Ted's teaching tips

29th June 2001 at 01:00
Is the conversion of nuclear missiles into satellite rockets the equivalent of the biblical notion of beating swords into ploughshares? And do children understand the awesome forces released by nuclear fission and fusion?

Nuclear power

Why are bombs called "nuclear" (massive energy released when nucleus of a heavy atom is broken down - "fission", as in the atomic bomb - or nuclei of light atoms are merged through "fusion", as in the hydrogen bomb)? How much damage do they cause (about 130,000 killed or injured by one atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in Japan in 1945, radioactive poisoning, 60 per cent of the city's buildings destroyed; nowadays, thermonuclear bombs are far bigger, equal to millionsof tons of chemical explosives, can be launched with great precision from remote locations)? Is nuclear power all bad (same forces can be put to peaceful use, providing energy; most nuclear reactors have been safe, but disasters such as Chernobyl have reminded people of the potential dangers)?

Satellites

How can a bomb become a satellite (rockets are merely the means of launch: the "payload" could be a bomb, a satellite, or a tin of beans)? Why do satellites need a powerful rocket (to escape the pull of gravity; geostationary satellites have a 24-hour orbit about 35,000km above the Earth, so appear not to move)? What are satellites used for (mainly communications, sending and receiving messages or television signals, monitoring space beyond the atmosphere, military spying)?

Cold War

What was the Cold War (period after Second World War when the West (Britain, the US, western Europe) and East (Soviet Union and its allies) armed for a possible third world war and fought with propaganda)? Find countries on the map that belonged to the eastern and western blocs. Which bloc did Germany belong to and why was it significant (both blocs, Berlin a divided city, Berlin Wall came down in 1989, changing world politics)?

Writing (a) Write an explanation of what happens when atoms are split or fused; (b) imagine you live in West Berlin and half your family and friends live in East Berlin; describe how you feel when the wall comes down and you meet up again.

TALKING POINTS

Should there be a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons?

For The destructive power of nuclear bombs is horrific, with the potential to destroy the planet. One accident might trigger a catastrophe that could wipe out all life on Earth. As more nations acquire nuclear capability, bombs may fall into the hands of a mad leader or group.

Against Nuclear weapons are so awful the threat of them has kept the world largely at peace. There would be no way of policing a ban, even if inspectors travelled the world; nuclear bombs would simply be moved to secret locations. Countries would develop powerful conventional weapons which they are more likely to use.

Ted Wragg is professor of education at Exeter University.

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