Design a Nuclear Waste Facility Part 1

4 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT describe why designing a nuclear waste facility is an important design problem.

Big Idea

Design matters for human health and safety. To understand how the use of nuclear energy can impact society, students work to explain why it is important to design a nuclear waste facility.


10 minutes

This is Part 1 of a four part lesson. The lesson is divided according to the steps of the engineering design process. To teach the different steps I use a variety of strategies. In Part 1, my strategy is student-led learning as the students determine the design problem they want to solve.

In the Design Problem Rationale section, students explain why designing a nuclear waste facility is an important design problem.  My strategy is to authentically incorporate Common Core standards. I always conduct a discussion in this step but I may skip the Common Core integration when I am pressed for time. For example, I'll ask the student to use the statistics already recorded in their engineering notebooks but I may not demand a formal writing piece or a citation. 

The strategy I use in Communicate the Design Problem is Write to Learn. This is a summary explaining the design process.  If you are looking for a Common Core integration into the design process, you can also do just Part 1 of this lesson. 

The steps of the design process are going to be used as students gather data and draw ideas ofthe nuclear waste facility. Refer to my lessons, I Have to Teach Engineering? and Dream Invention

Design Problem

10 minutes

My strategy is Student Led Design. I have conducted the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Integration Lesson. I have a bulletin board of World Problems. I ask my students, “If you could help solve a world problem, what would you try to solve?  In the movie below I use the strategy Real World Application as I explain how the students will develop their design problem. 

For this lesson, my students had heard about nuclear power in science class and wanted to design a nuclear waste facility. 

Design Problem Rationale

10 minutes

I start the lesson with a strategy called Digging Deeper into Science. The resource my students use is their science notebook. I ask, “Why is designing a nuclear waste facility an important design problem?" Typically my students have heard about nuclear waste either as the result of a nuclear power plant or as leaked from nuclear accidents.  They are curious about nuclear energy and its effects. My strategy is an Unstructured Discussion. The purpose is to feed student curiosity and answer any questions I can. At the same time, I am promoting a discussion of scientific phenomena.

When a noteworthy worldwide event can be tied to the design problem, I present the event as another reason for why the design problem is important. The Tsumani in Japan and other geological events help link to our idea of solving world problems. Below is a video from the New York Times files showing the eruption of a volcano 30 miles from a nuclear power site.

"Footage of the eruption of the volcano on Mount Sakurajima, on the southern Japanese island Kyushu. It is 30 miles from a nuclear plant." New York Times, Feb. 5, 2016.

Where there are questions I cannot answer, I have several sources at hand. I have textbooks and I present an image of the electromagnetic spectrum. If I can't answer a question, I will either have a student look it up or I will assign is as a research question for later in the lesson. 

Communicate the Design Problem

20 minutes

The strategy I use is Summary writing. Using the information students leaned in the nuclear lessons, students write a three to five sentence summary explaining why designing a Nuclear Waste Facility is an important design problem. 

In the movie below a couple of students read their summary out loud. A common mistake for some students is to leave out a conclusion statement. If I notice this, I ask them to make changes and I re-grade the work.