Heating up the learning process in Grade 8 Science with passive house design.

In 2 weeks my grade 8 science teaching team and I will be starting our unit on heat.  Over the past week in the (fleeting!) moments when we are all in the same room for more than 5 minutes, we’ve been discussing the unit, planning ahead, and talking about the main concepts and big ideas to be focused on.  (The ability to collaborate remotely via Google Docs has been extremely helpful!)  

The unit will focus on fundamental concepts concerning heat, and how it flows between different forms of matter.  This would include the different states of matter (i.e. – solid, liquid, gas) as well as different types of materials.  We will look at the differences between conductors and insulators, and what materials are generally considered to be in either category.  Connections will be made to environmental science, weather patterns, economics, mathematics, current events, and architecture, among other curricular connections.  As a teacher, I really enjoy making as many connections between different subject areas as I can, and this unit provides fertile ground for this.   

I’m particularly looking forward to teaching this unit for another reason as well – there is ample time and space for students to explore on their own and investigate some of the topics and concepts at their own pace.  This somewhat short unit ends with an assessment in which the students can be creative and imaginative while applying their knowledge gained in the earlier part of the unit. The final summative assessment challenges the students to design their own dwelling that minimizes energy loss to the environment.  The goal for this assessment will be for students to act as the architect, applying the scientific concepts that they have learned through the unit.  

The type of house that we are asking the students to design is a “passive house”.  A passive house design will reduce energy usage overall, by maximizing energy efficiency within the design of the house itself.  This includes maximizing insulation, minimizing air leakages, reducing thermal bridges (where heat can easily flow out), and even considering the house’s orientation relative to its surroundings.  For a brief introduction (90 seconds) to the principles of passive house design, watch the video below.  

Here is an additional example, highlighting building projects from Valhalla Living in New Zealand, which investigates two energy efficient house designs – one that meets the criteria to be considered a “passive house”, and one that comes close, but doesn’t quite reach the goal.


This unit was originally planned a few years back, when my school made a switch from the  GCSE to IB MYP curriculum.  Each year, it gets revised, updated, and improved.  What I am sharing with you now is the unit in its current iteration, which will again be improved upon for next year based on student and teacher feedback.  This year, we’ve started to gather student feedback more frequently by sending questionnaires via Google Forms.  I find the feedback to be helpful, and generally more informative than other methods of checking for student understanding, such as “exit tickets”.  

One new addition that we are going to add this year is giving the students choice in how they present their final house design to their peers.  In past years, this was done with a poster, which was displayed on the walls outside of the science classrooms/labs.  This year we are adding the option to create a digital presentation as well, such as a screencast.  

The advantage of the screencast over the poster is that it can be shared more widely, and reach the entire school community.  We are envisioning having participating students (those that chose the screencast option over the physical poster) upload their final product to our YouTube playlist.  This playlist can then be easily shared out to parents, and the wider school community, showcasing our students’ learning for this unit.  This gives students a more authentic audience for their work, which makes the project more real.  (I’ve commented on the importance and effectiveness of providing students with authentic audiences in a previous post.  The video below also provides more insight into why this is an important driver in student motivation.)

We are enlisting the help of our secondary school’s digital coach to help students with making and recording their screencasts.  I’ve done a few screencasting assessments with students previously, however, it is great to have her expertise in the classroom as a resource.  Tools we will be using to create the screencasts are Quicktime, iMovie, and Screencastify.  

The fun starts in 2 weeks, just after we get finished with our solar powered vehicle investigations!  Never a dull moment in grade 8 science……..


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s