Geoscience Processes

Power Plant Placement

Middle School


In this Project Based Learning Challenge, students use their knowledge of the geoscience processes and geoscience forms (e.g. volcanoes, earthquakes, and meteors) to determine which one of the proposed 6-7 sites in the United States is safe for the placement of a nuclear power plant.

Possible Student Deliverables

Student products will include a presentation to an authentic audience to provide evidence of the safe placement of a nuclear power plant in the location of their choosing. Imagination in the presentation style and perspective of the audience will add interest to this PBL.

Visit Site  STEMcoach Professional Development

Looks like you selected a PBL for your students to solve a problem. One of the key features of a PBL is student choice. So, once they begin brainstorming possible pathways and products to solve the problem, try not to influence them with a prescribed list of what they must build.

For more ideas on PBL’s products and pathways, be sure to view our additional professional resources.

21st Century Skills addressed: Integration of Technology

PBLs, in general, address 21st Century Skills; these include communication, innovation, collaboration, presentation, and integration of technology. This PBL will incorporate technology integration as the assessed skills in the rubric. By specifically addressing the developmental criteria for becoming an expert, the rubric guides students to become proficient based on the criteria. Allow additional time for each group to research and prepare their presentation of their solution to the design challenge using computer resources and software. If possible, invite an authentic audience to provide feedback to each group based on the real-world application of the solution.


Printed Material

  • 1 Entry Document and Expert Roles (per student/group, automatically assigned)
  • 1 Expert Mini-Workshops for each Role (per expert/group, not automatically assigned)
  • 1 Individual 21st Century Skills Performance Rubric (per student, automatically assigned)
  • 1 Rubric for Problem/Project Based Learning, Key for Teacher (not assigned to student)


  • 1 Computer, with Internet access (per group)
  • 1 Marker, set (per group)


  • 2-3 Paper, chart (per group)
  • 1 Lab journal (per student)


Print one Entry Document and PBL Expert Roles for each student; the students do see this information when you assign the component to them. Students can also see the Individual 21stCentury Skills Rubric when you assign the component to them.

Print one Expert Mini-Workshops set for each group’s expert; the students do not see this information until you administer it to them. Students cannot see the Teacher Rubric Key.

Plan to have the class view an Entry Event video. Use your preferred search engine to locate the video of the Fukushima Explosion done by BBC.

Select 6-7 locations in the United States that are near interesting geologic sites as the proposed locations.

Additional Internet Resources

Websites are provided on the mini-workshop pages to assist students with their assignment. While every attempt is made to ensure student-friendly educational websites, Rice University is not responsible for the content in third-party websites.


The following PBL is written for the students’ group or individual challenge.

  1. Group Designation and Team Forming

Separate the class into groups of five. Do NOT assign the Expert Roles until the students have read the Entry Document and PBL Expert Roles as a team. You will address each item before giving whole group instruction for using Internet resources.

  1. The Problem (Entry Document)

Show the Entry Event video discussed in the Preparation section to the class. In their student groups, students should read and discuss the Entry Document presented. You will direct the students to highlight and take notes in the margins of the page. Students individually complete the Know and Need to Know section in their lab notebooks. An appointed team member compiles a list of “Knows and Need to Know” for the team. You will then facilitate a whole group discussion to clarify the problem and set up a T-Chart titled “Know and Need to Know”. A sample T-Chart of possible answers is below. You complete the Know column of the chart by requesting the groups share one bulleted item at a time of what they learned from the Entry Event and Entry Document_. This will bring out the criteria and constraints. Repeat the same process with the Need to Know column, writing each item in the form of a question, making certain to NOT answer any questions until they all have been asked. When recording the questions on the T-Chart, leave space between each one so that answers can be recorded. This chart should remain visible during the entire PBL.

Know Need to Know
(Possible student responses)


  • Choose one site where you will place your nuclear power plant and give reasoning.
  • Explain how your assigned geoscience process works. Make sure to discuss if the process is considered small-scale, large-scale, or gradual.
  • Explain how your assigned geoscience process becomes catastrophic.
  • Discuss past catastrophic events related to your geoscience process.
  • Discuss the likelihood of future events related to your geoscience process.
  • Create a slideshow presentation that shares all of the information and data you have collected.
  • Your slideshow presentation must include a video showing damage from your geoscience process.


