Designing a Nuclear Waste Facility Part 2

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SWBAT conduct research in an effort to determine the best design for a nuclear waste facility.

Big Idea

Content is king! Armed with answers to their own questions about nuclear energy, students develop design ideas for solving the problem, "Why is it important to design a nuclear waste facility?"


10 minutes

Part 2 of Designing a Nuclear Waste Facility is distinguishable because students are developing design solutions. My strategy, Using Conceptual Modeling to understand science content, is used as students draw preliminary designs. My next strategy, Uncovering Science Concepts using Research, is used as students write and find the answers to their own research questions. Students use Google images to look for floor plans to use as inspiration for their designs and to get a feel of space.

An important part of Part 2 is the Research Questions Section. This is the section in which I stop the design process and teach a science lesson. I say to the students, "I have a great lesson that will help you understand how the process of radioactive decay in an effort to help you design a nuclear waste facility." 

The steps of the design process are going to be used as students gather data, draw ideas, build the wind turbine blades and then test their designs. Refer to my lessons, I Have to Teach Engineering? and Dream Invention

Design Solutions

5 minutes

Students have completed Nuclear Waste Facility Design Part 1 and are now ready to start to design. My strategy is to use conceptual models to promote understanding. Using pencils, students design a model of a nuclear waste facility. This is a preliminary design.

I begin the lesson by asking them to draw what they think a nuclear waste facility should look like. I give them no information except what was covered in the lessons Exploring Nuclear Energy and Science Literacy: Nuclear Energy. When a student says, "I have no idea!" I ask, "What kind of rooms do you think it should have?" "Where should it be located?" What materials should it be made from?" 

Students are confused but ready to draw a building in which they think nuclear waste can be stored. My strategy is called "What is Your Idea?" Students are conditioned to look to the teacher to determine how to do something. However, I want the students to determine how to create an original design. This may be difficult, because they come to me and ask, "Is this alright?" I remind them, "It is not what I want it to look like but how you want it to look like." In this video you can see how there are many different interpretations of the design. 


My students are at tables of four. After they have finished drawing their models, they share models with the students at their tables. This helps alleviate any frustration of not knowing what to do. I allow the students to look at one another's design and make changes in an effort to keep them motivated and interested in the project. 

Research Questions

10 minutes

In order to determine the best questions, my strategy is Think Pair Share. I ask students to collaborate in the development of the questions they think they need to answer to design a nuclear waste facility. One of my favorite changes in technology has been Google Docs. Students share their questions with their table groups and form a set of questions on a shared Google document. I merge all their questions into one document. As a teaching practice, Google Docs allows the work to be authentically collaborative. 

Students read each other’s questions looking for how their thinking has similarities, and where it has differences. Students can read one another's questions to look for patterns in answers and sources.

We analyze the questions and determine the best way to ask a research question. I explain this process in my reflection.

The final product is a list of questions the class will answer. I print the Nuclear Research Questions and ask students to glue the questions into their engineering notebook. 

Conducting Research

45 minutes

At this point I change groups. My strategy is to challenge existing group dynamics. I don't want the same student group to get into a rut. Sometimes they all depend upon one student to answer the questions or do the work. I want to mess with the groupings to avoid group complacency. I change seats at this point to get a fresh perspective on conducting research. Within the tables I assign groups of two and three. 

In the new groups, the students pick one person to make a new document and type up the class- determined questions. The new document will not be shared with the whole class, it will only be shared within the group. After the new document is made, I print off all of the questions and students glue the questions in their notebooks. 

When all students have recorded questions, I explain that teams are going to divvy up questions. My purpose is to allow each student to contribute to the learning. Students type their initials on the shared document to indicate the answers for which they are responsible. I like this strategy because it is authentic for engineers to work as a team. I train my students to be dependent upon one another. 

After each student knows which questions they will answer, I explain the assignment. "This paper is like a bibliography card and a note card in language arts. You answer the question and tell me the source of your information." 

I explain, "You may include images or movies that help you learn the answers as long as the images are labeled and explained." My strategy is to use visual imagery to promote understanding. 

"Take notes or cut and paste answers on the research answer document and record the url." This document will be used as a reference. Students will be able to go back to the answers as they need the information. They will use the url to get to the sites they need when defending their designs. 

Students go to their own computers to conduct the research and answer the questions. I walk around the room seeking misconceptions. I will use the misconceptions as ancillary lessons after the research is completed. In the file Nuke Waste Research Questions and in the file Nuclear Waste Answers my students have begun answering the research questions. 

When the students are done I ask them to come back to their tables of four and explain to the group the most important information they found from the research. In the movie below a student summarizes what she learned from the research.