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  • Tips & Modifications

    Modification

    For auditory learners, provide headphones for students to listen to the American Public Media: Marketplace story instead of reading it.

    Modification

    If students pose a research question in Step 5 that they cannot answer as they begin to research in Step 6, have them highlight the question.

    Tip

    In Step 5, check in with students early in the research phase to make sure they are using solid research questions.

    Tip

    In Step 6, remind students to think from the perspective of their stakeholder when developing questions. For example, would their stakeholder likely care more about costs, public opinion, or the specifics of how technology would be integrated?

    1. Activate students’ prior knowledge with a brief discussion about energy.

    Ask students to describe ways they are using energy right now, and focus their attention on electricity use. Ask: How do we maintain a constant supply of electricity to homes and businesses? What energy resources are used by electric companies to generate electricity? What happens if we do not maintain a constant supply of energy? Divide students into small groups and invite them to share their experiences of times when they have lost access to electricity. Invite each group to share one or two stories with the whole class.

     

    2. Introduce the idea of grid modernization.

    Discuss with students ways that electric utility companies maintain our supply of electricity. Make sure students realize that power plants decrease the amount of electricity they produce during times when demand is low and increase the amount of electricity they produce during peak demand times. Introduce the vocabulary term grid modernization and have students share what they know about it. Explain that grid modernization includes technologies such as smart meters that allow for frequent readings of and reactions to electrical use. Explain that grid modernization is sometimes referred to as the “smart grid.”

     

    3. Introduce the California Blackouts case study to students.

    Explain that students will read a case study describing problems with the electric grid in California that resulted in blackouts. They will then take on the role of a stakeholder and identify questions they would need to investigate before deciding whether modernizing the electric grid should be a major focus for solving the problems that led to the blackouts. Distribute a copy of the handout Case Study: California Blackouts to each student. Have them independently read the case study and underline or note important points as they read.

     

    4. Discuss the California Blackouts case study with students.

    Ask students to describe some of the causes of blackouts in California according to the case study they read. Ask: How did the causes of the blackouts in the early 2000s differ from the 2011 blackout? How were they similar? How did the blackouts affect the stakeholders mentioned in the case study? Which stakeholders were affected most negatively? Why?

     

    5. Divide students into small research groups.

    Divide students into small groups and assign each group a stakeholder from the case study to represent. Distribute the worksheets California Grid Modernization: Problem Scenario, Grid Modernization: Research Notes, and Stakeholder Analysis Rubric to students. Read the problem scenario with students and make sure they understand what they are supposed to do. Review the Stakeholder Analysis Rubric and make sure students understand the expectations for the project. Use the provided website to have all students read the American Public Media: Marketplace Tech story “Why We Need to Build a Smart Grid—Fast” to gain basic background information about grid modernization. Have students brainstorm some initial questions their stakeholders might have about grid modernization and use those as the beginning basis for research. Provide students with the following list of aspects of grid modernization to consider as they research: the basic mechanics of how grid modernization would change the electric grid, how grid modernization can increase the reliability of the grid, how grid modernization can increase efficiency, how grid modernization aids in conserving energy resources, and costs and social changes of grid modernization. Have students research grid modernization using the provided websites and take notes on the Research Notes worksheet. Students can also use the provided websites for additional information on the California blackouts if needed. Stress that the goal here is not for students to become experts on the subject, but rather to develop an understanding of questions and concerns their stakeholders might have.

     

    6. Have each group write a problem summary and identify five important questions.

    Model writing a brief problem summary of the incident described in the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears from the bears’ perspective. Have the class collaboratively write a problem summary of the same incident from the perspective of Goldilocks. (Feel free to use a different story for this exercise, but be sure it contains characters with different perspectives and that your students are familiar with the story.) Briefly discuss how personal experiences and situations can alter your perspective on a problem. Have students use information from their research to write a brief problem summary from their stakeholder’s perspective. Have them review the questions about grid modernization from their initial brainstorming session, as well as questions that came up as they researched. Ask students to combine any questions that are similar or closely connected. Then have them eliminate any questions they feel are not important. Finally, have them select five questions that they believe would be most important to their stakeholder. They should revise the final questions as needed.

     

    7. Hold a stakeholder conference.

    Gather students for a conference of all the stakeholders. Read the problem scenario again and invite each stakeholder group to present their problem summary and the questions they have about grid modernization, along with their reasons for selecting these questions. Following each stakeholder group’s presentation, allow other students to ask the group questions. Keep a master list on the board of the questions presented by each of the stakeholders. When all stakeholders have presented, allow time for an open discussion among all stakeholders. Discuss the stakeholders’ problem summaries. Ask: What are some similarities among stakeholders’ perspectives on the problem? What are some differences? Do you think there is enough common ground among stakeholders for them to agree on further actions?

     

    8. Categorize and prioritize stakeholder questions.

    Return to the master list of questions and read through them as a class. Have students sort the questions into categories of their choosing; for example, economic questions, social questions, or technical questions. Next, have students combine questions that are similar and eliminate questions that they agree are not high priority. Finally, have them reprioritize the remaining questions to create an action list for further research. Discuss the criteria students used to prioritize the list. Ask:

    • Does this list reflect all stakeholders’ concerns? Why or why not?
    • Are some stakeholders more adversely affected by problems with the electric grid? If so, should those stakeholders have a bigger voice in the decision-making process? Why or why not?
    • How can this process be applied to decisions you have to make?

    Informal Assessment

    Use the provided Stakeholder Analysis Rubric to assess students’ problem summaries and performance in the stakeholder conference.

    Extending the Learning

    • Have students research blackouts and brownouts in other U.S. cities and list the major causes of each. Ask students to analyze any patterns they see.
    • Invite a representative from your local electric company to answer students’ questions—either in person or virtually—about grid modernization in their local area.
  • Subjects & Disciplines

    • Technology
  • Geography
  • Language Arts
    • Reading
    • Writing (composition)
    • Physical sciences
  • Social Studies
    • Current events/issues