I’ve Got The Power! – Energy Design Challenge

By Maryam Nouh, February 27, 2017

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Green Design

Subject Area

  • Science

Lesson Time

160 minutes


Students will use their understanding of the atom, nuclear energy and energy transfer to design their own energy power plant to generate electricity within different contexts using the four phases of design thinking. This lesson ties into the chemistry standards of the understanding of the atom, how energy exists in different forms, how energy is conserved, and how energy can be transferred from one system to another.

National Standards

NGSS Standards PS1.A: Structure and Properties of Matter MS-PS1-5. Develop and use a model to describe how the total number of atoms does not change in a chemical reaction and thus mass is conserved. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on law of conservation of matter and on physical models or drawings, including digital forms, that represent atoms.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the use of atomic masses, balancing symbolic equations, or intermolecular forces.] PS1.C: Nuclear Processes 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. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on simple qualitative models, such as pictures or diagrams, and on the scale of energy released in nuclear processes relative to other kinds of transformations.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include quantitative calculation of energy released. Assessment is limited to alpha, beta, and gamma radioactive decays.] PS3.A: Definitions of Energy HS-PS3-1 Create a computational model to calculate the change in the energy of one component in a system when the change in energy of the other component(s) and energy flows in and out of the system are known. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on explaining the meaning of mathematical expressions used in the model.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to basic algebraic expressions or computations; to systems of two or three components; and to thermal energy, kinetic energy, and/or the energies in gravitational, magnetic, or electric fields.] PS3.B: Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer HS-PS3-4. Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence that the transfer of thermal energy when two components of different temperature are combined within a closed system results in a more uniform energy distribution among the components in the system (second law of thermodynamics). [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on analyzing data from student investigations and using mathematical thinking to describe the energy changes both quantitatively and conceptually. Examples of investigations could include mixing liquids at different initial temperatures or adding objects at different temperatures to water.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to investigations based on materials and tools provided to students.] PS3.D: Energy in Chemical Processes


Students will be able to: 1) Brainstorm effectively in groups in order to generate solutions to real-world problems. 2) Prototype a solution to a real-world problem. 3) Communicate their ideas and solutions effectively to an audience. 4) Provide feedback on other classmates’ design solutions.


1) Doc Cam 2) Group Brainstorm Checklist (adapted from Cooper Hewitt DICN slides)


1) 10 Design in the classroom kits (for 10 groups)


1) Prototype – a model or design 2) Wild Ideas – “out there” ideas with no limits 3) Darling Ideas – a little unexpected, somewhere in-between wild and practical 4) Practical Ideas – logical ideas, possible to do easily


Background Information This lesson is a summative assessment as part of a unit on nuclear energy. As such, students should already know: 1) The structure of the atom (protons, neutrons and electrons in the nucleus)- https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/build-an-atom 2) That splitting the atom releases large amounts of energy. - https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/nuclear-fission 3) Major different types of electricity and how energy is transferred into electricity within that system (including nuclear energy, fossil fuel energy, solar energy and wind energy. 4) Students should also have some understanding of the pros and cons of using different energy sources for electricity (i.e. nuclear power vs. coal vs. solar vs. wind) Procedure 1. Students should receive 8 different challenge cards pertaining to different users who need to find a way to use energy to generate electricity. Their job is to brainstorm as many ideas as they can using words and drawings. Students are asked not only to generate ideas, but to also categorize them as wild, darling or practical ideas (50 min). 2. The objective on Day 2 is for groups to prototype and then present their solutions to solve their user’s energy crisis. Before students are given their design materials, they should be given a prototype planning sheet, which they need to fill-out in order to help them better organize their thoughts around the solution they come up with. 3. Once groups have completed their prototype planning sheets, give each group a white paper bag of materials which they will use to prototype (model) a solution. The teacher should be sure to note to students that the materials given could be representative of other materials (i.e. a coffee filter could represent a parachute). 4. Once they have finished building their prototypes, divide students into presentation groups. The presentation group first presents their prototypes to an audience group. The audience group then provides praise, polish and feedback to the group that presented, and the groups switch roles. This is to facilitate peer evaluation and sharing (110 min).


1. I use the peer feedback post-its (see slides) as a primary source to determine if the students successfully learned the objectives of the lesson. 2. The main form of assessment comes from listening in on student presentations and taking notes on it. 3. Differentiation: Present different groups with higher or lower level challenge cards depending on the skill level of the group.

Enrichment Extension Activities

You might have students research into what the main source of electricity comes from in their hometown/community, and to then compare that to their own design solution.

Teacher Reflection

I would have the students spend less time worrying about categorizing ideas, and have them focus more on quantity/volume. Meaning, I would have students first generate as many ideas as possible (let’s say a goal of 30) in a time-span of about 20 minutes, then I would introduce the different idea category types and have them categorize their ideas accordingly.

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