Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Nuclear Energy Unit Lesson Plan

We decided to plan a nuclear energy unit after we went to the Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque a few months ago. There was so much information at the museum, and the children were curious about it all, but there was too much to really absorb in a few hours. They asked if we could study it in more depth later, and I said we could, though I wasn't really sure how it would go. I wondered if the subject was maybe too complicated for me to cover (as, alas, I'm not a physicist. If only Grandpa were still alive!). But, I forged ahead and checked out a bunch of books from the library about atoms and nuclear energy.

Luckily (as seems to happen every time!), after reading so many books and trying to absorb so many explanations, everything began to make sense and I felt like I would actually be able to teach it! Not on a college level or anything, but well enough. I have wondered if this is perhaps the only post on "Nuclear Energy Homeschool Unit for Children" in the entire world! I certainly couldn't find anything no matter how much I searched online. However, there were some good resources on the individual sections of the unit---some for older students that I could adapt for a younger audience, and some that were a bit advanced but I thought we'd try anyway. The children loved our studies about hydropower, so I knew they'd be able to understand the basic model of a nuclear power plant once we had a good basic understanding of atomic structure and radioactivity.

Okay, that meant starting with atoms. We learned some about atoms and elements in our fireworks unit, so this wasn't totally new. One activity we did was to help answer this question: how do we learn anything about atoms if we can't even see them? I gave each of the children a paper bag, stapled shut, with something inside. They had to figure out what was in there without opening the bag. They could shake their bags, throw them, crumple them, feel them, etc. to determine what was inside. They did pretty well (though only Abe actually guessed his object correctly, I think) and I think it did a good job of conveying how, by doing things to atoms, we can learn about their properties even when we don't see them.
Another thing we did that ended up being really memorable was a demonstration of just how much empty space is inside an atom! I read in one of our books that if the nucleus was the size of a golf ball, the electrons would be rotating around it about 2 miles away! I showed the children the way we usually draw atoms (the nucleus with electrons hovering nearby) and then explained how it was just a convenient representation, but didn't show the actual scale of an atom. I put a golf ball on the table and asked them, "If the protons and neutrons are here, where would the electrons be?" We then got in the car, started the odometer, and drove until we'd gone two miles. Then I stopped the car, told them to remember where the nucleus was, and said, "The electrons would be clear out here!" They were amazed. :)
I usually put up butcher paper on the windows or walls as a place I can draw examples when we're learning about something. These are some of the terms we learned about as we reviewed atomic mass, atomic number, how to read a periodic table, what ions are, etc. We also talked about the four forces in the universe and their relative strengths and influences. All this was good background for what was to come.

1 comment:

  1. Okay--I am duly humbled. You are an amazing science teacher. My kids would LOVE to be taught by you. They love science and I always try my hardest while thinking, "Gosh this is boring" in my head.

    Some days I think I'm not cut out to be a homeschooler. Other days I teach history. :)


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