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        Radiation: To Worry or Not to Worry

        Students explore the many types of radiation and distinguish safe forms of radiation from those that are dangerous.

        Lesson Summary


        Radiation is a word that many people associate with danger. Certainly, the radiation that is emitted from a nuclear bomb like at Hiroshima or during a nuclear power plant disaster such as Chernobyl can be deadly. Some forms of natural radiation, such as ultraviolet radiation from the sun and radiation from elements found in rocks are also dangerous. However, we are bombarded every day with radiation that is harmless, and even necessary, such as light and heat from the sun.

        In this lesson, students work with several resources to help them distinguish safe forms of radiation from those that are dangerous. They watch a video segment about sources of radiation we encounter every day, and another video about potentially dangerous radon radiation found in many homes. They work with an interactive activity, which explains both natural and human-made sources of radiation, use facts about radiation to estimate their own annual radiation exposure, and, finally, take a survey of how nuclear phobic they are.


        • Learn that there are various forms of radiation in the world, some natural and some human-made
        • Understand that some forms of radiation can be highly dangerous when they exceed certain levels
        • Discover that some forms of radiation are harmless and, in fact, necessary for life on Earth
        • Understand that decisions can be made that help create safe, radiation-limited environments
        • Realize that there are actions individuals can take to help create safe, radiation-limited environments

        Grade Levels: 6-8, 9-12

        Suggested Time

        • Two class periods

        Multimedia Resources


        The Lesson

        Part I: Different Types of Radiation

        1. Show the Everyday Radiation video and lead a discussion on how we create and live with radiation. Have students list the sources of radiation they encounter each day. Ask:

        • Do you feel the radiation?
        • Does it impact your life?
        • How might it affect you in the long term?

        2. Have students read the Facts About Radiation document and estimate the amount of radiation they are exposed to each day from these sources. Ask:

        • Are there other sources not listed that might contribute to your daily allotment?

        3. Have students discuss what decisions they might make in their daily lives to avoid excessive exposure to radiation.

        Part II: The Potential Dangers of Radiation

        4. Show the Radon Radiation video and discuss the following:

        • What would you do if you discovered there were an excess amount of radon in your home?
        • What might happen to families that don't have the money to repair, renovate or move?
        • Do you think protecting against radon should be up to individuals, or should industry or government take responsibility?
        • What steps can industry, government, and individuals take to protect people from radiation?

        5. Have students work in groups to explore the Sources of Radiation interactive activity. Before clicking on each animated box in the picture, have students predict what could be creating radiation at that location and whether the radiation is harmful or not. Tell them to provide reasons for their answers. Then have them click to find the answers. Some of the text might be a bit advanced for younger students, but encourage them to explore the site without getting bogged down by unfamiliar terminology.

        6. Have students take theNuclear Phobia Survey. They will probably realize partway through that all of the answers are false, but have them continue and discuss each question. Have students discuss the bias of a survey like this and what type of message it is sending. If time permits, you can have them create their own quiz for each other that might be less biased and therefore harder to answer.

        Check for Understanding

        Have students discuss the following:

        • What are several harmless forms of radiation that we encounter in our daily lives?
        • What are some common sources of radiation on Earth that are dangerous to human life?
        • What decisions can you make in your life to limit your exposure to dangerous radiation?


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