  • You will have to present your findings and slideshow presentation to the GASUNE board.
  • Your presentation can be no longer than 10 minutes.
  • Your video can be no longer than 3 minutes.
(Possible questions – possible answers)

1. Which location will we get to research?

  • You will draw for the site.

2. How do we share the information?

  • Slideshow or other media – you only have 45 minutes so don’t let media get in your way.

3. How will this be graded?

  • Your Project Manager gets a rubric you need to refer to for feedback and assessment. You will also have an individual rubric for your technology integration.

4. Can I work by myself?

  • No, this is a team effort.

Entry Document

The Global Alliance for Safe Use of Nuclear Energy

As a member of the Global Alliance for the Safe Use of Nuclear Energy (GASUNE) we are asking for your help. We have been asked to make recommendations for a new energy company who wants to build a nuclear power plant in the United States. Because of the damage to the nuclear power plant in Japan after the earthquake in 2012, GASUNE has been contracted to look at the safety issues caused by gradual, large- and small-scale geoscience processes to include volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and meteor strikes. The energy company has selected several sites for analysis. To prepare our contract with the energy company, the Alliance has decided to seek recommendations from several teams that will assess the risks at each of the locations. We will select the best recommendation and send it on to the new energy company.

You will be a part of a team of experts who will provide different perspectives about the risks in one location. These experts include a Geologist, a Historian, a Technology Specialist, a Public Relations Specialist, and the Design Team Leader. Your team will investigate one site for placement of a nuclear power plant. Be prepared to make a recommendation to build or not to build at that location with evidence and reasoning as you discuss the likelihood and effect of catastrophic geoscience processes at the site.

Create a 10-minute presentation that shares the appropriate and sufficient information and data that you think will sway the representative either for or against your team’s site. The presentation must include a scientific explanation of why the location should or should not be chosen based on evidence from reliable sources including your own investigation and scientific theories and laws with the assumption that the natural world operates the same now as it did in the past and will continue to operate in the future. Be sure to include a video (of no longer than 3 minutes) in your presentation of damage that has occurred from past geoscience processes.

As you watch the video of the Fukushima Explosion done by BBC™, you will realize how important your role is! Thank you for your help in keeping Nuclear Energy Safe!

PBL Expert Roles

Geologist Expert

You are responsible for investigating which geoscience process (volcano, earthquake, or meteor) creates a risk at your site. Is it considered small-scale, large-scale, or gradual and can it become catastrophic? You will share your findings, along with your team, in the final presentation.

Historian Expert

You are responsible for researching and discussing the past catastrophic events related to the determined geoscience process. This information should help you make decisions about nuclear power plant placement. You will share your findings, along with your team, in the final presentation.

Technology Specialist Expert

You are responsible for creating the presentation about the location and geoscience processes from the information your group is investigating for the nuclear power plant. You will work closely with the Public Relations expert who will create the script for the presentation. You help run the presentation during the final presentation.

Public Relations Specialist Expert

You will be responsible for collaborating with the Technology Specialist to write and provide the “script” from the information provided by your team. You will encourage your team to rehearse the presentation before it is presented as well as be part of it.

Team Leader Expert

As the Team Leader expert you are responsible for seeing the project through to completion. You will need to constantly assess where team members need help and assist them. You will need to keep the rubric in hand and constantly refer back to it to make sure that your team is meeting the criteria. You will also work closely with the Geologist and Historian in making the best recommendation for the Alliance.


Entry Document and Expert Roles descriptions (automatically assigned)

  1. Whole Class Workshop: Using Internet Resources and Citing Resources

Students record notes in their lab journal using what they learn in the following Whole Class Workshop.

