Watt Watchers of Texas: Texas is Too Good To Waste™

Grand Challenges

Grade Level:
Theme:

Activity Overview: Richard Smalley presented a list of problems in order of importance to society, beginning with energy and moving through water, food, environment, poverty, terrorism and war, disease, education, democracy, and finally population. Smalley carefully considered the order of the problems on his list. From Smalley’s perspective, securing and managing energy and water provide the ability to solve each successive problem and enable all other aspects of society. For example, because representative democracy struggles without an educated populace, education eclipses democracy. Resource constraints and poverty often trigger war and terrorism. Although solving challenges will not immediately bring peace to Earth, tackling these problems removes some contributing factors to global strife and unrest.

This introduction has been reprinted from Resourcefulness: An Introduction to the Energy-Water Nexus. Access to the full text is provided by the generous support of Itron, Inc.

Analyzing the grand challenges on this list and other interdisciplinary challenges in science, engineering, and resource management is a great way to develop the kind of interdisciplinary problem solving required for the twenty-first century workforce. Looking at the analysis as a project allows for ample opportunity to assess students’ engagement with and mastery of many topics.

Time: This activity is appropriate for project-based learning. As defined by the Buck Institute for Education, project-based learning (PBL) invites students to “work on a project over an extended period of time – from a week up to a semester – that engages them in solving a real-world problem or answering a complex question. They demonstrate their knowledge and skills by developing a public product or presentation for a real audience.” You could consider scheduling this activity at the beginning of a unit on energy, the environment, or engineering to challenge students to start thinking about different interdisciplinary issues. Alternatively, you could schedule this project as a “final examination” to assess students’ grasp of the material and engagement with the interdisciplinary process. For a different approach, consider scheduling a semester- or year-long project with routine presentations.

Resources:

Resourcefulness: An Introduction to the Energy-Water Nexus contains an entire section on the diverse water resources, technologies, and issues.

The United Nations and many other international organizations have identified water as a major global issue and compiled an in-depth overview of water related issues.

Project Statement:

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

Project Deliverables: Students or groups of students should create a robust report investigating and analyzing one of the major global issues identified above or another relevant issue of the students’ choosing. For added value, a summary of issues, criteria, and constraints could be presented to the class.

Evaluation:

Evaluate students’ projects according to the following criteria. Excellent project performance for each phase is defined below.

Identifying a Challenge: Students’ challenge should sit at the intersection of societal needs and wants. There should be sufficient trade offs for a multidisciplinary analysis.

Assessing Resources: Many global issues are political, invoking agenda setting and bias in research, review, and reporting. Students should integrate and evaluate a wide range of sources noting their provenance, relevant bias or agenda. Excellent work will explore the connection between source (funding, author/agency, political party, etc.) and bias.

Specifying Criteria: Students should identify a wide range of both qualitative and quantitative criteria for solutions in the sector of their selected challenge. Solutions should be informed by and supported by background research.

Communicate the Solution: Students’ reports should include well-reasoned criteria for solutions to their selected global problems with all of their sources and their analysis thereof. Excellent work will include few to zero errors in grammar, spelling, or citations.

Alternative: Designing Solutions to Grand Challenges

Rather than simply identifying criteria for a solution, this project can be expanded into an engineering design challenge, in which students design or create solutions to meet the criteria identified. Students can work individually or in groups. Encourage students to evaluate what works and what doesn’t in the current global ecosystem and to explore solutions either technology-based, policy-based, or based on some interdisciplinary approach. For more information on the engineering design process, you can consult the background in Energy Engineering Design.

Evaluation:

Use the modified assessment criteria articulated below:

Identifying a Challenge: Students’ challenge should sit at the intersection of societal needs and wants. There should be sufficient trade offs for a multidisciplinary analysis.

Assessing Resources: Many global issues are political, invoking agenda setting and bias in research, review, and reporting. Students should integrate and evaluate a wide range of sources noting their provenance, relevant bias or agenda. Excellent work will explore the connection between source (funding, author/agency, political party, etc.) and bias.

