Standard Lesson

A Blast from the Past with Nuclear Chemistry

11 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Six 50-minute sessions
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After students have studied the basics of fusion and fission as well as the splitting of the atom, groups of three choose a nuclear chemistry topic to research, finding the “what, how, where, and why” of their subject. After conducting their research, students use the free Web 2.0 tool Timetoast to construct an online timeline that features fifteen important facts with images and captions about their topic. Students then use the timelines to present their newly acquired knowledge to the class.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

Timothy Shanahan points out that the majority of students’ educational experiences involve the reading of informational text. He suggests that up to 80% of the secondary students’ reading should be concentrated on informational text, which he defines as “text about the social or natural world, and deals with classes of objects and experiences rather than individual instances” as offered in personal narratives. Furthermore, Shanahan suggests that in a school where reading in the other curriculum areas is not commonplace, then it becomes the role of the English curriculum to supply the opportunities for dealing with nonfiction materials. This lesson provides students that experience.

It also provides the students the opportunity to use technology in the language arts classroom which DiVito suggests can lead to enhancement in both the teacher’s and students’ lives. She points out that mastering one technology tool makes the experience of learning a second technology tool easier and quicker. Furthermore, once exposed to a tool, students may be motivated to incorporate its use as well as other tools in their lives outside of the classroom, thus developing them into lifelong learners.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Computers with Internet connection
  • Books on nuclear chemistry topics
  • One computer with LCD projector and Internet connection



This short document provides easy to follow instructions for Timetoast.

This website provides basic facts about nuclear energy as well as nearly 150 articles on various topics related to nuclear energy.

Although this website is devoted to telling the story of the atomic bomb, it also includes many of the necessary events that had to occur before such a weapon could be made.

As the name implies, this is a good website for the basics of nuclear chemistry.

The website for the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission has a useful section on history of nuclear chemistry and can be searched for other topics as well.

This short video defines nuclear chemistry.

This short video includes actual footage of the Enola Gay, images of the bomb, and words from the pilots.

The History Channel provides several short videos about these two events.

This short video highlights ten incredible details that will spark students’ interest.

This haunting video without words features images of the radiation victims of Chernobyl. It might be too graphic for some classes, so definitely preview before showing.

This short video connects two well-known nuclear disasters: Chernobyl and Fukushima.

This video made two years after the Japanese disaster features interviews with two survivors, including one man who went into the reactor to stop the leaks.

This website provides a reference students can use when citing their sources.

This Purdue OWL resource provides a reference for formatting in MLA style.


  1. Make one copy per student of the Group Evaluation Form and one copy per group of the printouts Researching Nuclear Chemistry and Nuclear Chemistry Rubric.
  2. Consult with your school librarian for resources, such as databases, e-books, and print materials.
  3. If possible, link webwites to a class wiki or websites. If that is not an option, make one copy per student of the printout Useful Websites.
  4. Preview the videos listed above and select two or more to show to the students during session one that depict at least two different events. Check that your school’s filter does not block the selected videos.
  5. Create an account at Timetoast, and become familiar with the program. Choose a timeline from Timetoast that covers a topic with which students are familiar or create one to share during session one.
  6. Arrange for students to have access to computers and/or school library during sessions two to five.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • demonstrate the ability to conduct research using a variety of resources including websites, print materials, and databases.
  • evaluate sources to determine which are best for their research.
  • correctly cite sources of information.
  • understand the aspects of their nuclear chemistry topic as demonstrated through their creation of a timeline.
  • present their timeline in such a manner others come to understand their topic.
  • evaluate their performance as well as their partner’s in this project.

