The Power Grid Project - Day 1

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Students synthesize information from a variety of sources to create a visual that explains how electric power is produced and transmitted to our homes.

Big Idea

The electric power grid is a complex system composed of many pieces, including electric generators, step-up transformers, step-down transformers and wires all working together to deliver electric power to our homes.

Context and Supplies

We see pieces of the electric power grid all around us; we use it on a regular basis. We rely on electric power so much that it has been integrated into our lives and we only recognize how important it is to our modern lives when a storm hits and we lose power. The past lessons on generators and transformers have set the stage for this project. Students spend the next two class periods identifying and communicating how electricity is produced and transmitted to our homes by producing a poster that explains our electric power grid. 

Students have access to computers and research the power grid and how its various pieces, such as generators and transformers, work together to deliver electric power. CCSS RST.11-12.7: Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., quantitative data, video, multimedia) in order to address a question is used as is RST.11-12.9: Synthesize information from a range of sources (e.g., texts, experiments, simulations) into a coherent understanding of a process, phenomenon, or concept, resolving conflicting information when possible.

Students also use NGSS Science Practice 1: Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering), Science Practice 6: Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering) and Science Practice 8: Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information all in the context of performance standard HS-PS2-5: Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence that an electric current can produce a magnetic field and that a changing magnetic field can produce an electric current. Since voltage is an electric potential due to electric fields, the performance standard HS-PS3-5: Develop and use a model of two objects interacting through electric or magnetic fields to illustrate the forces between objects and the changes in energy of the objects due to the interaction, is also relevant.

Electrical Grid Overview

10 minutes

I tell the students, "You flip on a switch and the lights come on. You plug in your phone and it charges up. You put your frozen burrito in the microwave and it all just works!" Students cannot leave my physics class without knowing how the power grid consistently and reliably delivers energy to us every day and every night. In today's lesson students work in groups of 3 or 4 to create a poster that explains how that electric energy is generated and delivered to us. 

I let students select their groups and I hand out the Power Grid Project description and rubric to each group. Their first task is to assign roles within their groups. Those roles are:

  • Group Leader: Ensures everyone is on task and working toward completion of the project. Focuses on knowing and understanding the project requirements and communicating that to the team. Has an in-depth knowledge of the rubric.  Responsible of including graph of types of energy sources and their percentages (E.G. coal: 42%, nuclear: 18% etc.)
  • Lead Researcher: Collects and writes information to be put on the poster. Writes descriptions of each of the components and how a transformer operates. Asks teacher questions about content. Shows teacher descriptions of the various components.
  • Photo/image specialist: Finds suitable images to include on the paper. Responsible for creating the 2 original images to be used on the poster. Original photos of infrastructure components are greatly encouraged. Source of photo needs to be included along with its description.
  • Design and Layout: Develops the layout of the project in rough draft form. Gets input and approval of the team on how to lay the project on the paper. Also shows the draft to the teacher to receive credit as described in the rubric. Attaches actual images and descriptions to the final draft.

The second task for each group is to understand the pieces that must be on the poster and show me a draft that includes basic descriptions of various infrastructure components. Before the end of the period, they give me a draft of their poster on 8.5 x 11 paper.

Students Work On Grid Project

40 minutes

The roles students select help facilitate the project as each student has a specific job. The groups work together to develop a plan and then each student does their job. There is a lot of talk between groups as they ask about and share resources. I make sure that students have a variety of resources available, including physics texts books, computers with internet access and their own notebooks. However, the majority of research is done on students smart phones. 

While students engage in the activity, I walk around the room and monitor their progress. I also employ the Colored Cups which informs me of when students are in need of support.

I have learned that if I say, "You have till the end of the period to complete this work", some groups tend to be off task at the beginning of the period as they figure they have plenty of time. If I give students a well defined time and display a count down, this helps keep them on task. Students have 30 minutes to complete their draft and project an online timer on the board so that students know how much time remains. I spend the final 10 minutes to check drafts as groups bring them to me. I make constructive comments on their outlines and provide a grade for their draft right on their copy of the rubric. By the end of class, I have seen most of the drafts and provided feedback. I collect any drafts that I did not see so that I can put comments and grades on them and return them to those groups at the beginning of the next lesson.