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Einstein's Big Idea

Viewing Ideas

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Before Watching

  1. Ask students to define the word energy. What kinds of energy have students used today from the time they woke up to the present moment in class? Guide the class to backtrack from their initial answers (light, electricity, heat, and kinetic energy) to the primary sources of energy (sun, oil, natural gas, gasoline, wind, hydroelectric, nuclear, coal, wood, and food). Point out that these are mostly types of stored energy (gravitational, electrical, nuclear, and chemical potential energies) that are converted to other useful forms of energy utilized in everyday life (light; heat; electricity; and mechanical action of muscles, heart, and brain).

  2. Help students understand that matter has mass. First develop a definition of matter with them. Write the following list on the board: air, water, living organisms, the sun, jewelry. Are these made of matter? Provide each student with a copy of the periodic table of elements. Have students identify the primary elements in air (nitrogen, oxygen), water (hydrogen, oxygen), living organisms (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen), the sun (hydrogen, helium), and jewelry (nickel, silver, gold). Do these elements have mass? (Yes. The periodic table provides the relative mass of each element in atomic mass units.) Clarify with students the difference between weight and mass. (Weight is a force of attraction between Earth and an object, while mass is a fundamental measure of the amount of matter in an object.) Have students identify objects in their world that they would like to know the makeup of. Write a list on the board and form teams to research and report on the primary elements that make up their assigned objects.

  3. Science is a human endeavor undertaken by many different individuals of various social and ethnic backgrounds who carry out their science in the society in which they live. Organize students into seven groups. As they watch the program, have each group take notes on one of the following scientists or science teams:

    • Michael Faraday
    • Antoine-Laurent and Marie Anne Lavoisier
    • James Clerk Maxwell
    • Emilie du Châtelet
    • Albert Einstein
    • Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman
    • Lise Meitner and Otto Robert Frisch

    Students should record each scientist's nationality, whether the scientist worked alone or with others, and the society and times in which each scientist lived.


After Watching

  1. Discuss with students the scientists they took notes on while watching the program. Have each group present information about its scientist(s). In what social context did each scientist work? How was science viewed by the society in which each scientist lived? What tools and techniques were available to the different scientists? How did scientists collaborate and share information in each time period?

  2. Albert Einstein died in 1955. If he were alive today, what do students think would surprise, delight, or horrify him about the technologies and modern developments that stem from his equation?

  3. When Einstein wrote his paper revealing his supposition that mass and energy were simply different forms of the same thing, it was a hypothesis based on mathematical and philosophical ideas. What evidence accumulated between 1905 and the present day about energy and mass that turned his hypothesis into scientific truth? (Some examples include the splitting of the atom, the development of fission reactors and experimental fusion reactors, the understanding about production of energy inside the sun, identification of elementary particles, and the discovery of black holes.)

Teacher's Guide
Einstein's Big Idea
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