Sorting out words and ideas
Teaching Guidance for 14-16
Radioactivity, radioactive material and radiation
Wrong Track: Radioactivity was carried across the sea by the wind from the damaged nuclear reactor.
Wrong Track: Radiation was carried across the sea by the wind from the reactor.
Right Lines: Radioactive material/dust was carried across the sea by the wind from the damaged reactor.
Teaching the underlying meanings
Thinking about the learning
It is quite common for students to use the three terms
radioactive material and
Thinking about the teaching
In addressing this teaching and learning challenge it's not just a matter of
learning new words. The underlying meanings of the terms need to be developed:
Radioactivityis the general name for the phenomenon. There are parallels here with use of the word
electricity(See the SPT: Electric circuits topic). Just as electricity does not flow around a circuit, radioactivity is not given out by a radioactive material. In fact (as with electricity), once the term
Radioactivityhas been used as a title for this topic, students will not really need to use it again. Some teachers go so far as to ban its further use.
- The radioactive material is the bulk substance, such as isotopes of uranium, which emits radiation.
- The radiations are often emitted with distinctive properties: alpha, beta and gamma radiations are three that do have such distinctive properties.