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"Murphy was an optimist!"

Science! December 19, 2009 9:10 am

Posted by Doug McCaughan in : Amy, Daily Life, Family, Of Being Dad
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As I held infant Amy, rocking her to sleep, I’d talk to her and tell her how much I looked forward to having conversations together. You know the joke: We spend the first part of their lives teaching them how to talk and the rest of their lives trying to get them to shut up. As I held infant Evan, rocking him to sleep, I’d have the same discussion. Eventually they did learn to talk and we’ve had some fascinating conversations.

Today Amy, 7 years old, asked, "What is radioactivity? Is it bad?" So I proceeded to talk to Amy about radio waves, the visual spectrum, light, ear drums, we drew an atom, and a water molecule. She listened and questioned and conjectured. That was fun!

Parenting Tip #423: Use a tape recorder to record a minute of your infant’s sounds every week. Their noises change from week to week and you will enjoy listening to the tape when they are older. Also, they love to hear their own noises so that tape in a Playskool tape player (vintage? Okay.. get a digital recorder) is good for about 20 minutes of babysitting or so I am told. This was some advice from a friend that I failed to follow with some regrets.

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1. Rich Hailey - December 20, 2009

You do know that there is a huge difference between ionizing radiation (radioactivity) and non-ionizing radiation (electromagnetic, RF, etc), right?

Simplification should never lead to giving a kid the wrong answer, even if she is only 7 years old.

Make two stacks of blocks, one 2 blocks high, the other 10. Tap the 2 block stack gently. It doesn’t fall. Tap the 10 block stack and watch it fall. The first stack represents a stable atom, the second, an unstable one. Radioactivity is the energy given off when an unstable atom falls apart.

2. Doug McCaughan - December 20, 2009

Yes I do. Amy and I discussed ionizing vs non-ionizing to help answer whether or not radiation was dangerous. I once helped improve a Foxpro database that tracked dosimeter reports for an Oak Ridge organization. That’s when I learned lot about radiation and lost some misconceptions. I have been listening to Ham Radio Podclass and a recent episode on radio operator safety covered ionizing vs non-ionizing radiation so it was fresh in my mind.

How do you figure I gave her the wrong answer? (I just reread the post and my list of what we discussed was not comprehensive; for instance, we discussed radioactive decay but I didn’t mention that above. I could see that leading you to think we only discussed non-ionizing.) And what makes you think I simplified it? The fact it wasn’t a very simple discussion is part of why the conversation was fun. I find it fascinating to see a child grow from cooing to scientific discussions. I thought she’d bore of it and kept giving her exit points but she’d question more and really enjoyed the talk. The mind is incredible. The potential for the future of that mind is awe inspiring.

I like your blocks example very much.

3. Rich Hailey - December 20, 2009

Given that the only information I had to go on was your list of several types of non-ionizing radiation, the sole exception being sound, which isn’t even electromagnetic, and that 99% of the general public has no idea what we are talking about, you have to admit that there existed a strong possibility of oversimplification leading to the wrong answer.

I spent many hours correcting incomplete or incorrect information given to my kids at the hands of government teachers who either couldn’t understand the material themselves, or were too lazy to go through the effort of teaching it to the kids in a simplified but still accurate manner. I wouldn’t put you in the same class as a government teacher, but if your only source of information was one of them, you would be limited by the GIGO rule.

Did you talk to her about the difference between radioactive rays and particles?


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