STEM Inquiry Lesson - Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and Atomic Structure

Definitely still a draft!  

Lesson Abstract

Atomic structure, isotopes, and nuclear reactions are examined through the lens of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Present-day negotiations (as with Iran) are the jumping-off point for exploring the science behind the negotiations, at least at a basic level.  In addition to the specific science topics relevant here, the goal is to have students interact with informational texts involving history and international relations in an effective, engaging manner.

Lesson Themes & Essential Questions

 Lesson #1:  Intro to nuclear reactions.

Introduction to nuclear reactions using a.) a fictional (but mostly convincing) local news article about a nuclear power plant scheduled to be built near the school, and b.) news stories about the Iran nuclear negotiations and, possibly Stuxnet.. Or maybe Lesson #1 should really get right into the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  Or selected sections of Student will read what is at stakes The White House web site 

Lesson #2:  What are some ways nuclei can change? (Part 1: Alpha and Beta Decay)

Lesson#3:  What are some ways nuclei can change? (Part 1: Nuclear Fusion and Fission)

Lesson#4:  What is a nuclear chain reaction and how is this relevant to nuclear power production or nuclear weapons?  What is the role of "enrichment" in these processes?

PhET simulation may be effective here.

Lesson #5:  Introduce the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at this point, or, perhaps, this should really be part of the lead-off lesson.

Essential Question(s)

  1. How does the structure of atoms and the nature of nuclear reactions relate to the technical aspects of nuclear non-proliferation negotiations?
  2. Why is one of the three "pillars" of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty about NOT spreading nuclear weapons, but another pillar is about PROMOTING peaceful uses?  In what ways, if at all, does the pursuit of both goals add to the challenge of monitoring the compliance of treaty members?
  3. Something about Stuxnet?! (Probably not. A bit of a side show, and how reliable is the information about this event?  Maybe use it as an attention-grabber the first day.)

*Students are assumed to have a reasonable working knowledge of atomic structure before this set of lessons.  That is, they are already familiar with at least the Bohr model of the atom (nucleus and stable electron energy levels).  Familiarity with the quantum model of the atom is not a necessary prerequisite for this unit.

Supporting Question(s)

  1. What are isotopes?  
  2. What is meant by nuclear stability?
  3. What are half-lives?
  4. What are alpha particles and beta particles?
  5. How can you represent alpha and beta decay processes with nuclear reaction equations?
  6. What are nuclear fusion and nuclear fission?
  7. What is nuclear enrichment?
  8. How is nuclear fuel different than the uranium ore?
  9. How is nuclear fuel different than weapons-grade nuclear material?  (We'll likely concentrate on uranium.)


Standards to Address

STEM Inquiry Standards

Next Generation Science Standards

PS1.C: Nuclear Processes

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.]

Maybe some combination of these, too...

Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.

All forms of energy production and other resource extraction have associated economic, social, environmental, and geopolitical costs and risks as well as benefits. New technologies and social regulations can change the balance of these factors. (HS-ESS3-2) 

New technologies can have deep impacts on society and the environment, including some that were not anticipated. (HS-ESS3-3)

Next Generation Science Standards: Practices

2. Developing and using Models

8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Related Resources

New Hampshire K-12 Science Literacy Framework

Next Generation Science Standards

Standards for the 21st Century Learner (AASL)

National Educational Technology Standards (NETS)

Common Core State Standards for Mathematics



SCommon Core Anchor Standards

***Below are "just" the literacy standards, not the writing standards.... Could/should we use all of them as possibilities at this point?*****

So, how to assess this....Jude, would you check with the English Department for the assessment  rubrics they have developed and whatever suggestions that they might have.  

Dan; here are the ELA Department Assessment Rubrics. They directly address writing assessment. After much thought, I think that, given my current collaboration with the Department, I would be ready to use these rubrics to assess the writing part.

Dan, see here ELA and AASL performance indicators and tasks and here ELA and AASL Standards Crosswalk

Grade specific standards

Citing textual evidence  Dan: we should just remove  the standards not corresponding to the grade level of this lesson plan

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.11-12.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts, attending to important distinctions the author makes and to any gaps or inconsistencies in the account.

Determining central ideas or conclusions

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; summarize complex concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms.

Assessment vehicle?!?

Related Resources

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts


Learning Objectives

To Do
Tie your learning objectives to the specific standards you want to address by answering: What must the student know and be able to do to meet the content standard? Enter your learning objectives below.



To Do
If working across STEM subjects, write the learning objectives that are specific to each discipline, and enter them below.


 Related Resources
Tips for Writing Student Learning Outcomes - IUPUI


Your Text Set

Choose an Anchor Text

An anchor text is the central text around which a lesson or unit is built. This may be, for example, a narrative piece, a data set, or an image. Students across disciplines will engage with this anchor text throughout the lesson or unit, using it as base upon which to build skills and knowledge. A few simple guidelines for selecting anchor texts include:

  • Look for texts that are more general, and that are relevant and usable across disciplines
  • Look for texts that help your students reach the learning goals you want to emphasize
  • Look for texts that are meaningful, rich and worthy of study
  • Choose appropriately challenging texts


To Do

OK, some text ideas...

This one is a good overview, "NPT at a glance".

Something about Stuxnet!

Dan, how about :  page 28 and following: definition of key terms concerning the potential to weaponize uranium? It seems to me that this is right down to your topic...  THIS IS GOOD !  !!

Also, see the bib I emailed you for supporting texts

Choose 1 anchor text for each lesson or set of lessons you would like to create. Enter the name of the anchor text and its URL below:

Title of Anchor Text:


URL of Anchor Text:


Choose Supporting Texts

Supporting texts should help students to successfully move through the learning objectives for your lesson, and can help to build the knowledge necessary to access the anchor text in your lesson. They can be framing texts, background texts, or texts that complement your anchor text.

