Godzilla: The giant monster powered by nuclear radiation and created in the wake of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Godzilla is an apt metaphor for the enormous range and complexity of topics addressed in a typical high school chemistry course. There are 18 chapters in the textbook my students use. Eighteen! The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) has helped to tame that monster by moving some topics to the back burner and brought others to the front. Now, my students and I can focus on just 8 performance expectations.
NGSS has promoted nuclear processes to front burner status: PS1-8. Students who demonstrate understanding can: Develop models to ilustrate the changes in the composition of the nucleus of the atom and the energy released during the processes of fission, fusion, and radioactive decay. Without nuclear processes, there would be no Godzilla and yet nearly every high school chemistry book I have ever seen puts nuclear chemistry at the back of the textbook. As a result, high school students rarely learn more about the nucleus than how to determine the number of protons and neutrons in the nucleus of an isotope. The table of contents no longer dictates what my students learn; the standards inform instruction and learning.
NGSS versus Godzilla? NGSS wins.
It makes so much more sense to embed nuclear processes into the chapter on atomic structure and/or the chapter on balancing chemical reactions. No chemistry teacher ever skips those chapters. So, I built fusion, fission, alpha decay and beta decay into the all-important chapter on atoms. We will revisit nuclear reactions when we get to chemical reactions. My students will know how to balance each type of reaction and to explain the similarities and differences between the two types. (Note: in my research for this blog, I found that the American Chemical Society university-level textbook Chemistry embeds nuclear reactions and their energies into Chapter 3: Origin of Atoms.)
In A FRAMEWORK FOR K-12 SCIENCE EDUCATION, the authors lay out the “why” for learning about nuclear processes: “Phenomena involving nuclei are important to understand, as they explain the formation and abundance of the elements, radioactivity, the release of energy from the sun and other stars, and the generation of nuclear power.” Students deserve to know why they need to learn something. With that in mind, my students read and annotated the article “How Nuclear Power Can Stop Global Warming” by David Biello. We then participated in a Socratic Seminar. The guiding question was “What role should nuclear power play in the Pacific Northwest?” We live 60 miles from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, so nuclear power is part of our reality. My students were successful in citing “specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts” (Common Core Reading RST.11-12.1) as they discussed the pros and cons of nuclear power.
Godzilla, NGSS, and Common Core. Science Rocks!
Married to Larry, an old Coast Guard salt and amazing man.I get to share Larry with our yellow lab, Sherman.
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