NGSS has been a challenge to teach, but at Toby Johnson Middle School in Elk Grove the 8th grade team, Liz Wollbrinck, Matt Pesci and Mike Hill designed an engineering project that taught multiple standards for our Honor Science 8 program. We do not have any curriculum or resources for the energy unit. We had some old NEED energy books and decided to try and use them to help us teach energy. Once on the NEED website we realized that they had newer NEED energy Infobooks. These books were exactly what we needed to help us teach energy as they are available online for students to use. However, we do not have computers for the students, so we decided to try and get class set of the NEED Infobooks. We found these books to be exactly what we needed to teach energy and design an energy-engineering project for our Honors course.  Students in honors science are taught both 8th grade NGSS and 9th grade Earth Science NGSS standards.  At our site, we loop with our students, which means we teach 7th grade and loop to 8th grade with our students. Together we designed the following challenge using the NEED energy Infobooks:

Challenge: How can we provide affordable energy to more people while reducing impacts to the geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere and biosphere.

The governor, Jerry Brown has tasked the state energy commission with designing and creating a power plant that will make cleaner electricity for all Californians.  Students must design a power plant using the energy source assigned, either wind, solar, geothermal or hydroelectric power that meets the following criteria:

A: Can create electrical power efficiently:  Conservation of Energy!
B: Aesthetically pleasing to the eye
C: Less destructive to animal and plant species than prior/current designs
D: More green (releases less Greenhouse Gasses) than prior/current designs
E: Scale drawings of the power plant site drawing
F: The elevation plant drawing
G: Plant blueprint that shows the flow of energy inside the plant.
H: Power plant location and why this location was chosen
I:  Each group member had an assigned role:
Student groups presented their power plant project using google slides to the class and after all groups presented, the energy commission (the class) chose, which design would be the best for CA.

Although this was a lot of work for our students and us, we believe it was highly beneficial and we all learned a lot.  We want to thank NEED for their help and assistance with the NEED Energy Infobooks and Pacific Gas and Electric Company for the funds to purchase these terrific materials.

Check out student work samples (Solar power plant, hydro power plant, and the group project) from this challenge and don’t forget to download Infobooks for yourself at!

Engineering Project