Chemical Calamity! Physical Force Flummox! – A Radio Drama

STEAM Challenge

Due: April 7, 2023

Designed for Middle and High School Students

Table of Contents

·      The Challenge

·      Assumptions and Logistics

·      Process

·      Meridian Support Resources

·      Presentation of Learning

·      Evaluation Rubric

·      Essential Questions

·      Student Proficiencies

·      Curricular Correlations – NGSS

Range of Activities

·      Exploration of Chemical Reactions and/or Physical Forces

·      Integration of Scientific Information into Meaningful Narrative Form

·      Exploration of Audio Mystery Genre

·      Scriptwriting

·      Digital Literacy Skills – Audio – Pre-production, Production and Post-production

·      Human Skills: Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Presentational Skills


The Challenge

Someone from the science lab rushes out wide-eyed, saying, “Somebody help! Something happened in the lab!” But how could that have happened and who can help them solve this mystery??!!

In this challenge, it is your task to both set up the problem AND to solve it. What really happened in the lab? Did something go missing? Did something happen to one of the lab techs? And who is going to solve it? A detective? A student? A passerby? When you solve it, be sure to explain how. Was there any documentation of what went on? What evidence did you use to figure out what happened?

The solution must involve either 2-3 well-explained chemical reactions of some sort, or it must involve 2-3 physical forces (e.g. gravity, electric, magnetic) OR, it can involve both. Your team will explain the mystery and your solution in a 3–5-minute podcast, which begins with the problem, sets up the mystery of how the problem occurred, and then tells the story of how the problem was solved.

Deliverables include:

  • Lab Mystery Radio Drama (this is the only Meridian Stories deliverable)
  • Script Draft (at teacher’s discretion)

Assumptions and Logistics

Time Frame – We recommend that this digital storytelling project takes place inside of a three to four-week time frame.

Length – All Meridian Stories submissions should be under 4 minutes in length, unless otherwise specified.

  • Slate – All digital storytelling projects must begin with a slate that provides:
  1. the title of the piece;
  2. the name of the school submitting;
  3. the wording ‘Permission Granted’ which gives Meridian Stories the right to a) publicly display the submission in question on, as linked from, related to or in support of Meridian Stories digital media; and b) use or reference it for educational purposes only, in any and all media; and
  4. We strongly recommend that students do not put their last names on the piece either at the start or finish, during the credits.
  • Submissions – Keep in mind that each school can only submit three submissions per Competition (so while the entire class can participate in any given Challenge, only three can be submitted to Meridian Stories for Mentor review and scoring).
  • Teacher Reviews – All reviews by the teacher are at the discretion of the teacher and all suggested paper deliverables are due only to the teacher. The only deliverable to Meridian Stories is the digital storytelling project.

Teacher’s Role and Technology Integrator – While it is helpful to have a Technology Integrator involved, they are not usually necessary: the students already know how to produce the digital storytelling project. And if they don’t, part of their challenge is to figure it out. They will! The teacher’s primary function in these Challenges is to guide the students as they engage with the content.  You don’t need to know editing, sound design, shooting or storyboarding: you just need to know your content area, while assisting them with time management issues. See the Teachers Rolesection of the site for further ideas about classroom guidance.

Digital Rules/Literacy – We strongly recommend that all students follow the rules of Digital Citizenry in their proper usage and/or citation of images, music and text taken from other sources. This recommendation includes producing a citations page at the end of your entry, if applicable. See the Digital Rules area in the Meridian Stories Digital Resource Center section of the site for guidance.

Location – Try not to shoot in a classroom at your school. The classroom, no matter how you dress it up, looks like a classroom and can negatively impact the digital story you are trying to tell.

  • Collaboration – We strongly recommend that students work in teams of 3-4: part of the educational value is around building collaborative skill sets. But students may work individually.

The Process

  • Below is a suggested breakdown for the students’ work.

During Phase I, student teams will:

  • Research chemical reactions and how you can determine if a chemical reaction has occurred (density, melting point, boiling point, solubility, flammability, odor).
  • Research physical forces (electric, magnetic, and gravitational).
  • Pick at least two chemical reactions and/or two physical forces (or one of each if you are mixing the two).
  • Brainstorm how the chemical reaction and/or physical force might feasibly cause some sort of problem in a lab when combined in some way. Keep in mind that the setting does not have to be a school lab; the lab could be situated in any kind of setting – a research facility, a science museum, or an engineering plant, for example.
    • Pick your favorite scenario and specifically map out the scientific details that will need to be communicated in order to thoroughly explain the problem and the solution to the mystery that you have created. These details will form the content spine of your script.

