Krebs' Class Blogs

Constructing, creating, communicating, collaborating, and thinking critically in grade 5.

April 20, 2011
by Denise Krebs

Filling Our Iowa School with the Gulf Oil Spill

As a teacher, I delight when I can answer a question with, “I don’t know, but let’s find out!” What is even better is when students enthusiastically join the pandemonium!

Today is the one-year anniversary of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Yesterday my science students and I listened to an informative webinar with Jeff Corwin from Animal Planet and the Siemens STEM Academy. Here is a link to the webinar archive. (You may need to sign up for an account if you don’t already have a free login to the STEM Academy. It’s a great resource for STEM teachers!)

Jeff talked about the experiences he had with last spring’s oil spill. He was working as a reporter, but because he and his team were qualified to work in hazardous waste cleanup, they were also able to rescue hundreds of animals. He showed us heart-breaking pictures of stranded oil-clogged animals. He gave us good news, though–80% of the animals rescued were eventually released back into the wild.

When we heard that 206,000,000 gallons of oil were released into the Gulf over the almost three-month period between April 20 and July 15, 2010, we were shocked. Vanessa exclaimed, “Wow! That’s a lot. How much do you think that is? Like how many times do you think that would have filled our school?”

“Good question! Let’s find out!”

So, we did. We got out the measuring tapes and measured the interior of our school. Length times width times height. Figuring volume when it matters is a great way to do math.

We figured the volume of three rectangular prisms: the main two-story wing of the school, the gym, and the kitchen and locker rooms. Then we added them all together to get the total cubic feet: 392,994.

OK, now what?

We needed to get the two numbers into the same units. We needed a converter. “Google it,” said Paris. She “googled” it and found a conversion. We found that 1 cubic foot = 7.4805 gallons.

Our school is 392,994 cubic feet. So how many gallons is that? On the first attempt, we divided 342,994 / 7.4805. The answer was 52,536 gallons. “Our school holds 52,536 gallons.”

“Hmmm! That’s odd. It holds less gallons than cubic feet?”

“No, it should be more.”

“We need to multiply!”

392,994 x 7.4805 = 2,939,791. Our school can hold approximately 2.9 million gallons. It would have been nearly filled with oil in just one day of the oil spill last spring. Gross! The warm, sticky oil filling every crack of our school in just one day.

One more math problem…

206,000,000 total gallons / 2,939,791 gallons our school holds = 70.07

We were sad to discover that BP’s Gulf of Mexico spill of 2010 would have filled our school 70 times.

“Now can we find out how large the Empire State Building is and get the volume of that?”


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