved a bird! Guys, I saved a bird!”
“I got a sample of the oil.”
“Ewwwwwwwwwww!! It’s sticky!”
“I think the sponge is absorbing the oil.”
“THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE!!”
“I feel so bad for this bird. I wonder if it was a baby bird.”
“I don’t think this is working…”
Haha!! I was loving it! After my little scientists realized that cleaning out all of the oil from the ocean was not going to happen by the time our first grade day was over, they headed back to their desks for some post-writing activity:
The students had to create a new entry in their science journal and write about what they learned through this experiment. I’m very big on making sure my students constantly understand that the reason scientists do experiments is because they want to share their findings and learning with the rest of the world through speaking and writing. Yes, science experiments are fun but they are also very important! 🙂
The final section of our science journals was the “lesson” of the experiment.  I had my students write about what they wanted OTHERS to know about the experience they just had.  In other words, this was a simple way for me to find out, “What would you teach others based on what you just did?” Here is one little one’s response:
Earth Day success! I think this experiment and writing activity was a great way for my kids to explore, question, discuss, and activate their thinking about the importance of having a healthy planet with clean water!  I hope you enjoyed these pictures and this activity!  Even though this was done for Earth Day, I really believe it is a great hands-on lesson that can be used at any time of the year with your kids! 
Thanks so much for stopping by and catching up on our learning!
*Disclosure* No wildlife was injured or harmed in the making of this experiment. 😉

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