15th December 2006 at 00:00
Ages 15 to 16

To help pupils understand radioactive half-life, I give everybody in the class a party popper and a regular dice.

We discuss how the popper is like a radioactive nucleus: we cannot tell just by looking at it when it will go off and once it has done so, it cannot pop or release its radiation again.

Everybody in the class rolls their dice. If they throw a six, they let off their popper; this is therefore a random event.

We count how many poppers remain unpopped and record this. We repeat the process until all the poppers have been popped. The whole process makes the plotting of the half-life curve much more real.

The sample is a bit small, but this can be extended by giving each pupil a number of party poppers, as long as they throw the dice once for each popper.

This also serves to keep everybody in the class interested for longer periods of time

Tony Sinton teaches science at Dowdales School in south Cumbria. He is on secondment as acting head at Thorncliffe School in Barrow-in-Furness but will return to Dowdales in January

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