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Explaining Black Holes to 5th Graders

  1. Mar 9, 2010 #1
    Hi All,

    So I'm a current physics grad student - who's supposed to give an outreach presentation (over skype) to some 5th graders who have been learning about Black Holes.

    I have no problem with the technical content - but does anybody have some good ways to explain things to elementary students? I'm looking for good explanations which keep the subject intriguing but try to correct some of the media misconceptions....


  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 9, 2010 #2
    Give the NDT speech about "spagettification" That will keep 5th graders interested for sure.
  4. Mar 9, 2010 #3
    You'll probably be suprised at how much they already know.
  5. Mar 9, 2010 #4


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    What concepts do you plan to present?
  6. Mar 9, 2010 #5
    They are supposed to be writing and asking questions - so I'm not sure what will come up. But I assume there are going to be asking fairly basic stuff

  7. Mar 10, 2010 #6

    Char. Limit

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    Watch out - some of those fifth graders are pretty smart.

    You could always explain why black holes bend light...

    Of course, without the math involved. I doubt even Feynman knew a tiny piece of the math involved in fifth grade.

    I don't know if you can find it, but The Universe has a show on Black Holes that may give you an idea of what they might ask...
  8. Mar 10, 2010 #7
    Any chance you get to use an astronomically large number do it they will eat it up.
  9. Mar 10, 2010 #8

    National Geography/Discovery/BBC should have interesting explanations ..

    Just keep it humorous and interesting.. Details are not important but the way you deliver the speech should be of more focus. I believe a high school student might have better explanation for the grade 5 students than a grad student.
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2010
  10. Mar 10, 2010 #9
    There is the analogy of the swimmer approaching a waterfall, passing beyond the "horizon" where the flow exceeds its speed and can not escape. I think it is a fair analogy.
  11. Mar 10, 2010 #10


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    You could always just derive the Schwarzchild metric for them. And for the overachievers you could get into the Kerr metric, but focusing more on the qualitative aspects such as frame dragging (deriving the Kerr metric from the EFEs may not be possible due to time constraints). I wouldn't try going for anything more complicated than that with fifth graders.
  12. Mar 10, 2010 #11
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/402335/Explaining-science-and-scientists-to-kids [Broken]

    Here's something that is supposed to explain science for kids. Since you are unsure of what questions you will be asked this may give you a general idea of how to go about explaining things.

    I think that general guidelines are to keep it simple and try not to over-explain.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  13. Mar 10, 2010 #12
    I think that as soon as you start going into the math behind black holes, you will lose almost the entire class.
  14. Mar 10, 2010 #13
    Almost? Whatever 5th grader isn't lost by the mathematics of black holes needs to be brought to a lab and studied.
  15. Mar 10, 2010 #14
    There are going to be a select few that will not understand the math, but will still think it is interesting.
    When you were in Geometry, did you not think Calc 3 stuff was interesting, even though you did not understand it at the time?
  16. Mar 10, 2010 #15
    Just tell them that black holes are where the bad kids go.
  17. Mar 10, 2010 #16
    If I don't understand what the numbers and symbols mean, I don't see how I could find it interesting.

    And since I still don't understand calculus, I wouldn't be interested in hearing some formulas talked about. I think it's interesting what calculus can do and I'd like to learn about it eventually, but I'd be lost if I heard someone explaining black holes in the language of math.
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2010
  18. Mar 10, 2010 #17


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    I would go one step further and push one of the kids down a dark well so deep you can't see the bottom. "This is what happens if you get too close to a black hole!"

    An important lesson about life in general and black holes, in particular.
  19. Mar 10, 2010 #18


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    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  20. Mar 10, 2010 #19
    Have you guys seen Neil Tyson. He was born for this:

  21. Mar 10, 2010 #20
    I had that in the first post. . .
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