The Radioactivity Materials (downloads are below)
The IiR project is developing course materials for students in survey level college physics courses and high school courses to understand ionizing radiation, its effects on health, and the connection to nuclear power. This project is supported by the National Science Foundation under the CCLI-TUES grant DUE 0942699. The purposes of the IiR project are to promote radiation literacy, to provide physics educators with a low-stakes (and fun!) opportunity to try out inquiry teaching, and to make available a wide range of useful tools that faculty can adapt for their own use.
These research-based materials - a full semester of inquiry instruction - address general properties of ionizing radiation, interaction of radiation with matter (including health effects), the origins of radiation and nuclear waste. You need classroom computers and some equipment such as Vernier radiation monitors, Logger Pro, and radioactive sources. The materials address numerous student difficulties and problematic ideas that have been identified through cycles of classroom trials and classroom research. Check out our research findings below on student understanding of half lives, atoms, conceptions of radiation (the differentiation problem) and ionization by radiation. Plenty of questions remain about how students understand radioactivity and are being investigated as time allows.
The materials are being developed by Dr. Andy Johnson of CAMSE at Black Hills State University with important help from student assistants, notably Charlotte Walling and Anna Hafele. The files below are the latest version as of the Summer of 2012. They are being made available for physics educators to peruse and possibly try out.
The current version is freely available. Plenty of guidance is provided for Cycles 1 and 2 including extensive teacher guides. Guides for Cycles 3 and 4 are in the works. If you download these materials, please begin by reading "A Read Me First.doc". There are a few other supporting documents - an overview and a list or the extensive list of sources for equipment. All of the cycles are fully functional but will be improved over the coming year. If you are interested in these materials please try them out and let me know what you think! Also, if you would like to field test or help develop them, please contact me! There are plenty of loose ends that will lead to interesting discoveries.
The IiR project has identified significant problems with numerous conceptual issues. To address these, the project has developed three pedagogical simulators that extend students' abilities to observe (and interpret) atom-scale phenomena.
Non-science majors often come to class with very limited understandings of atoms. They often do not correctly remember the basic planetary model and they are not prepared to use atoms in reasoning. The Atom Builder simulator allows students to build any atom up to element 105 (Dubnium) and observe their atom's behaviors. Ionization is carefully isolated from radioactivity until students are clear on what an ion is and isn't. With the special access code students can then test unstable atoms.
Students need to think about how radiation interacts with matter. Using the Atom Invaders simulator students shoot radiation at individual atoms or diatomic molecules and observe the results. This simulator also enables a very basic investigation of how ionizing energy varies for each electron removed from the atom.
Connecting atomic scale phenomena with the cellular or macroscopic scales is a tough task for anyone, particularly those who are doing it for the first time. The Tracks simulator supports students in observing and making sense of the similarities and differences in alpha, beta, and gamma radiation, and enables storytelling about the effects of radiation at different size scales. Understanding the size scales of different objects is also supported by one of the online zooming sites, and by the unpublished software "Wow It Is Small!"
Downloads - Summer 2012 version
- The full set of Radioactivity Materials including simulators. This version was distributed at the 2012 AAPT meeting (77 mb updated 7/25/12)
- Getting Started, the basics about the materials
- Cycle 1, Introduction to radiation (7 mb updated 02/07/13) Recently improved!
- Cycle 2, Atoms and the source of radiation (33 mb updated 7/24/12)
- Cycle 3, Interaction of radiation with matter and health effects (32 mb updated 7/25/12)
- Cycle 4, Fission, half lives, and nuclear waste (3 mb updated 7/25/12)
- Simulators: Atom Builder (for atomic structure, ions vs isotopes, etc.), Atom Invaders (for ionization and neutron activation), and Tracks simulator for investigating the interaction of radiation with matter at different size scales.
Copyright Creative Commons BY, NC, SA by Andy Johnson
Research on student learning
Overcoming Learning Barriers to Radiation Literacy poster presented at the 2013 Posters On The Hill conference. This poster gives an overview of the radiation learning difficulties we have investigated, and some of the ways to overcome them.
Student Journeys for Understanding Radioactivity poster prepared for the 2013 National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) conference. This poster presents evidence showing that differentiating radiation from radioactivity - and developing a model of radiation as high speed subatomic particles - is a long and difficult process for many students. A paper on this topic is forthcoming.
Inquiry into Radiation poster presented at the 2013 Transforming Undergraduate Education in STEM (TUES) conference. This poster gives an overview of the project and its acccomplishments at the end of 2012.
Differentiating Radiation from Radioactivity, a paper in the Proceedings of the 2012 National Conference in Undergraduate Research. Accompanied by this poster.
Student Understanding of Ionizing by Radiation, a paper in the Proceedings of the the 2012 National Conference in Undergraduate Research. Accompanied by this poster.
Student Ideas about Radiation, a poster presented at the summer 2011 AAPT meeting.
Exploring Student Understanding Of Atoms And Radiation With The Atom Builder Simulator, a paper in the Proceedings of the 2011 National Conference on Undergraduate Education (NCUR), Ithaca, NY.
Student Understanding of Atoms, a poster and paper presented at the summer 2010 AAPT meeting.
Student Ideas about Half-lives, a poster presented at the summer 2007 AAPT meeting.