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Diaper Dilemma

Grades: 9-12
Author: Rita McMillen
Source: This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. EEC-1161732. Video source:


Students will learn what a polymer is and some uses of polymer materials in science. The student will research the polymer sodium polyacrylate. The student will then use inquiry and design a series of tests with given materials to see which brand of diaper will be best for the city hospital to use. Students will have to interpret their results and data to formulate this plan. They will write their results in a letter and will present their results to the class.


What should students know as a result of this lesson?

  • Students will know polymers that are used in their daily lives.
  • Students will know that waste management is a global environmental problem and will see the importance of looking for new solutions.

What should the students be able to do as a result of this lesson?

  • Students will be able to summarize data.
  • Students will be able to draw conclusions from data.
  • Students should be able to develop a logical argument and formulate a plan to solve a real-world problem with waste management.



  • 4 brands of diapers
  • Ice cubes
  • Hot plate
  • Salt water
  • Sugar water
  • Water
  • Beakers- 250mL

Amounts will vary based on class sizes and lab group sizes.



Show students the you tube video: It is on You Tube and is called: No Waste from Diapers (3 min 57 seconds)

Teacher will then start class by asking students to make a 2 column list. On the left side column, students will be instructed to list items that you recycle and on the right side column students will list items you use that you could recycle.

Assessment: Brief sharing of some of the student's lists with a classroom discussion about why we recycle and why we don't.

Pass out computers to each student.

Students will answer pre-lab questions by themselves and use the computer to find any information they may not already know.

Assessment: Assessment will be ongoing throughout.

Teacher will check (">answer sheet) each pre-lab question and help guide students if they see the student is off base with their research


Students will read the lab scenario and look at the material list. They will then need to formulate tests and write a procedure and test it.

Assessment: Assessment will be ongoing throughout.

Teacher will check each procedure and give the okay for the lab group to proceed. Teacher will circulate throughout the room and guide groups with questions as they carry out their experiments.


Students will present their report to the Bulldog Hospital and will try to "sell" why their decision is the best investment for the hospital. The Bulldog Hospital panel will be the other students in the classroom and the teacher.

Extension: You could invite other teachers/administration in to act as the hospital panel.

Assessment: Presentation will be assessed by rubric - Diaper Dilemma Oral Presentation Rubric.


Student will create a formal letter written from their company to the hospital. It will tell the hospital their decision and it will have data to support their decision.

Assessment: Letter will be graded by rubric - Diaper Dilemma Letter Rubric.


Students should know what a polymer is and should have previously studied polymers.

Students should understand polarity and hydrogen bonding.

Students should know lab safety rules and how to use the equipment presented in this lab.

Best Teaching Practices

  • Structured Problem-Solving
  • Cooperative Learning
  • Hands on learning
  • Issue based learning
  • Oral Presentation
  • Real-Life Situations

Alignment with Standards

NGSS Standards:

  • HS-ESS3-4 Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems.
  • 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.

Common Core Standards:

  • RST.9-10.3 Follow pecisely a complex multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks, attending to special cases or exceptions defined in the text.
  • WHST.9-10.2 Write informative/expanatory texts, including narration of historical events, scientific procedures/experiments, or technical processes.

National Standards:

  • Level 9-12 Science and Technology
  • Level 9-12 Science as Inquiry
  • Level 9-12 High school Human Sustainability
  • Level 9-12 Science, Technology, Society and the Environment

Ohio Standards:

  • Science Inquiry and Application: Conduct scientific investigations. Communicate and support a scientific argument. Use technology to improve investigations and communications. Formulate and revise explanations using logic and evidence.
  • Environmental Science: Global Environmental Problems and Issues: Solid and hazardous waste.
  • Grade 11 and 12: Writing Standards for Literacy in Science #1. A and B #2 E #7 and #9

Content Knowledge

Students will need to understand ions and ionic solutions.

Students will need to know how to write a formal letter and how to make a formal letter on a computer.

Students will need to know how to research on the internet.


  • Always follow proper lab safety procedures. Wear goggles and safety aprons in the lab. Use caution when heating a hot plate.


Polymers are used every day in the real-world and students should see the connections with certain products they use in their everyday life. Students should also see that there is an environmental problem with the waste management of solids and should develop some ideas of how we should deal with this.


Assessment will constantly be ongoing throughout as teacher observes and talks with different students.

Assessment will also occur after the pre-lab questions and after students devise lab procedures.

Assessment will also occur after the students write their letter (by rubric) and by presentation (by rubric).

Other Considerations

Grouping Suggestions I typically have 2 to 3 students per group. Pick four different brands of disposable diapers and look up the cost of each brand. You will need to provide students with this information. Use current costs of diapers so the lesson is more relevant to students. Cut out the padded section of the disposable diaper. Cut the diapers ahead of time into equal squares. (10 cm is big enough and you can cut them smaller)

Pacing/Suggested Time: Days listed here are based on 44 minute class periods. Day 1 and half of Day 2: Engagement; Half of Day 2 and Day 3: (You may also need a 4th or 5th day here depending how many investigations the students complete) Exploration; (You can adjust the rubric based on how many tests you want the students to complete on the diaper brands.); Day 4: Elaboration; Day 5: Explanation

Printable PDF Worksheets

Diaper Dilemma Pre-Lab Questions

Diaper Dilemma Pre-Lab Answers

Diaper Dilemma Letter Rubric

Diaper Dilemma Oral Presentation Rubric