Utilizing Google Earth to Teach Students About Global Oil Spill Disasters

Learning Objectives

Through the use of a Google Earth exercise of global oil spill disasters, students develop content knowledge, geographic literacy, and use and application of technological tools.

Standards Addressed

S.8.D.1.2 - Describe the potential impact of humanmade processes on changes to Earth's resources and how they effect everyday life.

Preparation Time Needed

None.  The student worksheet and required Google Earth file are provided.

Class Time Required

The exercise may take one hour.  The exercise can be lengthened or shortened with the final writing question at the end.

Activity Description

There are websites and curricular materials to assist teachers with classroom instruction relating to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.  Although it is important for students to be familiar with the current disaster, it is just as important for students to examine the historic occurrence and context of past oil spills from across the globe.  Fortunately, a Google Earth file exists that contains location information and details of oil spills.  We have modified this file to assist teachers in engaging students to explore the spatial and temporal distribution of global oil spill disasters.

In April 2008, with a May 2010 update, David Tryse created a Google Earth file titled Black Tides: The Worst Oil Spills in History (accessible at http://earth.tryse.net/oilspill.html).  The file contains details pertaining to the 50 worst oil spills from the 1960’s to the present across the globe, ranging from tanker accidents to drilling operations.  At the location of each oil spill, Tryse has customized a pop-up window that provides photographs, the amount of oil spilled, the date of the spill, the cause, the type of spill, and additional links for more information.  Although Tryse’s Google Earth file is a data-rich source, it is not presented with a student guide or suggested instructions for teachers.  Here, we share Tryse’s file customized with a set of questions in an inquiry-based exercise for students.

Our customized Google Earth exercise of global oil spill disasters assists students in developing content knowledge, geographic literacy, and use and application of technological tools.  To achieve these objectives, the exercise contains 20 questions provided to students in a Google Earth interface through a Google Earth-formatted (.kmz) file.  Once students open the file in Google Earth, they are presented with a series of short-answer questions and a final writing assignment.  The majority of questions are written towards the bottom of the pyramid of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains, focusing on remembering and understanding.  The questions later in the exercise increase in analyzing, evaluating, and creating new knowledge.  Questions 15 through 19 specifically address the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and the final question provides three different writing prompts for students to synthesize and apply all they have learned from completion of the exercise.

On the PAESTA website, be sure to also check out the iBook written for the iPad on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.