Science - Is the end nigh?

10th February 2012 at 00:00
Apocalyptic predictions are a great starting point for lessons

Among the certainties for 2012 are that London will host the Olympic Games and that Britain's weather will disappoint. Over the past few months, however, there has been growing talk of the world ending this year. The saga surrounds a supposed prediction made by the ancient Mayan civilisation.

Could there be any truth to the prediction? And how can we use them in a science class? It is certainly a topic that captures the imaginations of young people and provokes scientific debate.

You could get your pupils to make their own super-volcano from papier mache and then react vinegar with baking soda and some red food colouring to represent a volcanic eruption (one of the prophesies). Or you could look at climate change: research could focus on how human activities, as well as natural events, can have a big impact on the planet.

Alternatively, pupils could plan a "doomsday" survival kit, which could be used in response to a large-scale disaster. Various scenarios could be considered, such as: world oil supplies being significantly disrupted; large swathes of food crops being destroyed; mass casualties occurring in one place; and telephone lines and other forms of communication being jammed.

There is also an opportunity to introduce the differences between facts, predictions and theory. Pupils should be encouraged to keep an open mind about questions that are difficult to answer with any certainty.

During the past decade, regions across the globe have endured devastating earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and flooding. There have been wars and terrorist atrocities, too. But while terrible, these events have not threatened the entire human race. Your class could look at the sort of disaster it would take to wipe us out and, statistically, what chances there are of any of the prophecies coming to pass.

It is important to emphasise that science does not have all the answers. Promoting debate and teaching respect for other peoples' opinions are vital. The Mayan prediction has been built up by the media, but science and history do tell us that the Earth will end one day. However, we should also reassure anxious teenagers that we are likely to have a few more years on this planet yet.

Andrew Lochery is MD at Green APL Education and has taught chemistry in several state and independent schools in Greater Manchester. Follow him on Twitter @GreenAPLEd

WHAT ELSE?

Explore the Mayan myths - did they predict that the world would end in 2012?

What really killed the dinosaurs? Explore the possibilities with tasks from Andrew Jackson.

For an online introduction to volcanoes, check out curriculumbits.com's animation

Teach pupils about natural disasters with raj.nandhra's pack of experiment ideas.

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