Long timers in math reform know of something called Rainforest Math, which purportedly dilutes actual math test-taking skills in favor of prosecuting some "enviro-agenda" relating to the rainforests of Brazil and changes to the planetary surface mix (ratios) of land usage.
However, given recent threads about "log sense", where log( ) is an inverse of exp( ) on your calculator, we have new reason to re- visit these memes, as dilution, through osmosis through time, is again a theme. Isotopes of cesium (isotopes = an approved STEM topic) have their half lives. Their rate of decay is logarithmic.
The half life of the various radio-toxins needs to start claiming more of a percentage of the total time allotment based on the vagaries of food prep and its role in the curriculum. Home Economics.
How likely is a slab of fish to contain radioactive cesium atoms? These little time bombs go off randomly and send ridiculously tiny "bullets" through the flesh of your body. There's no bleeding or pain. A healthy meal of fish might be worth the risk of a few time bombs, but how many? There's lots of STEM converging here, as we look at the affects of "tiny bullets" on fragile strands of DNA. These bullets can kill cancer cells, not just cause them.
Fukushima or "Chernobyl Physics" is what we might call it on the PER list, which has some overlap with this one (in terms of both content and subscribers). The physics of a nuclear meltdown are now much better understood than in the early 1900s, when large scale failures were more a theoretical responsibility. The interaction of a core and a water table is instructive, not just for geologists. Hanford, Chernobyl, Fukushima, all have relationships to groundwater providing story problems for generations to come. None of these "situations" are anywhere close to "done". There's no danger of curricular irrelevance (the dry rot in any curriculum) any time soon.
What's usefully teachable with mathematics about cesium atoms is their discrete mechanics. We know the number of neutrons, and have an understanding of the decay chain the byproducts. Accessing the periodic table with the hindsight of an early 21st century person, after Earth had been widely contaminated, meant more appreciation at the gut-level of nuclear fission, and what it means to biological processes -- including as diagnostic and therapeutic tools (radioactive dyes, PET scans, radiation therapy etc).
As the cesium plume from Fukushima drifts towards Cascadia, engulfing Hawaii, the availability of relevant curriculum materials is still too limited. I call on the NCTM, MAA and the Dept of Education to get to work, in collaboration with NOAA and the NRC. Or rather, I call in my representatives to propose legislation to... nah, there isn't time. Posting to math-teach is what I'll do.
Small advisory commissions made of delegates should start the wheels turning such that schools open this September with intelligent things to teach on these subjects. Parental concern is already high, regarding the conflicting reports regarding safety levels and how many ticking time bombs per cup of milk should be allowed. There's no time to mass publish lots of wood pulp stuff (Cascadians don't tend to go for that anyway). The web sites should be full of useful story problems and teacher guides. Your government in action, responsible people at the helm.
Within what average radius of the Chernobyl melt down site is it still unsafe to live? (Hint: this is known as "the exclusion zone" or "the zone of alienation.").
What is the half-life of cesium-137? Cesium-134?
Below is a list of readings from sensors A, B, C placed at the vertexes of triangle ABC. If you knew these sensors were ocean- based, what might you reasonably conclude about the direction of the current. Draw an arrow.