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Power for Developing Countries

Kushal Seetharam, University of Colorado; Duke University

This small-group activity uses engineering concepts to design energy systems for three off-the-grid towns in Mali, Ethiopia, and Namibia.

Activity takes at least three 60-minute class periods.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 2 Performance Expectations, 2 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 2 Science and Engineering Practices
High School: 2 Performance Expectations, 2 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 1 Science and Engineering Practice

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

  • This activity is one way to integrate engineering and design concepts into a class without using equipment or a lab setting.
  • A possible extension activity would be to consider some US towns that are facing an uncomfortable transition away from coal. Colstrip, Montana, or towns in Wyoming or West Virginia are concerned for their futures. Is there a way to apply this same concept for these coal towns? Do they have other ways of generating energy, exporting electricity, or generating income and jobs? This extension activity uses the same skills as students develop in this activity and applies them to a nearby location.
  • Students, especially at the middle and lower high school grades, may need help understanding the pre-activity reading documents as well as reports and other documents provided for research on the local communities, energy sources and needs, etc.

About the Science

  • Activity focus is to design economically-viable engineering solutions to address the energy needs of off-the-grid towns in three African countries. Key goal of activity is to demonstrate that the most important parts of an engineering project often involve understanding the local context, then designing an appropriate approach, and communicating and defending a design plan to others.
  • Comments from expert scientist:
    Scientific strengths:
    The resource provide a stimulating opportunity for students to become familiar with renewable energy topics in a not-traditional context such as developing countries energy infrastructures.
    Given the active learning proposed, I imagine the concepts to stick more easily in the students' minds.
    Wind energy has been shown to be the cheapest form of energy at present, so its technology can be considered mature.

About the Pedagogy

  • Students work in small groups to investigate an open-ended question: how will a small town in Africa generate enough renewable energy to meet its needs? Students use Internet research to learn about the town and its geography, natural resources, population, and economic prospects.
  • Each of the three villages has different resources and limitations. Students conduct research, make calculations, evaluate options, and create plans, which they present to the class.
  • This activity builds several skills in students. They need to evaluate different sources of information, use online resources to answer an open-ended question, synthesize information from multiple places, make basic calculations, create a realistic plan, and present their findings to the class.
  • The activity uses guiding questions to help students focus on the necessary information and structure their searches. It also provides a list of URLs for students to use in their research.
  • Several assessment strategies are included.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • This activity is well-documented and contains a pre-activity reading list, guiding questions, suggested URLs and resources, assessment ideas, and a rubric for evaluating student presentations.
  • Students may need support wading through technical resource documents provided for research.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

Performance Expectations: 2

MS-ETS1-1: Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.

MS-ETS1-2: Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 2

MS-ETS1.A1:The more precisely a design task’s criteria and constraints can be defined, the more likely it is that the designed solution will be successful. Specification of constraints includes consideration of scientific principles and other relevant knowledge that are likely to limit possible solutions.

MS-ETS1.B2:There are systematic processes for evaluating solutions with respect to how well they meet the criteria and constraints of a problem.

Science and Engineering Practices: 2

Engaging in Argument from Evidence, Asking Questions and Defining Problems

MS-P1.8:Define a design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process or system and includes multiple criteria and constraints, including scientific knowledge that may limit possible solutions.

MS-P7.5:Evaluate competing design solutions based on jointly developed and agreed-upon design criteria.

High School

Performance Expectations: 2

HS-ETS1-1: Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.

HS-ETS1-3: Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 2

HS-ETS1.A2:Humanity faces major global challenges today, such as the need for supplies of clean water and food or for energy sources that minimize pollution, which can be addressed through engineering. These global challenges also may have manifestations in local communities

HS-ETS1.B1:When evaluating solutions, it is important to take into account a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, and to consider social, cultural, and environmental impacts.

Science and Engineering Practices: 1

Asking Questions and Defining Problems

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. 

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