The Gulf Oil Spill: A Teachable Moment

The continuing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico lends itself to teachable moments all over the curriculum.

  • Math teachers could help students calculate the short- and long-term costs of the spill.
  • Civics, social studies, and journalism teachers could ask students to analyze the media coverage and try to ascertain the biases of the reporters and the publications.
  • English teachers could assign students to write argumentative essays arguing for and against federal funding for cleanup, newspaper op-ed pieces, or research papers on oil spills.
  • Science teachers have a wealth of options, including a study on the short- and long-term environmental effects, a comparison with past oil spills (students could view the film Black Wave: The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, for example), and lab experiments showing oil’s effects on plants or simple cell structures.

Finally, teachers looking for service learning activities have options, too. Students could raise money to help nonprofit organizations clean up the spill. Or they could do a hair drive. Matter of Trust uses human hair and pet fur to make mats to soak up oil spills and to help clean animals coated with oil. Students could partner with a local salon to offer a discount on hair cuts on a special donation day, when all hair clippings will be gathered and sent to Matter of Trust. Or they could do a dog grooming day at a local pet salon and gather all dog hair for donation.

Find out more about the program (and see the teacher and student handouts provided) here. And come back and let us know if any of your classes get involved with the clean up efforts. I’d love to hear about kids helping collect hair or fur!

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