To Do
Choose a series of supporting texts, based on your analysis above, that will help your students master the necessary concepts, skills and knowledge needed to meet the lesson's learning goals. 

  • Consider learning objectives that will be addressed through your anchor text, but that you may want to strengthen through supporting texts.
  • Consider background concepts that students will need to master in order to access the anchor text, and that supporting texts can help your students to acquire.
  • Consider texts that are typical for your discipline (e.g., data sets for science).

For each STEM subject addressed, add the name of your supporting texts and their URLs below.   < Dan: see my email    

A supporting text that gives a quick overview and context for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.......

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) at a Glance

For the STEM-specific ideas, there are lots to chose from.  I most often use notes/material I have created myself as a means to streamline the essentials for the students.  Will need to consider how to handle this here.

 STEM Subject   Title of Supporting Text                URL of Supporting Texts


Related Resources

Creating Text Sets for Whole-Class Instruction

CCSS Text Selection Toolkit

Implementing the CCSS for Mathematics: CCSS Curriculum Materials Analysis Tools

Selecting Texts for Teaching and Assessing


Build & Organize the Text Set

Your text set should provide opportunities for students to build knowledge about a topic or subject through analysis of a coherent selection of strategically sequenced, discipline-specific texts.

 To Do
Consider how the anchor text and the supporting texts should be sequenced within the lesson to develop necessary skills. In the table below, organize your texts into a sequence that represents how you want to develop students’ knowledge in line with your identified learning objectives.         

 Text Sequence for Lesson/Unit       Learning Objectives


Direct Learning Through Student Tasks

To Do
Identify how you will direct learning through questions and inquiry, and how these questions relate to your team's overall essential question(s) that unifies learning across texts and disciplines. Your questions should facilitate rich and rigorous evidence-based discussions and writing about texts through a sequence of specific, thought-provoking questions. Determine your text-dependent questions and enter them below.


To Do
Develop your formative assessment strategy. Consider how and to what extent your methods of formative assessment elicit direct, observable evidence of student learning in targeted CCSS skill areas. Enter your formative assessment strategy below.


Related Resources

Short Guide to Creating Text Dependent Questions

Complete Guide to Creating Text Dependent Questions

Checklist for Evaluation Question Quality

LDC Template Task Collection 2.0

Improving Student Achievement in Mathematics Through Formative Assessment in Instruction


Develop Your Culminating Learning Experience

To Do
Develop your summative tasks with your team, and answer: How will the culminating tasks provide for summative assessment of the standards targeted and the skills and knowledge developed during the lesson? Enter your summative assessment(s) below.

Summative Assessment ideas....

Student writes an article for a science magazine.  The goals are... give a brief, basic introduction that summarizes the historical role of nuclear weapons development and the development of nuclear reactors for generating electricity. explain how a nuclear reaction can be used to create a nuclear weapon.  The basics of both fusion- and fission-based weapons are addressed. [Maybe limit this to fission, so nuclear power plant and weapon comparison can be made directly even though using same type of reaction.]  Emphasis is on the nuclear reaction itself, and the relative amount of energy released as compared to chemical reactions. explain how a nuclear reaction can be used for electricity production (nuclear power plant). make clear the role of uranium enrichment with regard to creating fuel-grade and weapons-grade uranium. describe the role of centrifuges with regards to enrichment.

.......Article will include textual citations highlighting specific technical points of a nuclear negotiation (as with Iran, for example) and how this affects the nation's ability to produce a working nuclear weapon.  < perhaps add links to current news about status of negotiations? Students can search EBSCO

Perhaps require some number of quoted sources from the provided sources plus maybe several from student-found sources.

< I would either provide a list of sources or direct students to  Gale Virtual Encyclopedia. 


Related Resources

Graphic Organizer Assessment Rubric

ASCD Common Core: Assessment Shifts

Selecting Texts for Teaching and Assessing


Consider Pre-Requisite Learning

To Do
Collaboratively with your team, make a list of the background knowledge and prerequisite skills that your students will need to succeed in the lesson/unit. Enter your list below.

 Prior learning: At this points, students have reviewed the basic models of the atom up through the Bohr model (nucleus plus stable electron energy levels). (Quantum model will come later.) They are already familiar with ions and isotopes, and understand that not all nuclei are stable. They have not yet explored HOW nuclei can undergo changes. (Boundary: alpha and beta decay, fusion and fission).

 To Do
Use the following guiding questions to develop your pre-assessment approach with your teaching team:

  • How might students’ background and skills be pre-assessed to determine their readiness for learning?
  • How will the pre-assessment reveal gaps in students’ knowledge in alignment with our selected standards and learning objectives?
  • How will we use pre assessment data to revise our teaching and challenge students at an appropriate level?       

Enter your pre-assessment approach below.

 Related Resources

Pre-Assessment Strategies


Organize Instructional Activities

To Do
Determine with your team the sequence of your instructional activities. Use the following, guiding questions:

  • How should major instructional activities be sequenced to provide a coherent progression of learning?
  • How are learning activities designed and sequenced to develop students’ literacy and emphasize the key areas of focus (shifts) in instruction?
  •  In what ways does the instructional sequence prepare students for the summative assessment?

 List your instructional activities below, organized sequentially. Add notes about length of time for each activity, or for the lesson overall, as well as the preparation and materials needed for each activity. Consider adding notes about specific strategies for diverse learners including those who are ELL, have disabilities, or read well below (or above) the grade level text band.



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