ND Curriculum Initiative

The North Dakota Curriculum Initiative (NDCI) was a long-term professional development program for North Dakota public and non-public school curriculum administrators and teachers. The NDCI ended on December 2013.

Nuclear Chemistry: How Does It Affect Me?

For grade(s) 11.

Subject & Standards


Needs Assessment/Rational

I have identified a definite gap between “what is and what needs to be” for my chemistry students at Red River High School. According to the National Science Education Standards one of the goals of science education is to educate students who are able to “use appropriate scientific processes and principles in making personal decisions” and who are able to “engage intelligently in public discourse and debate about matters of scientific and technological concern”. The topic of nuclear chemistry, including nuclear reactions and radioactive isotopes, is in the forefront of public debate in today’s society. The current war in Iraq was started partly because of suspicions of nuclear weapons being developed in that country. A recent presidential debate included the topic of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy. The goal of this unit of instruction is to increase student knowledge of nuclear chemistry so that they will be scientifically literate and able to make informed decisions about issues related to these topics. I talked with the other science teachers in our high school and found out that nuclear chemistry is not a main area of instruction and is at most lightly touched on. Our district science standards do not specifically site nuclear chemistry as a required part of the curriculum but the topic is included in two of the science performance tasks (Grand Forks Public Schools-Science Performance Tasks 2000). One task deals with the history of the development of the atomic bomb and the other addresses the topic of nuclear waste. Both of these topics are related to Standard 5 of the Grand Forks Science Frameworks (Students understand concepts of matter and energy). The National Science Education Standards specifically identify the study of nuclear chemistry in the Physical Science Content Standards and the state of North Dakota includes the study of nuclear chemistry in its standards for physical science education. The past several years I have not included a unit on nuclear chemistry in my curriculum. The “need” for students to learn about nuclear chemistry is clear!

Understandings & Goals

Enduring Understanding: Students need to understand radiation, its harmful effects and beneficial uses. Students need to understand how nuclear energy is produced and the benefits and problems associated with this type of energy. Students need to know what nuclear weapons are and how their use affects living things and the environment. Goal(s): The goal of this unit is for students to gain an understanding of the different areas of nuclear chemistry, including radiation, nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.

Questions Answered

Essential questions: What is radiation and where does it come from? What are the harmful effects of radiation and the beneficial uses of radiation? How is nuclear power produced? What are the benefits and problems associated with nuclear energy? What are nuclear weapons? What are the effects of nuclear weapons on living things and the environment? Objectives: While taking quiz with open-ended essay type questions, students will be able to accurately identify the three different types of radiation and their characteristics. While taking a quiz with open-ended essay type questions, students will be able to name two or more sources of radiation. Given poster paper, other appropriate resources and class time, students will be able to work collaboratively with a small group to create a poster comparing and contrasting the processes of nuclear fission and fusion. Using a computer, students will create a product that will identify and explain several practical uses of radioisotopes. While taking a quiz with open-ended essay type questions, students will be able describe what a nuclear weapon is and give examples. After researching the topic, students will write an essay for or against the use of nuclear weapons and in the essay they will use gathered data to support their decision.


What quiz and test items (e.g. simple content-focused questions that require a single, best answer)</em> will provide evidence of understanding? A “practice” quiz on will include some simple recall questions on all the main topics of this unit. Some of the end of the unit test questions will require students to know simple recall information. What academic prompts (e.g. open-ended questions or problems that require students to think critically and then to prepare a response / product / performance) will provide evidence of understanding? A test/quiz at the end of the unit will include open-ended essay type questions that will require students to summarize their knowledge about the types of radiation, practical uses of radiation, and nuclear weapons. What performance tasks and projects (e.g. complex challenges that are authentic, mirror the real world and require a performance or product) will you include that will provide evidence of student understanding? Students will work with other students to create posters demonstrating knowledge of fission and fusion. (The posters will be displayed in the school hallway.) Students will create a PowerPoint slide or mini-poster on the computer that will demonstrate their knowledge about the practical uses of radioisotopes. Students will write an essay explaining how they feel about the use of nuclear weapons. What other evidence (e.g. observations, work samples, dialogues, student self-assessment) of understanding will you collect? I will collect student notes and other textbook work. Students will correct assignments in class so they can correct any errors (student self-assessment). I will observe and listen to students while they are working on group projects and while they are researching.

Instructional Strategies

This unit on nuclear chemistry will incorporate two of the strategies that help to promote higher order thinking skills and self-directedness. Project based learning will be incorporated when students work in small groups to create a poster about nuclear fission and fusion. A rubric will be given to the students to guide their work. Students will be required to decide on a team leader and assign roles for each team member. Students will be required to research the topics and share information. Problem-based learning will occur when students write an essay describing their feelings on nuclear weapons. The “problem” students must address is “how do I feel about nuclear weapons and why do I feel this way?” There is no right or wrong answer to the question but the assignment will allow students to define their feelings about nuclear weapons using their own research.

Lesson Created By

This lesson was created by Justin Wageman. Learn more about Justin Wageman on their profile page.