Barefoot in Suburbia

Homeschooling & Special Needs, Inspired by the Montessori Way

Teaching about protecting the earth–Oil Spills April 14, 2011

Filed under: Nature Studies — Barefoot in Suburbia @ 5:26 pm
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I wanted to get this lesson posted before next week’s Montessori Monday post in case anyone wanted to use it for their Earth Day activities.  Obviously, Earth Day is a big deal in our house, although we try to be gentle on the earth every day.  But, we do try to incorporate some of the bigger lessons on protecting the earth.  Today, we talked about pollution, and in particular, we discussed oil spills.  In order to bring home the point about how oil harms the animals who depend on clean water, we created our own mini (and contained!) oil spill…

To do this experiment, you will need a bowl of water, a smaller bowl of dish soap & water (we used 7th Gener*tion, but any kind should work), a small bowl of cooking oil mixed with cocoa powder, and some feathers. To make this more realistic, you can use bird feathers, but we used simple crafting feathers and they worked fine.

First, put a feather in a bowl of clean water. Then attempt to dry off the feather. The feather should easily dry and return to normal shape because bird's feathers are waterproof. This is how they can swim in the water and not get cold. Second, dump the oil/cocoa powder mixture into the water (do not mix it up!). Put a different feather in the water. Notice how the feather instantly becomes coated, oily, and matted. When you attempt to dry the feather, it just sticks together and gets harder to work with. This is why oil spills are dangerous to birds--when the feathers are coated in oil, they are no longer waterproof and can't protect the birds from the cold. Next, take the oil covered feather and wash it off in the soapy water. Notice that the feather becomes clean and less oily again, although it never returns back to it's original self.

Here is a comparison of all 4 feathers--the first is the feather without being dipped in anything. The second is the feather after going in the clean water. The third is the feather dipped in oil and then wiped off. The fourth is the feather that was cleaned in the dish water.

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