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The first post question caused some confusion: Why didn't each group get the same results?
A lot of the students said because they shook the containers differently... I also have students wash their hands before the activity, because of course after, the students eat the M&Ms. Radioactive decay and half-lives can be a very difficult concept for our 8th graders to grasp.
Equipment that is necessary is M&Ms-- a lot because each group needs to begin with 100, and a container with a cover for each group.
Students should have the skill to set up a data table and a graph, however, if you want to use this activity with students that have not, you can provide them a template with that information.
Students should recognize each time the number should go down by appx half.
Then students take the class data and create a graph comparing the number of parent isotopes to the number of half-lives.
They will only re shake the radioactive M&Ms each time. Once they are finished with their 8 runs, they will record their data on the class data table (which can be on the board).
They then apply their new understanding to make predictions regarding complications involved in the decay process and its use in dating (such as daughter loss).
Once students are in their groups, with supplies, and general directions are given, they are on their own for doing their runs.
Students will record the number of M&Ms that are still "radioactive" (M side up) in their data table after each run, and set aside the "stable" (M side down) M&Ms.
Once all groups finish, each group records their info on the class decay table (on the board) and we calculate the averages of the class. Isotope Concepts: Students should begin to see the pattern that each time they dump out their M&Ms, about half become stable.
Once this info is calculated, students create a graph comparing the class average of parent isotopes to the number of half-lives. Students will be able to explain what a half-life of a rock is. Students will have a more in-depth understanding of what radioactive decay is. Students will understand how scientists use half-lives to date the age of rocks. Students then should be able to see the connection of the M&Ms and radioactive elements in rocks, and how scientists can determine the age of rocks by looking at the amount of radioactive material in the rock.