During Phase II, student teams will:

  • Investigate the radio mystery genre. Looking into the standard characteristics of this genre can help your team to formulate your story. Here are some thoughts to guide your thinking:
    • This is a genre that can be delivered in a serious way or in a comic, silly way. As you are brainstorming the situation, consider the kind of mystery that you want to tell; the kind of tone that you want to set.
    • Is there a chief investigator type or detective type? A crazy scientist and his/her rational research assistant? In short, who are your two or three lead characters?
    • Is there a culprit? Was this calamity created by accident and negligence… or by design?
    • How will it be narrated – first or third person?
    • Mysteries succeed partially on their ability to build suspense and remain, for as long as possible, mysterious! If the audience knows the solution quickly, there is no suspense or mystery. So, what kind of false leads and obstacles will you throw in the way of the listener to keep them from solving the problem of what happened?
      • It may be helpful to look at this year’s It’s a Mystery! Literally! Challenge which provides a thorough explanation of the components that comprise the mystery genre of storytelling.
    • Begin to outline your script.
      • Create a mystery narrative that creates a dramatic incident involving the physical forces and/or chemical reactions you have chosen.
      • Detail the science behind your solution, while bringing that information into the style and flow of your narrative.
      • As you are writing, think visually: your words are designed to create a clear image of the action and the people in the imaginations of the listener. Write visually.
      • Teacher’s Option: Script Draft – Teachers may require that students hand in a draft of their shooting script, for review and feedback.
    • Script the audio mystery. Just as a play provides stage instructions, your script should include cues for music and audio effects.
    • Sound effects are a key component in an audio mystery: music and other recorded sounds can bring stories to life. What will you record live, and what prerecorded work, if any, will you need in your audio mystery? Your options include artificial sound effects (i.e., the cymbal crash!), natural sound effects (i.e., the creaking door, sounds of glasses clinking, or wind and rain), and music. Ask yourself how and when sound can help enhance dramatic moments of your story. And then, gather all needed audio, including any desired prerecorded sounds.
    • For examples of classic mystery radio dramas, check out some of these scripts. Browsing through scripts can provide a wealth of information as you investigate how to set the scene; how to create a fully realized radio persona; the importance of sound effects; the emphasis on short sentences; and more.

During Phase III, student teams will:

  • Finalize your script and rehearse. And rehearse. Character voices, in particular, can take time to find. Try out different voices and accents and delivery styles (slow, fast), to find the most effective and inviting character voices. Also pay attention to dramatic timing. The narrative flow from the calamity and the havoc to the rush to the solution – this all works if the timing is just right. Rehearse with an eye toward the pacing and timing of your story, as well as the character voices.
  • Record and edit your audio mystery, adding prerecorded portions and other sound effects and music as desired.
  • Post-produce the audio mystery, adjusting audio levels.

Meridian Media Resources

Meridian Stories provides two forms of support for the student teams:

1.     Meridian Innovators and Artists – This is a series of three-to-four-minute videos featuring artists and innovative professionals who offer important advice, specifically for Meridian Stories, in the areas of creativity and production.

2.    Media Resource Collection – These are short documents that offer student teams key tips in the areas of creativity and production.

Recommended review, as a team, for this Challenge include:

Meridian Innovators and Artists Media Resource Collection
Fiction Writing – Lily King


The Importance of Character in Storytelling – Scott Nash


Radio Plays – Margaret Heffernan


Sound Design – Chris Watkinson

Creative Brainstorming Techniques


Sound Recording Basics


Sound Editing Basics


Creating Radio Stories


Evaluation Rubric – Chemical Calamity! Physical Force Flummox!

Criteria 1-10
Communication of Content –
Chemical Reaction/Physical Force Problem
The chemical reaction/physical force that causes the calamity is accurately and fully presented.
Communication of Content –
Chemical Reaction/Physical Force Solution
The scientific solution to the problem is accurate and comprehensively presented.
Complexity of Content –
Chemical Reaction/Physical Force
The science presented is intriguing and complex, showcasing a deep and creative understanding of the scientific principles involved.
Criteria 1-10
Script/Narrative Flow The narrative is presented clearly, and the scripting is engaging and effective
Character The voices of the characters compel the mystery forward with their acting
Story Format The science lab mystery is very successful, showing mastery of drama and suspense
Criteria 1-10
Editing The audio mystery is edited cleanly and with pace, resulting in an engaging audio experience
Sound and Music The selective use of sound effects and music enhances and complements the audio mystery’s content and story
HUMAN SKILLS COMMAND (teachers only)
Criteria 1-10
Collaborative Thinking The group demonstrated flexibility in making compromises and valued the contributions of each group member
Creativity and Innovation The group brainstormed many inventive ideas and was able to evaluate, refine and implement them effectively
Initiative and Self-Direction The group set attainable goals, worked independently, and managed their time effectively, demonstrating a disciplined commitment to the project


