Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill: A Middle School Perspective

Current events provide us with unique learning opportunities – ones that we need to take advantage of even if the consequences of that event are tragic. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is one such event. Not that it is the first oil spill that has had an impact on U.S. shores but it is by far the worst.

The last oil spill that most people can remember is the Exxon Valdez spill. It’s hard to believe that the Exxon Valdez oil spill happened in 1989 – 21 years ago. At the time, it seemed like we couldn’t ever have a worse spill. It was a watershed moment in U.S. environmental history and changed the way we consider and deal with oil and chemical spills in this country. On the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill a movie, Hindsight and Foresight: 20 Years After the Exxon Valdez Spill, was released. The movie reviews the initial stages of the oil spill, shows how it changed U.S. laws and regulations, and identifies challenges for the future as it asks the questions: What does the twentieth anniversary of the spill mean, and what have we learned? Maybe not a lot, unfortunately.

The following resources provide amazing and tragic images of the spill, a chemistry perspective, a visual perspective (just how big is the spill compared to your town), and a podcast and lessons and resources collected by the Ohio Resource Center.

Gulf Oil Spill Could Eclipse Exxon Valdez Disaster
Slide show from NPR. An oil spill that threatened to eclipse even the Exxon Valdez disaster spread out of control and drifted inexorably toward the Gulf Coast as fishermen rushed to scoop up shrimp and crews spread floating barriers around marshes.

C&EN Special Issue: Disaster in the Gulf
Chemical & Engineering News, the magazine that goes to all members of the American Chemical Society, has devoted a special issue to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The articles are mostly available to anyone, but a few of them are only available to ACS members. They provide important scientific background for the oil spill, much of it useful for classroom discussions.

How Big Is the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill?
See exactly where the oil spill is located in the Gulf of Mexico, and compare the size of the spill to the size of a city you are familiar with.

Oil Spills
The page has a number of visualizations and videos of the Deep Water Horizon incident as well as the Exxon Valdez along with general models of oil spills and software for modeling them. There are also teaching activities and materials for talking about these events in the classroom as well as a list of references that may be of use in the classroom. The content is targeted at undergraduate geoscience classrooms but if you are looking for a deeper understanding of what is happening this is a great place to go.

The Science of Oil Spills – Grades 6-8
The Ohio Resource Center has pulled together resources that support teaching and learning of multiple aspects of the Deepwater Horizon Gulf Coast oil spill. You’ll find a 10 minute podcast where Terry Shiverdecker and Jessica Fries-Gaither discuss how middle school teachers can use an Earth science systems approach to incorporate oil spill activities into their instruction as well as lessons, activities, and information that focus on everything from environmental aspects to the dispersants that are being used. Resources for K-2, 3-5, and 9-12 are also provided.

Connect with colleagues and talk about what you are doing in your middle school science classroom at the Middle School Portal 2: Math and Science Pathways (MSP2) social network – http://msteacher2.org.


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 12/09/2011.

June 8 Is World Oceans Day

World Oceans Day will be observed on June 8. Events are planned across the United States in coastal and inland locations, often aquariums. You can find a list of events and add your own to the World Oceans Day web site. The web site also gives suggestions for local events to increase awareness of the importance of the health of the oceans. The concept for a “World Ocean Day” was first proposed in 1992 by Canada at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, and it has been unofficially celebrated every year since then. In 2008, the United Nations by resolution designed June 8 as the official date.

The Middle School Portal 2: Math & Science Pathways (MSP2) project has developed resources that can support your teaching and learning about oceans. You can also search the MSP2 collection of resources for resources specifically developed for middle school science.

Ocean Systems Resource Guide
This resource guide from the Middle School Portal 2 project, written specifically for teachers, provides links to exemplary resources including background information, lessons, career information, and related national science education standards. This online resource guide focuses on earth/physical science including volcanic island formation and tsunamis; life science concepts including ocean ecosystems, food webs, and biodiversity; science in personal and social perspectives including pollution, endangered species and conservation; and related careers.

