Exploring electricity from circuits to grids: A high school unit on the Texas power outage
This high school unit was developed by Lauren Petersen who teaches in the Lake Washington School District in Washington State.
With the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards, the physics curriculum has changed. One of the concepts that saw the most change was in how we teach electricity. Circuits and Ohm’s law is not in the standards, but there is an emphasis on electromagnetism and electricity generation—specifically around renewable resources and human impact. This unit, developed through the Ambitious Science Teaching framework, attempts to create a cohesive, model-based learning experience for high school level physics students to explore these concepts through the anchoring event of a power outage. They explored our electrical system from simple circuits and the function of a switch, tracing the electrical energy back through the power grid, to how generators use electromagnetism to create this energy that powers our lives.
The anchoring event, a power outage, should be a relatively common experience among our students. It is important to start with their own experiences, asking them to share out their experience with a power outage. You can ask them where they were, how long it lasted, if they know what caused it, what they did first, etc. Then, you can choose to focus on a particular outage—maybe there was one during a school day, or a long-lasting one locally, or a power outage that got national attention. For example, in my linked slides below, I used the recent Texas power outage to provide some common observations. By showing students media, in the form of headlines, TikTik videos of personal experiences, or news clips, we give them a reference point outside their own experiences. After showing them the media, you can ask them what they observe, what they know about power outages and our electrical system, and what they wonder about/ want to know about. These conversations can be recorded and saved through some digital means, such as Padlet or similar technology, and referenced throughout the unit.
Please explore these materials, including the diverse models of students’ thinking!