Essential Questions

  1. How do substances interact?
    1. How can we use properties of substances before and after the interaction to determine if a chemical reaction has occurred?
  2. What kinds of physical forces are there?
    1. How do they work?
  3. How can chemical and physical forces interact?
  4. How has immersion in the production of an audio mystery deepened your overall understanding of the material?
  5. What are the challenges of communicating content solely aurally?
    1. What have you had to change to make up for the lack of visuals?
  6. How has immersion in the creation of original content and the production of digital media – exercising one’s creativity, critical thinking and digital literacy skills – deepened the overall educational experience?
  7. How has working on a team – practicing one’s collaborative skills – changed the learning experience?

Student Proficiencies

  1. The student will be able to articulate that substances are made from different types of atoms, which combine with one another in various ways. Atoms form molecules that range in size from two to thousands of atoms. In chemical processes, the atoms that make up the original substances are regrouped into different molecules, and these new substances have different properties from those of the reactants.
    1. The student will be able to explain how to use data from the properties of substances (density, melting point, boiling point, solubility, flammability, and odor) to determine if a chemical reaction has occurred.
  2. The student will know that there are gravitational, electric, and magnetic forces.
    1. The student will understand that gravitational forces exist between any two masses, and they are always attractive. The student will also understand that electromagnetic forces can be attractive or repulsive, and their sizes depend on the magnitudes of the charges, currents, or magnetic strengths involved and on the distances between the interacting objects.
  3. The student will better understand how physical forces and chemical forces can interact. A physical force can cause a chemical interaction, and likewise, a chemical interaction can result in a physical force. The scope of the forces will depend on the specific situation, most notably, the chemicals and forces involved.
  4. The student will know the basic constructs of using media to effectively communicate information and a story and will know that reframing scientific content for use in an audio mystery can enhance knowledge of the subject matter.
  5. The student will be able to use audio media — including recorded voice, music and sound effects — to effectively communicate a story.
    1. The student will understand the unique use and function of language when written for dialogue.
  6. The student will utilize key Human Skills, with a focus on creativity, critical thinking and digital literacy, in their process of translating STEAM content into a new narrative format.
  7. The student will have an increased awareness of the challenges and rewards of team collaboration. Collaboration – the ability to work with others – is considered one of the most important 21st century skills to develop in students as they prepare for life after secondary school.


Curricular Correlations

The Chemical Calamity! Physical Force Flummox! Challenge addresses a range of curricular objectives that are articulated in the Next Generation Science Standards. Below please find the standards that are addressed, either wholly or in part.

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

High School – Matter and Its Interactions

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • Use the periodic table as a model to predict the relative properties of elements based on the patterns of electrons in the outermost energy level of atoms. (HS-PS-1)
  • Construct and revise an explanation for the outcome of a simple chemical reaction based on the outermost electron states of atoms, trends in the periodic table, and knowledge of the patterns of chemical properties. (HS-PS1-2)
  • Plan and conduct an investigation to gather evidence to compare the structure of substances at the bulk scale to infer the strength of electrical forces between particles. (HS-PS1-3)
  • Apply scientific principles and evidence to provide an explanation about the effects of changing the temperature or concentration of the reacting particles on the rate at which a reaction occurs. (HS-PS1-5)

High School – Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • Use mathematical representations of Newton’s Law of Gravitation and Coulomb’s Law to describe and predict the gravitational and electrostatic forces between objects. (HS-PS2-4)
  • Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence that an electric current can produce a magnetic field and that a changing magnetic field can produce an electric current. (HS-PS2-5)
  • Communicate scientific and technical information about why the molecular-level structure is important in the functioning of designed materials. (HS-PS2-6)

High School – Energy

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • Design, build, and refine a device that works within given constraints to convert one form of energy into another form of energy. (HS-PS3-3)
  • Develop and use a model of two objects interacting through electric or magnetic fields to illustrate the forces between objects and the changes in energy of the objects due to the interaction. (HS-PS3-5)

High School Disciplinary Core Ideas:

  • The structure and interactions of matter at the bulk scale are determined by electrical forces within and between atoms. (PS1.A; HS-PS1-3)
  • Chemical processes, their rates, and whether or not energy is stored or released can be understood in terms of the collisions of molecules and the rearrangements of atoms into new molecules, with consequent changes in the sum of all bond energies in the set of molecules that are matched by changes in kinetic energy. (PS1.B; HS-PS1-4, HS-PS1-5)
  • The fact that atoms are conserved, together with knowledge of the chemical properties of the elements involved, can be used to describe and predict chemical reactions. (PS1.B; HS-PS1-2, HS-PS1-7)
  • Newton’s second law accurately predicts changes in the motion of macroscopic objects (PS2.A; HS-PS2-1)
  • Newton’s law of universal gravitation and Coulomb’s law provide the mathematical models to describe and predict the effects of gravitational and electrostatic forces between distant objects. (PS2.B; HS-PS2-4)
  • Forces at a distance are explained by fields (gravitational, electric, and magnetic) permeating space that can transfer energy through space. Magnets or electric currents cause magnetic fields; electric charges or changing magnetic fields cause electric fields. (PS2.B; HS-PS2-4, HS-PS2-5)
  • Attraction and repulsion between electric charges at the atomic scale explain the structure, properties, and transformations of matter, as well as the contact forces between material objects. (PS2.B; HS-PS2-6)
  • Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can be transported from one place to another and transferred between systems. (PS3.B; HS-PS3-1, HS-PS3-4)
  • Uncontrolled systems always evolve toward more stable states – that is, toward more uniform energy distribution (e.g. water flows downhill, objects hotter than their surrounding environment cool down). (PS3.B; HS-PS3-4)

Middle School – Matter and Its Interactions

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • Analyze and interpret data on the properties of substances before and after the substances interact to determine if a chemical reaction has occurred. (MS-PS1-2)
  • Develop a model that predicts and describes changes in particle motion, temperature, and state of a pure substance when thermal energy is added or removed. (MS-PS1-4)
  • Develop and use a model to describe how the total number of atoms does not change in a chemical reaction and thus mass is conserved. (MS-PS1-5)

Middle School – Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • Ask questions about data to determine the factors that affect the strength of electric and magnetic forces. (MS-PS2-3)
  • Construct and present arguments using evidence to support the claim that gravitational interactions are attractive and depend on the masses of interacting objects. (MS-PS2-4)
  • Conduct an investigation and evaluate the experimental design to provide evidence that fields exist between objects exerting forces on each other even though the objects are not in contact. (MS-PS2-5)

Middle School – Energy

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • Plan an investigation to determine the relationships among the energy transferred, the type of matter, the mass, and the change in the average kinetic energy of the particles as measured by the temperature of the sample. (MS-PS3-4)

Middle School Disciplinary Core Ideas:

  • Each pure substance has characteristic physical and chemical properties (for any bulk quantity under given conditions) that can be used to identify it. (PS1.A; MS-PS1-2, MS-PS1-3)
  • Substances react chemically in characteristic ways. In a chemical process, the atoms that make up the original substances are regrouped into different molecules, and these new substances have different properties from those of the reactants. (PS1.B; MS-PS1-2, MS-PS1-3, MS-PS1-5)
  • The total number of each type of atom is conserved, and thus the mass does not change. (PS1.B; MS-PS1-5)
  • Some chemical reactions release energy, other store energy. (PS1.B; MS-PS1-6)
  • For any pair of interacting objects, the force exerted by the first object on the second object is equal in strength to the force that the second object exerts on the first, but in the opposite direction (Newton’s third law). (PS2.A; MS-PS2-1)
  • The motion of an object is determined by the sum of the forces acting on it; if the total force on the object is not zero, its motion will change. For any given object, a larger force causes a larger change in motion. (PS2.A; MS-PS2-2)
  • Electric and magnetic (electromagnetic) forces can be attractive or repulsive, and their sizes depend on the magnitudes of the charges, currents, or magnetic strengths involved and on the distances between the interacting objects. (PS2.B; MS-PS2-3)
  • Gravitational forces are always attractive. There is a gravitational force between any two masses, but it is very small except when one or both of the objects have large mass – e.g. Earth and the sun. (PS2.B; MS-PS2-4)
  • Forces that act at a distance (electric, magnetic, and gravitational) can be explained by fields that extend through space and can be mapped by their effect on a test object. (PS2.B; MS-PS2-5)
  • When two objects interact, each one exerts a force on the other that can cause energy to be transferred to or from the object. (PS3.C; MS-PS3-2)