Reliable and Safe Internet Resources

Using the Internet to research information requires you to be a wise judge of information. Many sites on the Internet do not use valid or research-based information in writing the articles. As a consumer of information you must be sure the website you are using is providing you with correct information that you know comes from a reliable source. The three letters following the period in a URL tell you what type of organization is providing the information. Sites that end in .gov or .edu are provided by organizations or agencies of the United States or education institutions, like universities or colleges, that stake their reputations on quality information. URLs that end in .com are commercial sites and are often associated with businesses that are making money from providing the information to you. It is also important to evaluate sites based on their summaries provided when using a search engine. Many companies and other organizations pay a fee to provide commercials, or be placed at the top of the search list, even if they do not relate to what you are searching for. For this reason, be certain to follow your teachers instructions in searching for websites that provide you with the information you are seeking.

Presentations Using Technology

For your presentation you will be using presentation software to create a slideshow. There are several rules to follow when you are creating slides so that your audience is able to understand your slides and they are easy to read.

  • Select a pleasant and simple background on which words can be seen easily.
  • Use size 40 font for the titles of each slide.
  • Use a font that is no smaller than size 28 for the words on the slides.
  • Use between 4-6 bullets per slide.
  • Limit the use of sounds to those that are not distracting.
  • Use the animations to reveal one bullet at a time per slide.
  • Change slides at least once every 30 seconds.
  • Keep pictures small and meaningful to the slide.

Citing Websites

You will need to appropriately cite the websites that you used for including information in your brochure. Citations are incredibly useful for your readers, so that they can further research the topic you have written about. There are many ways that websites can be cited, but whatever style you choose, an accurate citation is very important. If you do not cite your research, you could be accused of plagiarism. Plagiarism is copying content and claiming it as your own.

On the last page at the bottom, you should place your citations in this way:

Title of Article. Name of website. Publisher. Web. Last update. Date of access.


“Caverns of Virginia.” Virginia Is for Lovers. Commonwealth of Virginia, 21 June 2012. Web. 20 Mar. 2014.

After you have taken all the information needed from the website, you may go to a site, such, which will allow you to plug in your information and then automatically puts it in the correct format. You will then be able to copy and paste it into the brochure.

  1. Expert Group Workshop Facilitation

After the students have had the whole group lessons, have them refer back to the Entry Document. They will decide who will be their Team Leader, Geologist, Historian, Technology Specialist, and Public Relations Expert. Call Expert Groups, one role at a time, using the specific Expert Mini-Workshop sheet to train them on their specific expertise and share provided resources. Explain to them the expectations for sharing their expert information with the rest of their team as the PBL progresses. Then have them return back to their assigned team.

While Expert Groups are being trained, the remaining team members can review the criteria and constraints and begin to brainstorm their solution.


Expert Mini-Workshop: Team Leader and Team Rubric (not automatically assigned to student)


Rubric for Problem/Project Based Learning, Key for Teacher (not assigned to student)


Expert Mini-Workshop: Geologist (not automatically assigned to student)


Expert Mini-Workshop: Historian (not automatically assigned to student)


Expert Mini-Workshop: Technology Specialist Expert and Public Relations Expert (not automatically assigned to students)

  1. Teams work in collaboration to create a plan for the solution.

When all students return to their original teams as Experts in their area to solve the Problem, begin the timer and monitor student groups to ensure that they are collaborating and working within the design criteria and constraints. Students are to research their assigned location and determine the geoscience processes that may impact the location. They are to determine if the location given is the best location for the power plant based on their research. As a group they are to discuss and evaluate their solution by providing a claim and evidence to back up each opinion. They are to continue to do more research for a better solution, if necessary.

They are to plan and prepare a presentation of their recommendation to GASUNE following the whole class instructions for formatting a slideshow presentation.

  1. Team Presentation and Evaluations

Upon completion of the design and the group presentation, the project manager leads the group in completion of the rubric and distributes individual rubrics to each team member to complete.

You will also use the same team rubric to evaluate each group while they are presenting to the audience. The rubric evaluates the levels of proficiency based on the criteria presented in the Entry Document and Expert Role forms.

If authentic audience members are present, it is always appropriate for them to ask questions of the presenters and to provide feedback that is encouraging and complimentary to their efforts and the information shared.


Individual 21st Century Skill Rubric (automatically assigned to student)