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Modeling the Process of Mining Silicon

Andrea Vermeer, Alexis Durow, National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL)

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The heart of this activity is a laboratory investigation that models the production of silicon. Students learn about silicon and its sources, uses, properties, importance in the fields of photovoltaics (solar cells/renewable energy) and integrated circuits industries, and, to a limited extent, environmental impact of silicon production.

Activity takes two class periods. Additional materials are needed.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 2 Performance Expectations, 3 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 5 Cross Cutting Concepts, 12 Science and Engineering Practices

Energy Literacy

Humans transfer and transform energy from the environment into forms useful for human endeavors.
Other materials addressing:
4.1 Humans transfer and transform energy.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
Other materials addressing:
C) Collecting information.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:D) Technology
Other materials addressing:
D) Technology.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:E) Environmental Issues
Other materials addressing:
E) Environmental Issues.

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Teachers will need to scaffold the lesson to successfully integrate learning about renewable energy with learning the chemistry content of the laboratory activity.
  • Some of the links provided in the activity are broken, but they are not critical in completing the activity and substitutions could be easily found (e.g. background of the Silicon Valley).
  • Teachers will need to provide focused instruction to relate activity back to solar cells and renewable energy.

About the Science

  • The activity uses a basic displacement-redox lab to produce copper from copper sulfate and aluminum, modeling the separation of of silicon dioxide to produce silicon.
  • Passed initial science review - expert science review pending.

About the Pedagogy

  • The activity is written specifically for a chemistry class but could be modified to meet learning the goals of other science courses.
  • Many assessment suggestions are provided.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Excellent step-by-step laboratory instructions are provided.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

High School

Performance Expectations: 2

HS-ESS3-1: Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, and changes in climate have influenced human activity.

HS-PS1-3: Plan and conduct an investigation to gather evidence to compare the structure of substances at the bulk scale to infer the strength of electrical forces between particles.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 3




Cross Cutting Concepts: 5

Cause and effect, Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter, Structure and Function

HS-C2.3:Systems can be designed to cause a desired effect.

HS-C4:Systems and System Models

HS-C5.1:The total amount of energy and matter in closed systems is conserved.

HS-C5.2:Changes of energy and matter in a system can be described in terms of energy and matter flows into, out of, and within that system.

HS-C6:Structure and Function

Science and Engineering Practices: 12

Asking Questions and Defining Problems, Developing and Using Models, Planning and Carrying Out Investigations, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

HS-P1.8:Define a design problem that involves the development of a process or system with interacting components and criteria and constraints that may include social, technical, and/or environmental considerations. 

HS-P2.3:Develop, revise, and/or use a model based on evidence to illustrate and/or predict the relationships between systems or between components of a system

HS-P2.6:Develop and/or use a model (including mathematical and computational) to generate data to support explanations, predict phenomena, analyze systems, and/or solve problems.

HS-P3.5:Make directional hypotheses that specify what happens to a dependent variable when an independent variable is manipulated.

HS-P3.6:Manipulate variables and collect data about a complex model of a proposed process or system to identify failure points or improve performance relative to criteria for success or other variables.

HS-P4.6: Analyze data to identify design features or characteristics of the components of a proposed process or system to optimize it relative to criteria for success.

HS-P5.3:Apply techniques of algebra and functions to represent and solve scientific and engineering problems.

HS-P5.5:Apply ratios, rates, percentages, and unit conversions in the context of complicated measurement problems involving quantities with derived or compound units (such as mg/mL, kg/m3, acre-feet, etc.).

HS-P6.2:Construct and revise an explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from a variety of sources (including students’ own investigations, models, theories, simulations, peer review) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

HS-P6.4:Apply scientific reasoning, theory, and/or models to link evidence to the claims to assess the extent to which the reasoning and data support the explanation or conclusion.

HS-P6.5:Design, evaluate, and/or refine a solution to a complex real-world problem, based on scientific knowledge, student-generated sources of evidence, prioritized criteria, and tradeoff considerations.

HS-P8.5:Communicate scientific and/or technical information or ideas (e.g. about phenomena and/or the process of development and the design and performance of a proposed process or system) in multiple formats (i.e., orally, graphically, textually, mathematically).

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