Cleaning up our oceans from the classroom


Picture provided by the author, attribution CC-BY

In today’s world, the issue of climate change is a pressing concern, and it is essential that we take steps to mitigate its impact. How much impact can we really make from the classroom? The answer is clear to teachers all over the world. Together with our students, we can make a huge difference.

Educating them about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) encourages them to learn about the various challenges faced by the world today, such as poverty, inequality, and, of course, climate change. One of my passions is to help my students become environmentally-conscious and socially-responsible citizens who are committed to building a more sustainable future.

Incorporating the SDGs into the curriculum can help to promote interdisciplinary learning because they cover a wide range of topics, from health and well-being to climate action, and can be integrated into various subject areas, including science, social studies, and languages. By using the SDGs as a framework, teachers can help students see how different subjects are interconnected and how they can work together to address complex global issues. The complex issues and challenges we face require creative thinking and innovative solutions. By engaging students in discussions and activities related to the SDGs, teachers can help develop their problem-solving skills, as well as their ability to think critically about the world around them.

This is a unique way to promote a sense of global citizenship, encouraging students to think beyond their own community or country and thus consider the needs of others around the world.

As part of The STEM Discovery Campaign, I engaged my students in several workshop activities connected to the effect the pollution of coasts and seas has on climate change. One of the most educational ones that really intrigued them was an oil spill simulation.

In collaboration with Zadar University, we learned about the important role the oceans play in the global carbon cycle. Covering 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, the oceans transport heat from the equator to the poles, and it is this process that regulates our climate and weather patterns. The oceans are a huge source of food. They are also home to millions of animal and plant species, and this delicate ecosystem is an important factor in the balance of all life on Earth. Marine life and all life on land are closely connected. However, despite legal regulations, about 2.3 million tons of oil are spilled every year. In addition to the physical and toxic effects on organisms in the oceans, the decomposition of oil consumes large amounts of oxygen and impoverishes the oceans.

Simulating an oil spill clean-up in the classroom proved to be an engaging and educational exercise for my fifth-grade students. It helped them understand the impact of oil spills on the environment and how they can contribute to cleaning up potential disasters. The exercise I organized involved creating a mock oil spill using vegetable oil and food colouring in a container of water.

The students were divided into groups of four. They filled a transparent container half full of water. They then measured four tablespoons of vegetable oil and mixed it with a few drops of dark food colouring. The oil represented crude oil, and the food colouring represented chemicals trapped in the oil.

The students carefully poured the coloured oil into the middle of the bowl of water and inserted a stick into the middle of the oil spill. The stick represented a ship. Taking it in turns, one student in the group (the “remover”) tried to remove the oil with different materials. I provided them with a piece of cotton wool, cotton buds, cardboard, a syringe, a paper towel, straws, and finally a sponge.


Another student in the group (the “observer”) described what the oil remover was doing and what material they used. This was written on a flipchart.

The last student in the group (“collector”) recorded the data and the role of the material (floating dam/skimmer/collector/dispersant system). All observations were written down in a table I prepared earlier.

The second part of the activity involved using washing up liquid as a dispersant. The pupils proceeded to clean up a new simulated oil spill with the same materials. Again, all the results were written down and then compared with the initial findings.


By teaching the Sustainable Development Goals through practical and engaging activities, we can raise awareness about the importance of sustainable development, promote interdisciplinary learning, develop critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and promote global citizenship. This activity proved to be a stimulating, thought-provoking, and interactive way to teach children about the importance of protecting the environment, their responsibility towards nature, and the actions they can take to make a difference.

Anita Simac is a Mathematics teacher mentor in a primary and lower secondary school in Zadar, Croatia. She has been a Scientix ambassador since 2016 and is a passionate STEM and environmental enthusiast who believes that teaching her students with passion, commitment and creativity can change the world.

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