A group of seventh graders learned something last school year that they found quite interesting: the difference between fusion and fission in an atom bomb. “It’s interesting how you can either …
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A group of seventh graders learned something last school year that they found quite interesting: the difference between fusion and fission in an atom bomb.
“It’s interesting how you can either put together (fusion) or break apart (fission) a small, little atom,” said seventh-grader Evangelene Jones, “and it can make a big explosion.”
For about two weeks, the students studied the A-bomb as part of their honors social studies class at Drake Middle School in Arvada. The applied learning tied into the curriculum for the students to have an understanding of how countries interact with each other.
The students were simultaneously learning about the holocaust in their language arts class, so Carine Lockwood, the sixth- and seventh-grade honors social studies teacher, wanted to combine those studies with science and apply it to their social studies lessons.
“When you can do interdisciplinary topics, it helps the kids make connections between subject areas,” Lockwood said. But, she added, “the best part was their excitement — even up through the last week of school.”
The 27 students brainstormed a variety of questions they wanted answered — which countries have nukes, how does the radiation affect the land, why did the U.S. drop the bombs, for example; and were tasked with others — describe reasons for global interdependence, for example.
The students also wanted to learn about the science of the atom bomb, Lockwood said.
“I served as the facilitator of their questions,” she said, so for the difficult science-based questions, Lockwood called in a couple of experts — two PhD students from the Colorado School of Mines.
Erin Bertelsen and Kevin Pastoor are working toward their PhDs in radiochemistry. The two came in and taught an entire class about plutonium, the different types of nuclear weapons and explained how splitting atoms works.
“We are especially excited about how much they (the seventh graders) learned and retained with this not being a science class,” Bertelsen said. “Being able to share our knowledge of science with interested young students gives me hope they’ll continue exploring all of the questions they have.”
After the initial brainstorming, the students were divided into five groups to each tackle a broader topic in which all of their questions — with some additional questions added by Lockwood — were answered.
The project’s cumulation was each of the five groups presenting on their various topics — the history of the A-bomb dropping and the makeup of an atom bomb, for example, Lockwood said.
Before the project, Matteo Bashford and his fellow students in the honors social studies class didn’t know much about the science or the politics behind the A-bomb, he said.
But it helped to learn about all of that to apply it to how countries interact today, Bashford said.
His classmate Griffin Leapley agreed.
“It’s always good to have a better understanding about what’s going on in our world,” Leapley said.
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