Help Wanted! Physicist

Version 2


    Unit Summary

    Students study current topics of physics research and consider potential social and economic implications for the world at large. Students form collaborative teams and select an area of physics research to investigate. They collect information summarizing current research and issues related to their topic, biographical information on scientists who work in the field, and information on possible effects this area of research could have on mankind. Students represent informed experts who present their findings to a Senate subcommittee, taking a point of view about the risk or benefit of the research endeavor.


    At a Glance

    • Grade Level: 11-12
    • Subject: Applied Physics
    • Topics: Current Affairs, Science in Society, Economics
    • Higher-Order Thinking Skills: Analysis, Argumentation
    • Key Learnings:  Ethics, Persuasion, Government
    • Time Needed: 3 weeks, 15 hours in class


    Things You Need




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    Windows 8*


    Standards Alignment

    This unit is aligned to Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards.

    • Understandings about Science and Technology
    • HS.PS4 Waves and their Applications in Technologies for Information Transfer


    Curriculum-Framing Questions

    • Essential Question
      Just because we can, should we?
    • Unit Questions 
      How do scientific breakthroughs affect our lives?
      Why should the general public be aware of scientific breakthroughs?
      How have scientific discoveries been misused in the past?
    • Content Questions
      What scientific discoveries are currently being developed?


    Assessment Processes

    View how a variety of student-centered assessments are used in the Help Wanted, Physicist Unit Plan. These assessments help students and teachers set goals; monitor student progress; provide feedback; assess thinking, processes, performances, and products; and reflect on learning throughout the learning cycle


    Instructional Procedures


    Initiate a short discussion around the Essential Question, Just because we can, should we? View the film The Atomic Café. Use the story of the atomic bomb to examine and discuss whether it was ultimately a detriment or benefit to mankind. Broaden the discussion to the impact of other physics-based technology and developments on the world. Discuss the Unit Question, How have scientific discoveries been misused in the past?


    Introduce to students the following scenario:

    As a member of a team of expert physicists, you have been contracted to support a special interest lobby group. A bill has been introduced to Congress that will give $1 billion to support current physics research. Decide whether your team is for or against a specific topic of research that will be supported by the bill. You must prepare to persuade others to support your point of view. Be sure to identify and refute possible counterarguments.


    Hold a discussion with students focusing on the Unit Question, How do scientific breakthroughs affect our lives? Brainstorm answers and post them on butcher paper around the room. Have students form collaborative teams and select a current topic in an area of physics research for investigation. Introduce the slideshow to set the stage for the investigation. In teams of three to four, have students use the Internet, text sources (books, journals, encyclopedias, and so forth), and CD-ROM resources to research a selected area currently being researched by physicists. Distribute the unit's set of research links to help students get started. Areas of study may include but are not limited to plasma physics, fusion, superconductivity, lasers, optical engineering, speed of light, condensed matter, quantum teleportation, biophysics, and chaos. Suggest these topics to students, but let them know they may generate other topics for consideration. Ask groups to use a planning sheet to gather all basic information about their topics, including relevant physics, information about the purpose of research, and potential or real benefits or risks associated with the area of study.


    Presenting Research-Student Multimedia Presentation
    After gathering information, ask students to synthesize their findings in a collaborative multimedia presentation. Hand out the presentation scoring guide and discuss project expectations. Make sure students understand that they will present a summary of current information about their topic, biographical information of two scientists connected to their topic, and information that answers, How do scientific breakthroughs affect our lives? by discussing potential benefits and dangers associated with the topic. The presentation also includes a works cited page. Show a sample student slideshow before students develop their own.


    Distribute the student presentation checklist to help guide student work.


    Ask students to practice their presentations before a small group of their peers. Using the presentation scoring guide, have the observers take notes during the presentations. Ask observers to complete the peer feedback form. Then schedule group conferences so that the presenters can receive feedback on their presentations. Allow time for students to revise presentations and then have each group present to the entire class.


    Following the presentation, ask students to lead a discussion on the issues raised, focusing on the Essential Question, Just because we can, should we? Incorporate whether the research should be continued, and the potential costs and benefits of research in the area of physics. Assess student presentations using the presentation scoring guide.


    Persuading Others-Student Newsletter
    In the next project, tell students that they will develop and support a point of view about their topic. They must analyze current and future consequences of development in their field of research. After careful analysis and debate, ask students to decide whether to support or oppose congressional funding and document their findings and recommendations in a newsletter. Their job is to convince others to either support or fight the funding for the bill. Show a newsletter sample before students begin and pass out the newsletter scoring guide. Discuss project expectations and check for student understanding before students begin their work. Have students use the newsletter scoring guide as a guide for developing their argument and newsletter, and use it to assess students' final projects.


    Have students use the collaboration rubric to asses each other's contributions in each of the projects completed. Use this rubric along with the project scoring guides to assess student learning.


    Optional Student Web Page
    Give students the option to complete a Web page project. This can include background information about the physics topic, an online quiz for visitors, a response page (for visitor feedback), a works cited page, and a links page.


    As closure for the unit, have students write a short individual essay that answers the Essential Question, Just because we can, should we? Students must use evidence from the presentations they saw to support their answers. Use NWREL's 6 Traits writing rubric to assess student essays.


    Prerequisite Skills

    • Intermediate skills using slideshow and publishing applications (or set aside time for training students in the use of these tools)
    • Ability to locate information in print and electronic sources
    • Ability to work collaboratively with other students


    Differentiated Instruction

    Resource Student

    • Buddy up the student with a peer coach
    • Allow more time to finish products, or reduce requirements
    • Enlist help from support personnel and school volunteers

    Gifted Student

    • Encourage the student to research more advanced or theoretical topics
    • Encourage advanced slideshow work, such as including hyperlinks and creating a nonlinear presentation
    • Encourage the student to create custom graphics
    • Have the student act as an assistant teacher
    • Have the student correspond with and interview researchers/scientists

    English Language Learner

    • Have the ELL teacher explain difficult concepts and help the student complete assignments and conduct research
    • Pair a bilingual student with the ELL student for tasks that require reading and writing
    • Adapt assignments, or allow more time as necessary



    Gregory S. Burkhart participated in the Intel® Teach Program, which resulted in this idea for a classroom project. A team of teachers expanded the plan into the example you see here.

    Student teams for special interests lobby various groups in order to investigate and weigh the outcomes from modern physics research.