Designing a Nuclear Waste Facility Part 3

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SWBAT determine the best design for a nuclear waste facility.

Big Idea

The fun starts here. Students are armed with lots of cool scientific information and now they can start the designs! They begin to explain how their designs solve the problem, "How should we design a nuclear waste facility?"


10 minutes

This section is all about finding the best design solution. In Part 2, students have started their preliminary designs and have conducted research. In Part 3 my strategies change from getting information to using information to develop ideas.

The last section, Communicating the Design integrates technology. I use the program Autodesk Revit and ask students to create a 3D image of their design solution.

Design Ideas

15 minutes

After the research students work to determine how to draw a model of the facility. I ask, "How many designs do you think architects make?" Students put up the number of fingers on their hands. I typically get 10 fingers. I ask, Why would they want more than one idea? Students explain many reasons including, “In case one is not right.” and, “To have a back up idea."

I explain that they must use what they know to design a facility for storing nuclear waste. I show them an example of a floor plan and explain that their task is to draw a floor plan and label it with the important components. They are to draw four distinctly different design ideas. In the movie below I am introducing the strategy. 

My next strategy is Give One-Get One. Students show one another their Nuclear Facililty Design Ideas. They pick partners to give an idea and get an idea*. They move to quiet places in the room to give and get an idea. When they are done I ask them to pick another partner. We do a couple of rounds until I ask, “Do you need more ideas?” If they say yes, I allow a few more rounds, listening carefully to their ideas.

As students go back to their tables I ask, “Did this help your learning?” The students almost always emphatically say, “YES!” I explain that this is the reason engineers and designers collaborate. 

Next, I use a sharing strategy called Six Stations. I assign students to six different stations throughout the room to share the preliminary drawings of their wind blades. My intention is to share ideas to promote creativity. Sharing ideas helps build confidence because the students can look at one another's design to see that they are on the right track. There are typically 5 students per group. Each student gets one minute to show their drawings.

* More on Give One-Get One is found in Designing an Eco-friendly Building, Part 2.

Determining the Criteria

30 minutes

After they have their four designs, my strategy is write to learn. I tell students to write one or two sentences explaining why their design is a good solution for the design problem. They use the information they learned from their research. My write to learn strategy is important because I am demanding that the students continually consider the design problem and write about it. This keeps the problem in the front of their minds and helps students focus on solutions. 

Students have brainstormed and considered four unique designs for their models, choosing one as their best design. They have conducted research and they understand nuclear fission. Now it is time to determine the criteria. My strategy is Determining the Criteria for the Best Design.

I ask, “What is criteria for success?” Students respond that it means what you need to be successful. I ask students to go back to their research to determine what they think is the most important criteria to solve the problem. In the video below I am introducing the strategy. 


The next day I bring back their ideas in an effort to evaluate their criteria. I give the students a fresh opportunity to make changes to what they think is most important in a design. This vital step will help the students evaluate the success of the design.  In the Classroom Video: Evaluating Design Criteria watch to see how we work to refine and evaluate the criteria.  

Evaluating the Design

30 minutes

Students now must determine which of the three designs they want to build. I integrate technology by asking students to design using CAD. 

My next strategy is called  “Have you Thought about...?”  I want the students to evaluate their design against the criteria. To help them, I ask students to find a partner. The partners must go to a quiet place in the room to evaluate ideas. They trade designs and then say, “Have you thought about…?” I listen to the responses and answer questions. Students choose a different partner and do the same. I’ll go several rounds before I ask, “Does anyone need to go another round?” I’ll go a few more rounds, listening to the responses.

This is a strategy to evaluate designs. “Have you thought about?”

In strategic teaching, the structure of the strategy impacts the function of the communication. When kids used the strategy Give One Get One, the structure allowed the students to go through the process of ideation. In the movie Classroom Video: Have You Thought About, students use the strategy to authentically evaluate design ideas. Using the sentence stem, the activity ignites higher level evaluative thinking. 

To assess the activity I ask, “Did this help?” I usually get an enthusiastic “YES!”. I offer time to change drawings so the final designs reflect peer evaluations.

The next evaluation strategy I use is called Using a Decision Matrix. A decision matrix quantifies design ideas with a rating scale. I hand the students a worksheet called Decision Matrix. They write each table mates' name in the  rows and each of the criteria as column headings. They rate ideas based upon a 1-5 number system, 5 being the highest. Students trade notebooks and rate one another’s designs. They then add the ratings to determine which idea is the best. I assess the student work using the Decision Matrix Nuclear Waste

This important strategy allows the students to evaluate one another's designs in an effort to find the best solution. Sometimes students push others to choose an especially creative design when it may not be the best idea. By quantifying the criteria, the best solution to the problem becomes an easy decision for the group. In the Classroom Video: Decision Matrix- Quantifying the Design, I explain the strategy. Listen as Johnny defends his design solution according to the class criteria. 

In Part Two of the Decision Matrix strategy, my students discuss their design solutions in the  Classroom Video: Decision Matrix - Rating the Designs. The design criteria is the focus as students reflect upon the similarities and differences between design solutions.