Specifying Criteria: Students should identify a wide range of both qualitative and quantitative criteria for solutions in the sector of their selected challenge. Solutions should be informed by and supported by background research.

Develop a Prototype: The prototype solution should address both qualitative and quantitative criteria specified, and all of the features and their relationship to the project requirements should be well documented.

Refine the Solution: Students can proceed through as many iterations as appropriate and should be evaluated whether the changes are documented clearly and completely; it is not necessary for the solution to meet all of the project specifications, as long as this is documented and explained.

Communicate the Results: Students should compile the engineering equivalent of a laboratory notebook, which details the process completely (assessed through criteria listed above), as well as a final summary, which explains how well the final solution fits the functional requirements, where further improvements could be made by another team, and any other relevant project information, composed with few to zero errors in grammar, spelling, or citations.

Alternative: Pitch Day

To further expand on this project, organize a “pitch day” on which students can present their solutions to their fellow students, other teachers, or even individuals in the community. Consider reaching out to the school district’s energy managers; officials from your local electricity, gas, or water utility; university or community college professors; or business-people to join the audience and to provide feedback.

Evaluation:

Use the modified assessment criteria articulated below:

Identifying a Challenge: Students’ challenge should sit at the intersection of societal needs and wants. There should be sufficient trade offs for a multidisciplinary analysis.

Assessing Resources: Many global issues are political, invoking agenda setting and bias in research, review, and reporting. Students should integrate and evaluate a wide range of sources noting their provenance, relevant bias or agenda. Excellent work will explore the connection between source (funding, author/agency, political party, etc.) and bias.

Specifying Criteria: Students should identify a wide range of both qualitative and quantitative criteria for solutions in the sector of their selected challenge. Solutions should be informed by and supported by background research.

Develop a Prototype: The prototype solution should address both qualitative and quantitative criteria specified, and all of the features and their relationship to the project requirements should be well documented.

Refine the Solution: Students can proceed through as many iterations as appropriate and should be evaluated whether the changes are documented clearly and completely; it is not necessary for the solution to meet all of the project specifications, as long as this is documented and explained.

Communicate the Results: Students should create a short but succinct presentation, which outlines the challenge, criteria, and solution proposed. They should also compose a short “executive summary” with more information and their sources, composed with few to zero errors in grammar, spelling, or citations.

Provide Feedback: Students should compose feedback for other students’ presentations, which provides thoughtful and meaningful criticism of others’ solutions. The feedback should highlight both strengths and weaknesses in proposed solutions in a constructive and non-biased way.

NGSS

HS-ETS1-1, RST.11-12.7, RST.11-12.8, RST.11-12.9, MP.2, MP.4

TEKS

IPC.2B, CHEM.2E, PHYS.2D, WGS.8A
ELA.9.13A, ELA.10.13A, ELA.11.13A, ELA.12.13A, ELA.9.13B, ELA.10.13B, ELA.11.13B, ELA.12.13B, ELA.9.13C, ELA.10.13C, ELA.11.13C, ELA.12.13C, ELA.9.13D, ELA.10.13D, ELA.11.13D, ELA.12.13D, ELA.9.13E, ELA.10.13E, ELA.11.13E, ELA.12.13E, ELA.10.15A.vi, ELA.11.15A.vi, ELA.12.15A.vi, ELA.9.16A, ELA.10.16A, ELA.11.16A, ELA.12.16A, ELA.9.16B, ELA.10.16B, ELA.11.16B, ELA.12.16B, ELA.9.16C, ELA.10.16C, ELA.11.16D, ELA.12.16D, ELA.9.16D, ELA.10.16D, ELA.11.16C, ELA.12.16C, ELA.9.16E, ELA.10.16E, ELA.11.16E, ELA.12.16E, ELA.10.16F, ELA.11.16F, ELA.12.16F, ELA.12.16G

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