Day 1: Comparison Between Fission and Fusion

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SWBAT compare and contrast nuclear processes (fission, fusion and radioactive decay) in terms of changes in atoms' number and type of subatomic particles, energy emitted, and mass change .

Big Idea

Students watch the "Bill Nye: Nuclear Power" video and compare and contrast fission and fusion in a mini-debate..


Performance Expectation (PE)

In this lesson students continue to explore the NGSS Performance Expectation HS-PS1-8:  Develop models to illustrate the changes in the composition of the nucleus of the atom and the energy released during the processes of fission, fusion and radioactive decay.  This standard is illustrated with students continuing to explore how energy produced during fission can have societal benefits.  However, these benefits do not come without problems which students discuss during a small group mini debate about the pros and cons of nuclear power.

Science and Engineering Practice (SP)

During the mini debate students will engage in the Science and Engineering Practices, Engage in argument from evidence (SP7), asking questions (SP1).  The second part of the lesson has students create a poster that compares and contrasts fission and fusion.  This process engages students in the scientific practice of Developing and using models (SP2). As an extension from the previous day, this lesson begins with students discussing evidence that has been obtained from the videos Eyes of Nye Nuclear Energy and Ted Talk Debate:  Does the World Need Nuclear Energy

Crosscutting Concept (XC)

The structure of the mini debate has students discuss their beliefs and understanding of nuclear energy in a small group format.  The mini debate and poster continues continues to show students that Energy and Matter (and NGSS crosscutting concept) are part of fission and fusion, by having students authentically explore their beliefs about the pros and cons of nuclear energy and in nuclear processes, atoms are not conserved, but the total number of protons plus neutrons is conserved.


Mini Debate

15 minutes

I believe this is an excellent topic to get students to engage in scientific argumentation due to the controversial nature of nuclear power.  An entire lesson can be devoted to the topic of nuclear power; however, I only spend a short amount of time discussing it due to the end of semester time constraint.

The format I use for the mini debate has my students pair up in groups of two with someone that is not sitting next to them.  At the beginning of class I ask all students to stand up and make eye contact with someone not standing next to them.  I then ask those students to get together and wait further instruction.  After they pair up, I instruct that one person is partner A, while the other will be partner B.  After they decide, I instruct that partner B will go first and discuss their belief about whether or not nuclear energy should be used as a power source.  Partner B will talk for 45 consecutive seconds.  This process is then repeated by partner A.  As part of the NGSS I ask them to make sure they don't just state opinions about their beliefs but state claims based on evidence from the videos.  I will model how to state a fact to justify opinion.  I simply state, "I am pro-nuclear energy because it contributes virtually no greenhouse emissions compared to the quantity of coal needed to produce the same amount of electricity."

Stating evidence, and not just opinion, can be difficult.  This is the first time my students have been introduced to the the Scientific Practice of Engaging in argumentation from evidence, so my expectation is that they try their hardest to defend their opinion using facts from the videos. 

After they understand the debate topic, and who is going first, I instruct them they will do the “partner A, partner B cycle” two to three times with each person building on what the other person discussed.  I let them know that when I say “switch” it will be the other partner’s time to talk.  At this point I will tell them to start discussing their belief about nuclear power. 

I don't have them write anything down during the debate.  Since this is an introduction to SP 7 the main goal is to talk freely using facts to justify their thoughts. As they are going through the debate I walk around listening to the conversations.  Some facts mention by groups:

Pro nuclear 

  • 6.8 billion people on the planet will produce to much CO2 output and greenhouse gases contributing to global warming
  • Nuclear power produced little greenhouse gases (must is formed in the mining and enrichment process)
  • The waste from nuclear power is minimal compared to coal.


  • 10-19 years to build a plant
  • Terrorist threat
  • plenty of clean, renewable and safe energy in the forms of solar and wind power

Depending on the random groupings and the percentage of students that did their homework (watching the TED Talk video), this can really generate some good conversations that can lead to questioning about each other’s beliefs. At the end of the debate I take volunteers to provide some facts (as mentioned above) that support their thoughts. 



Project Expectations

10 minutes

As students were performing the mini debate, I hand out the Modeling Nuclear Reactions Rubric that will be used for the project. 

Project Materials

  • Butcher paper (poster board)
  • Markers or colored pencils
  • Rubric
  • Computer (internet)
  • Notes on fission and fusion
  • Meter stick

I instruct students that they will be working with a partner.  I let them know if they can work as an indivual, but not in a group of three.  I find that groups of three are not as productive in this project because one person typically is left out and acts as a distraction for the group.

Next I go over the rubric with them and explain project expectations.


After explaining the rubric I provide students with a 50” X 50” piece of butcher paper, get markers and a computer to start looking up pictures and explanations about fission and fusion. I leave the process of creating the poster open to student interpretation, allow the learning process to be creativity and authentic.  

Project Creation

25 minutes

After providing them the expectations I walk around and help students work through the beginning stages. When students need help, I first tell them to discuss it with their partner first and tell them to look in their notes or Google each of the processes and look for pictures and descriptions.  Most students jump right into the process and only need a 50 minute class period to complete the project, as seen in the student video. For the remainder of the period they can work on the project. 

With five minutes left I instruct them to put all the supplies (markers, rulers, etc.) away, make sure their names are on the projects and are put in one pile so they are easy to find the next day. 

I use a poster as an assessment because it makes kids communicate their knowledge with a partner, creating a deeper understanding by talking about what they are learning.  I also like that a poster provides a creative component to a unit that sometime can sometimes lack hands-on activities.  The information that students have to provide on the poster is information they will need to know for the test, so it also acts as a reinforcement for content that was provide duing lecture.