Unless students are using a brand-new edition of a textbook, it’s likely that they will not be exposed to cutting-edge developments and discoveries in science. This section brings those modern discoveries into the classroom and provides students with an opportunity to explore them. Two specific discoveries are discussed: the verification of gravitational waves and the discovery of a pattern in the prime numbers. Students are then tasked with bringing in their own modern discoveries to share, for an ongoing show-and-tell.
This activity provides students the space to share their interests with the class. It allows students to take ownership over a small bit of the content of the classroom, and empowers them to go out and seek information about science.
This activity is designed to take a few minutes at the beginning or end of a period or during a transition during the period.
This section references two resources:
- LIGO Detects Gravitational Waves, by MIT (February 11, 2016)
- Maths experts stunned as they crack a pattern for prime numbers, by Adam Lusher, The Independent (March 16, 2016)
The discoveries in the resources above happened just this year. They provide an excellent opportunity to discuss what’s actually happening in the world of science right now. These two resources can be shared in 5-10 minute show-and-tell presentations on different days. After the video is played or the article is summarized for the students, the question of why it is important should be addressed.
In the case of gravitational waves, there are two big important pieces. First is that the discovery verifies Einstein’s theory of gravity. Second, it is an incredible feat of engineering. LIGO is the most precise instrument we’ve ever developed.
The pattern in the primes is important because, as far as we know, the primes occur essentially at random within the natural numbers. If we can discover a pattern, though, then we may be able to know what every prime is. That would create a whole new field of mathematics, but it would also compromise technology, like RSA encryption. RSA relies on the fact that it’s really hard to find large prime numbers. If there is a discernable pattern, though, then finding prime numbers becomes very easy.
After each of these resources is shared with students, they should be invited to bring in their own Modern Discoveries to share with the class. Students can summarize an article, share a video, share images, or whatever else they like in order to share the discovery with the class. In addition to sharing the discovery, students should also discuss why it is important.
This can be an assignment, or I prefer making it extra credit.
In order to support students in this assignment, they should be provided with places to look for interesting modern discoveries. A few science news sources are provided here:
- The Independent Science section
- American Association for the Advancement of Science – News
- New Scientist (Twitter)