Level 4

Alaska Science
Key Element A16

A student who meets the content standard should understand basic concepts about the Theory of Relativity, which changed the view of the universe by uniting matter and energy and by linking time with space (Relativity).

gold rule

Performance Standard Level 4, Ages 15–18

Students describe how studying radioactive decay, nuclear fission, and fusion can provide evidence confirming the Law of Conservation of Matter and Energy.

Sample Assessment Ideas

gold rule

Sample Assessment Ideas

  • Students perform mass-energy calculations on nuclear reactions to show how the relativistic equation E = mc2 predicts how much energy is released in: a radioactive decay, a nuclear fission reaction of uranium, and a nuclear fusion reaction of a deuterium (H2) and tritium (H3) atom; explain what degree of accuracy is required on the initial mass in order to complete such calculations.

  • Students read “Relativity Visualized” by Lewis Carroll Epstein, (publisher—Insight Press, San Francisco); explain ONE of the ideas using diagram from the book.

Expanded Sample Assessment Idea

gold rule

Expanded Sample Assessment Idea


Students will:

  1. Be instructed that it is a fact that the Earth is flat. Challenge them to prove that it is not. (See attached lists for historical arguments for and against). As debate slows also say that the Earth doesn’t turn. Continue to stir up the debate. The students should leave the room debating each other and arrive in class the next day with a proof that the Earth is round and spins.

  2. Be assigned one of the following people to research: Ptolemy, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Tycho Brache, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Neil Armstrong, Sally Ride. Use all research avenues available, including Internet. Students should find out the personal history of the scientist as well as the major contributions to science and society.

  3. Invite Elders to share beliefs and legends related to topic.

  4. Develop a timeline, including the results of the previous research. The timeline should include names and important contributions, tracing the development of the geocentric view to the heliocentric view. In the development of the principles, it is very important that the societal context of the era be emphasized.

  5. Hold a mock trial of Galileo that includes Ptolemy, Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Tycho Brache, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Neil Armstrong, and Sally Ride as witnesses. “The Copernican Revolution illustrates some of the strains that can occur between science and society when science proposes ideas that seem to violate common sense or to undermine traditional values and beliefs. This part of the story should be included but not presented as the triumph of right over wrong or of science over religion.” (from Benchmarks, p. 240)


Levels of Performance

Stage 4
stage fish stage fish
stage fish stage fish

Student actively participates in mock trial and demonstrates mastery of the historical-viewpoint appropriate to his / her character or position within the courtroom. Student work is correct, complete and shows evidence of logical reasoning.
Stage 3
stage fish
stage fish
stage fish
Student actively participates in mock trial and demonstrates knowledge of the historical-viewpoint appropriate to his / her character or position within the courtroom. Student work shows evidence of logical reasoning but may contain minor errors or omissions.
Stage 2
stage fish
stage fish
Student reluctantly participates in mock trial and demonstrates limited knowledge of the historical-viewpoint appropriate to his / her character or position within the courtroom. Student work may be incomplete, incorrect and may contain errors of science fact and reasoning.
Stage 1
stage fish
Student may be a non-participant in mock trial. Student work is largely incomplete, incorrect, shows little evidence of understanding and may contain major misconceptions.
Standards Cross-Reference gold rule

Standards Cross-References
( Alaska Department of Education & Early Development Standards

National Science Education Standards

The nuclear forces that hold the nucleus of an atom together, at nuclear distances, are usually stronger than the electric forces that would make it fly apart. Nuclear reactions convert a fraction of the mass of interacting particles into energy, and they can release much greater amounts of energy than atomic interactions. Fission is the splitting of a large nucleus into smaller pieces. Fusion is the joining of two nuclei at extremely high temperature and pressure, and is the process responsible for the energy of the sun and other stars. (Page 178)

The total energy of the universe is constant. Energy can be transferred by collisions in chemical and nuclear reactions, by light waves and other radiations, and in many other ways. However, it can never be destroyed. As these transfers occur, the matter involved becomes steadily less ordered. (Page 180)

Occasionally, there are advances in science, and technology that have important and long-lasting effects on science and society. Examples of such advances include the following:

  • Copernican revolution
  • Newtonian mechanics
  • Relativity
  • Geologic time scale
  • Plate tectonics
  • Atomic theory
  • Nuclear physics
  • Biological evolution
  • Germ theory
  • Industrial revolution
  • Molecular biology
  • Information and communication
  • Quantam theory
  • Galactic universe
  • Medical and health technology


As a young man, Albert Einstein, a German scientist, formulated the special Theory of Relativity, which brought about revolutionary changes in human understanding of nature. A decade later, he proposed the general Theory of Relativity, which, along with Newton’s work, ranks as one of the greatest human accomplishments in all of history. (Page 245)

Among the surprising ideas of special relativity is that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, which is the same for all observers no matter how they or the light source happen to be moving. (Page 245)

The special Theory of Relativity is best known for stating that any form of energy has mass, and that matter itself is a form of energy. The famous relativity equation, E = mc2, holds that the transformation of even a tiny amount of matter will release an enormous amount of other forms of energy, in that the c in the equation stands for the immense speed of light. (Page 245)

General relativity theory pictures Newton’s gravitational force as a distortion of space and time. (Page 245)

Many predictions from Einstein’s Theory of Relativity have been confirmed on both atomic and astronomical scales. Still, the search continues for an even more powerful theory of the architecture of the universe. (Page 245)

The basic idea of mathematical modeling is to find a mathematical relationship that behaves in the same ways as the objects or processes under investigation. A mathematical model may give insight about how something really works or may fit observations very well without any intuitive meaning. (Page 270)

Table of Contents  |   Return to Alaska Native Knowledge Network