Earth’s Oceans Resource Guide
This resource guide from the Middle School Portal 2 project, written specifically for teachers, provides links to exemplary resources including background information, lessons, career information, and related national science education standards. This guide focuses on the oceans as a part of the Earth system: the link between oceans and climate; tsunamis; life science concepts such as ocean ecosystems, food webs, and biodiversity; real data – both sources of and projects that use real data; and related careers. There is also a section on the misconceptions commonly surrounding ocean concepts and finally the National Science Education Standards that these resource connect to. So even though you might not teach a unit called oceans, the oceans can be used as a context within an existing unit, such as ecosystems, energy transfer, systems thinking, or methods in science.

The Powerful Punch of a Hurricane
Centuries ago the Spanish named the storms that sunk their ships in the Caribbean Huracan, after the Mayan god of wind, storms, and fire. Whatever we call these tropical storms today – hurricanes, typhoons, or cyclones – we are amazed by their power to change or destroy habitats, damage property, and harm people.

We Are All Connected to the Oceans
This blog post describes a lesson that helps students to identify how humans impact the marine environment, make a personal connection with the oceans, and raise awareness of marine environmental issues. Using current marine articles and video clips, students will engage in their own environmental summit and write an action plan to raise awareness.

Coral Reefs Faced With Extinction
This post describes an article about the possible extinction of coral reefs and related National Science Education Standards.


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/19/2012.

The Powerful Punch of a Hurricane

Centuries ago the Spanish named the storms that sunk their ships in the Caribbean Huracan, after the Mayan god of wind, storms, and fire. Whatever we call these tropical storms today – hurricanes, typhoons, or cyclones – we are amazed by their power to change or destroy habitats, damage property, and harm people. The National Science Education Standards say middle school students should understand the risks and challenges associated with hurricanes and other natural hazards.

National Hurricane Center: Tropical Prediction Center
At this web site, the National Weather Service provides up-to-date information on hurricanes.

NASA Hurricane Page
This site provides satellite images of developing hurricanes.

Hurricanes
In a series of activities, students graph real data on the wind speed, atmospheric pressure, and storm surge of seven hurricanes and trace the path of a hurricane in the year they were born. Students also hypothesize what would happen if a hurricane hit their city.

Towering Waves May Be Norm for Hurricanes
This NPR broadcast describes how science instruments on the bottom of the sea off the coast of Mississippi survived and collected the most comprehensive current and wave measurements ever of a category 4 storm.

NOVA: Stronger Hurricanes?
Is global warming making hurricanes more intense? In this slide show, we hear from scientists and examine their data.

We Need Your Help

We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 3/27/2012.

 

El Niño and His Sister La Niña

El Niño and La Niña are disruptions of the ocean-atmosphere system in the tropical Pacific that have important consequences for weather around the globe. A major goal of science in the middle grades, according to the National Science Education Standards, is for students to develop an understanding of earth’s oceans and the effect they have on climate. Investigating the global effects of La Niña and El Niño will help students understand this relationship.

Today’s El Niño/La Niña Information
Daily updates on the tropical Pacific as well as links to news articles and more.

El Niño—Southern Oscillation
This Wikipedia entry provides background information on El Niño and La Niña.

The Return of El Niño
This site describes El Niño’s effects on the oceans, climate, and ocean life. It includes a data activity in which students track some of the common climate changes caused by El Niño, paying close attention to wintertime changes such as temperature, precipitation, and incidence of hurricanes.

Eye on the Ocean
This site describes how the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s TOPEX/Poseidon satellite was used to monitor sea level changes in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and the amount of heat stored in the water. Sea level and temperature data were used to successfully predict the 1997-98 El Niño event earlier than ever before.

Howling for Snow
Visitors to this site can view satellite imagery and read articles about on a recent La Niña event, which produced less-than-normal snowfalls in western North America. A discussion of the uncertainties of long-range climate prediction and links to related sites are included.

We Need Your Help

We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. This post was updated 3/27/2012.