This is an exciting, cutting edge area of physics that most students really enjoy. It's a fast moving area too so teachers' subject knowledge can date quickly. Students under 16 cannot handle radioactive sources so make the most of these simulations and demonstrations to really bring the subject to life.
Research shows mid and lower ability students find the particle model of matter difficult, so introducing radioactivity in terms of atomic and nuclear structure is unhelpful! Start from the phenomena you can demonstrate, e.g. effects getting smaller with distance from source or which materials radiation can and can’t penetrate. Models of microscopic processes can help students develop understanding but may also add to misconceptions – so its important that students question the model.
Whilst this list provides a source of information and ideas for experimental work, it is important to note that recommendations can date very quickly. Do NOT follow suggestions which conflict with current advice from CLEAPSS, SSERC or recent safety guides. eLibrary users are responsible for ensuring that any activity, including practical work, which they carry out is consistent with current regulations related to Health and Safety and that they carry an appropriate risk assessment. Further information is provided in our Health and Safety guidance
Links and Resources
Many teachers are apprehensive at the thought of teaching radioactivity so this is a good place to start. This well produced film from Teachers TV is designed for teachers rather than students and will help build the confidence of those teaching this topic for the first time and/or those who are outside their specialist area. Lots of demonstrations with radioactive sources are demonstrated clearly and health and safety guidance advice is provided from CLEAPSS. Also included are a good number of activities on this theme that students can carry out for themselves; always a good idea.
Choose the Hunting the Quark document from the list. It’s a novel activity that a well-motivated and more able group of students will get a lot from. It develops their ability to work both independently and collaboratively without much teacher instruction. Students study information about the discovery of quarks and the origins of the universe before either applying for a university post or being on the interview panel. The marble model is helpful and it’s a good idea to have it available at the “interviews” so that the panel can quiz candidates about it. Just update the job adverts before you use them though, a salary of £15 000 is not very attractive today!
This colourful and attractive document will be appreciated by students in your class who want to know more about particle physics. Although not much of its content is in the GCSE specifications, it provides natural extension material.
It would be hard to beat a school trip to CERN. This leaflet is guaranteed to at least make you consider the possibility.
Engaging students with big stories of contemporary science is a characteristic of inspiring science teaching. This CERN study visit is a unique opportunity for UK science teachers to visit CERN and have its facilities, functions and operation explained by the scientists and engineers who work at CERN.
Support is given, on the visit and during the follow up conference, to help teachers translate this experience and their new understanding into learning opportunities for their students
If your school is an Ogden partnership school, don’t forget that they may be able to help with funding for students. You can find out more on their website.
Physics vs Chemistry? Once your students are happy with the concept of quarks, you could show them this one minute film featuring Brian Cox, which underlines the fundamental nature of quarks. It’s bound to put the physics cat amongst the chemistry pigeons so play it right to the end to hear the film crew laughing before Prof Cox gets the giggles too.
This is definitely an activity aimed at A level students but using the coloured triangles to make model quarks is a great idea and GCSE teachers might like to use the first two sheets of triangles to allow students to make models of protons and neutrons.