Session One

  1. To spark students’ interest, show the videos you have selected and solicit student reactions after each. Explain that these videos are connected in that they feature topics related to nuclear chemistry. Ask students who have studied chemistry for a definition of nuclear chemistry. If students seem unsure about what is nuclear chemistry, show the short video Introduction to Nuclear Chemistry. Discuss these characteristics of nuclear chemistry:
    • The area of chemistry that is concerned with nuclear reactions
    • The study of the nucleus of an atom and all of its changes, such as fission.
    • The discovery of radioactive elements in nature as well as the synthetic production.
  2. Tell the students they will be working with two other students to research a topic from an historical perspective in the field of nuclear chemistry. After using at least three sources for information that they will correctly cite in a bibliography, the group will assemble a fifteen slide electronic timeline using the Web 2.0 tool Timetoast that they will share when they present their research to the class. Show the class the timeline you have selected or the one you made as an example of a Timetoast timeline.
  3. Divide students into groups of three and hand out the Researching Nuclear Chemistry sheet. Cover the details of the project and then give students time to choose topics.
  4. Once all groups have chosen topics, go through the Nuclear Chemistry Rubric as a class. Explain to students that their timelines, in addition to explaining the history of their topics, need to address the following aspects:
    • An in-depth description that includes what it is known for or what is done (or has happened) there
    • A location for where the event occurred or where it is used or found in the world
    • An explanation of how the topic relates to nuclear chemistry
    • Reasons why people should care about this topic.
  5. Allow students in their groups time to discuss who will research each of these aspects.
  6. Assign students to begin their research. Remind them they need at least three reliable sources that they cite correctly.

Sessions Two and Three

  1. Have students meet with their group members to discuss what they have found so far about their topic.
  2. Move the class to the library or computer lab for students to research online as well as use print materials that are available.
  3. Remind students as they look for websites, they should evaluate the website before taking notes. They should consider the following:
    • Who is the author of the website? Can the author be considered an expert?
    • What is the purpose of the website? Is it to inform or sell the form of energy? What is the domain of the website—edu, org, com, gov?
    • When was the website written? Is it current material?
    • Where did the author get his or her information? Are there links to other sites that might be useful?
    • Why is this website useful? Is it easy to read and navigate?
  4. Remind students to cite the sources they decide to use.
  5. As students work, circulate throughout the room and assist those who have trouble finding information. Check on students’ notes and probe students for information. Remind students to cite sources. Even though students will evaluate their own performance as well as their partner’s, note cooperation and time on task.
  6. When students think they have found all the information they need, have them refer to the Researching Nuclear Chemistry sheet to check they have covered all aspects of the topic.
  7. For both sessions, assign students to work on finding more material outside of the classroom. At the end of session three, tell students in the next session they will create their timelines so all research should be completed before that session.

Session Four

  1. Check that students have completed taking notes and cited their sources.
  2. Have each group create an account at Timetoast and then let them briefly browse other timelines to get a feel for what the tool can do.
  3. Together review the Nuclear Chemistry Rubric and then in their groups, have students plan the images and captions for their fifteen slides.
  4. After students have planned their slides, instruct them to transfer the information to their timelines. Remind them of the website Timetoast: Getting Started if they have problems with the program.
  5. As students work, circulate through the room, helping those who have trouble deciding on images and captions. Also, probe students on their choices of images so students are considering the relationship between what they will discuss for each slide and the image. Question students about their topics to see if all group members understand all aspects of the topic. Remind students to proofread their captions as grammar and spelling are part of the rubric.
  6. Remind students the rubric requires them to turn in a bibliography with at least three cited sources. Encourage students to work on this task as well.
  7. At the end of the session, assign students to complete their fifteen slides if they did not do so during the session.

Session Five

  1. Remind students that strong performance on the rubric requires that all group members must speak. Allow students time to decide how they will divide the presentation between the group members.
  2. Have students practice giving their presentations to each other in the group. Remind groups to time themselves to see if their presentations are at least four minutes.
  3. After students have practiced within their groups, have groups practice at least once presenting to another group. Have students use the Nuclear Chemistry Rubric to evaluate each other’s presentations. Allow students time to correct any problems that might have been discovered.
  4. Assign students to complete any tasks that may prevent them from presenting at the next session.

Session Six

  1. Have the students share their presentations by projecting them through the LCD projector.
  2. After each presentation, allow time for students to ask questions and share their reactions to each topic.
  3. Hand out the Group Evaluation Form and ask students to honestly evaluate their performance as well as their group members’.


  • Post links on a class wiki or website to students’ timelines so that the learning community can view them.
  • Assign students to create timelines for other content, such as describing the plot line of a work of fiction or to explain a chronological process.

Student Assessment / Reflections

Possible student assessment include

From this project I learned ___________________________

I would improve this project by _______________________

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