Clean It Up

Janette Smith
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Lesson/Lesson Plan
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be "fully aligned," the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



This NSTA Science & Children article details how fifth graders used the context of oil spills and soil contamination to model how scientists separate mixtures. This work has students in the role of environmental engineers designing solutions to problems.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • Grade 5
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

5-PS1-3 Make observations and measurements to identify materials based on their properties.

Clarification Statement: Examples of materials to be identified could include baking soda and other powders, metals, minerals, and liquids. Examples of properties could include color, hardness, reflectivity, electrical conductivity, thermal conductivity, response to magnetic forces, and solubility; density is not intended as an identifiable property.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include density or distinguishing mass and weight.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students determine unique properties of different components of a mixture, then use these properties to separate a mixture. A suggestion might be to show a video clip of either oil spill early in the learning experience because it would provide a real world context for investigating the properties of oil and water or soil contamination site prior to doing any experimentation. Students might observe and make suggestions for how they think a clean up might occur. If time allows to give students more time for their own investigations with the properties of objects that sink and float.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students develop a plan to separate a mixture, choose appropriate tools to separate components of a mixture based on their unique properties, as well as weigh and calculate percentages of each component of the mixture . Students need to document their data on the worksheets included with the lesson or in their notebooks. A class record of the data could be made which could be the topic of a scientists’ meeting where students look at the data and discuss reasons for similarities and differences.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students are asked to record the measurements and weight of each of the elements of the soil. One suggestion is students should consider those measurements as part of the unique properties of the elements. Students at this grade level are not expected to use the terminology of mass or density.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
In this lesson scale, proportion and quality is the crosscutting concept used. Students measure the different weight of each of the mixture component. The author also suggests having students find percentages, though it is recommended that teachers align this experience with their own state math standards.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Throughout this lesson Students engage in multiple practices that work together with disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts to support students in making sense of phenomena and/or designing solutions to problems. In this lesson the author begins eliciting prior knowledge asking students what do they know about the word properties. She describes a game to solidify deeper understanding of the practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts by identifying and building on students’ prior knowledge. Perhaps the link to a cross-cutting concept should be stronger. It is recommended that as students separate the components of the mixtures using various tools, the instruction would be enhanced by explicit development of some cause and effect statements.

  • Instructional Supports: This lesson engages students in authentic and meaningful scenarios that reflect the practice of science and engineering as experienced in the real world and that provide students with a purpose, designing solutions to problems) A suggestion might be to elicit from students their knowledge of real places that have had oil spill or have a soil contaminated site. If students can make a connection to their life the science becomes more meaningful. The scaffolding of instruction is also suggested for struggling students

  • Monitoring Student Progress: There are multiple opportunities throughout the investigation for formative assessment, listening to conversations, taking note of observations, questions. A written assessment, which requires the application of their learning from separating mixtures to a new situation may be used to assess students summatively. A grading rubric is provided for this assessment. Science notebook/lab sheets provided.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This resource does not have an interactive technological component.