Lab: Simulating Radioactive Decay

Apparently I am unusual in that I am happy to have a system of equations and a description of a set of concepts and nothing else when I am learning about a topic in science. Or perhaps I’ve just been doing this for too long. I have never really liked doing classroom simulations of real phenomena. But my students simply were not understanding half-life and radioactive decay. I mentioned this to some colleagues and as a result of their comments I wrote the linked ‘lab’. In the activity students cut a piece of paper in half every two minutes, record some information, and answer some questions. I used it for the first time yesterday. My students told me they thought it helped them to understand. I’m concerned that it will end up giving them the idea that radioactive decay happens in leaps. As in, “Now there are this many atoms. After we reach the half-life there are suddenly only half as many radioactive atoms!” The reality is that the atoms decay randomly and have a 50% chance of decaying within the period of the half-life. Hopefully I can overcome this potential misconception through discussion in class.

Here’s the link:

Lab: Simulating Radioactive Decay.


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