Define the word significant.
Do you think it means important? Big? Memorable?
If you answered any one of those things, you’re only half right. This is because significance is a deceptively complex concept, which really encompasses all three of these ideas, and usually many more. For example, when I was little, I ran into a pole and cracked my front tooth. This mattered a lot to me at the time, and still impacts me and my family to this day when anything dental comes up, but it was not necessarily a significant event. I say this because no one but my family has been affected by it, and the way which we are affected is minor and only shows up a couple times a year.
Now, let’s look at something we have been talking about a lot in school lately; the atomic bomb. This super weapon is definitely significant, as it is responsible for the deaths of millions, a revolution of war strategy, and a looming fear found globally today of complete annihilation. I bet your starting to see the difference now.
The idea of significance isn’t that confusing if you take a little time to examine it, and that’s exactly what our class has been doing for the past few weeks. We took a deep dive into literature, a peek into the world of nuclear science, another crack at using book creator, and a trip halfway down the continent all in hopes of answering this question:
This question definitely proved challenging for our class to answer due to it’s broadness and complexity, but through extensive research, work, and exploration I was able to not only gain a strong understanding, but demonstrate this in the product below, which is a multimedia book experience created in the apps Book Creator and Keynote:
I’m extremely happy with how the final draft it turned out; I feel I finally found the perfect balance between creativity, uniformed theme, deep inquiry, and clear information. It also saw great improvements from my first template draft, which can be seen below:
During our trip I got the opportunity to not only complete my template, but grow it with my newfound authentic understanding, which produced my second draft:
Then, a couple of days ago, our teachers provided us with some more feedback. I was told ___________________. Acting upon this, I created the third and final draft which you can view above.
In a PLP first, this project kicked off its launch activity in the summer. I was going through my notifications one day, minding my own business, when all the sudden a Showbie symbol popped up. At first I was confused, then scared upon realizing the implication of this, but then relived when I saw it involved reading a book. We had been tasked with completing the non fiction text The Age of Radiance by Craig Nelson, by time school started, and with writing a short response paper.
In reading this book, the teachers were hoping to give us a glimpse into a topic key to understand if we were to answer our our upcoming driving question; the development of the bomb. They were also hoping to introduce us to many of the complex concepts behind this weapon in a contextual and connected way, and this book met both of these objectives remarkably well. It was so informative in fact, that there was almost too much information to take in. Considering my past struggles with brevity, I knew that if I was to finish the book by the time school started, I would need to come in with a plan. I then thought back to my tPols from last year, and how I made a goal about doing only what is required for my desired result, and decided that I would only record information that directly related to what I understood our unit to be at this point:
Instantly, I noticed how beneficial this method was. I found myself having way more time to read as I wasn’t making endless notes, and could write chapter summaries with ease. This proved even more helpful though when it was time to deliver my response, because I didn’t have to sort through mountains of information to find my topic of interest:
I didn’t know it at the time, but this approach had another, invaluable benefit. Because I wasn’t recording everything, I had to assess what information was actually historically significant. I was forced to approach everything with a critical eye, which lead to predictions and connections being made as I went all in hopes of finding the bigger picture. The reason I say this is so valuable is because not only did I start to see which events held historical significance (such as Chicago Pile-1, the recruitment of Robert Oppenheimer, and the Trinity Test), but I also learned the skill of reviewing and thinking about the importance of information; a skill which I used for the rest of the project and will continue to use in the future.
When September rolled around, our class was given a mission. Armed with our knowledge from The Age of Radiance, we were tasked with beginning our journey to answering our driving question. However, although our exuberance was high, we weren’t ready to dive in headfirst. This was because before we could answer how the development of atomic bomb was historically significant, we had to first understand exactly what historical significance is. Like I talked about in the introduction, there are some specific criteria that allows an event to be significant, which we were introduced to in class:
We then looked at how this criteria applied by examining this picture:
Although these individuals are not themselves of any historical significance, our teachers explained to us that things in our past “can link it to larger trends and stories that reveal something important for us today.” For example, this woman could have been suffering the impact of the Great Depression in the 1930’s, and would represent millions of others who found themselves in similar situations.
Our in-class analysis gave us a great initial understanding of historical significance, but to make sure we really had it down, our teachers assigned us our first milestone assignment, a video analyzing the historical significance of an event:
For my video, I decided to focus on the development of Oral Contraceptives due to the fact that they are one of the most hidden yet significant pieces of modern day woman’s rights. Overall, I’m quite proud of how it turned out, as I feel it follows a coherent theme, utilizes imagery to greatly enhance the message, and struck the perfect balance between informative and cinematic. I am also quite proud of how efficiently I was able to create it due to the fact that I followed the method of assessing the criteria, planning how to meet it, and then using a variety of mediums to execute this vision. I don’t think this project was particularly unique from others however, so what allowed it to turn out so well?
After some reflection, I was able to trace it down mainly to one thing; I focused on my strengths. For many projects, I aim to try whatever new and ambitious ideas I can come up with. I enjoy being on the cutting edge, which although can bring innovation can also lead to an unpolished and unorganized product. This time however, I decided to keep it simple by using keynote and magic move transitions, which I am proficient at making. It may have not broke much new ground, but that isn’t always necessary. I still achieved what I wanted to get done, but didn’t have to spend excess time and energy to do so. This realization has confirmed how important focusing on my goal of “doing only what is needed to reach a required result” will be for me in the future, and I will continue to work to achieve it.
I learned many unexpected and great things when making this video, but ultimately it’s purpose was to heighten our understanding of historical significance. I feel it accomplished this, as from this point onwards, certain Manhattan Project events, people, and developments started popping out at me more and more…
It’s rare that PLP takes a trip into the scientific world, but when it does, things get interesting. Now that we understood what it means for the bomb to be significant, it was time to take a glance at what the bomb actually is. For all you science enthusiasts out there, feel free to watch my video linked below all on the inner workings of both uranium and hydrogen bombs:
If you’re not interested in diving that deep, to sum it up, both bombs function due to some sort of instability on the atomic level. For uranium bombs (aka the Little Boy and the Fat Man), an unstable uranium 235 isotope is bombarded until it emits neutrons, which then hit other unstable isotopes, starting an explosive chain reaction. This is called nuclear fission. For plutonium bombs (e.g. hydrogen bombs/the majority of bomb built since the first models), they rely on a process known as nuclear fusion, where the nuclei of two unstable plutonium 239 atoms are pushed together in order to fuse them and release energy. While doing this, they also release penetrating rays known as radiation.
Although I was excited to learn about the science of the bombs, I could recall a lot of what our teacher was talking about from grade 10 Scimathics class. Due to this, I decided to focus solely on the implications of the science rather than the specifics of it. This had never been a problem for me before, and I figured as long as we didn’t have a test I could always look it up.
Well, guess what the teachers said we were having next class?
So we had our nuclear fission and fusion test, and I got 5/9 on it. This really upset me, because I knew if I just would have made some more specific notes I could have aced it. However, I’m not going to cry over spilled milk, and will take this as a learning opportunity for next time to balance my focus on details and the big picture.
Now, I do say balance for a reason. This is because my big picture focus wasn’t for naught; I picked up some important information on the historical significance of nuclear science. It was in this class that I first learned atomic research has been used in more than just weapons and energy generation. It’s used in agriculture, manufacturing, medicine, and other fields of science to this day. Things like radiation therapy for cancer patients and deep studying of the human heart would not have been possible without the development of atomic technology, and this understanding pushed me one step close to answering our driving question.
I don’t know why, but I always though the atomic bomb just kind of…happened. To my knowledge, some Government officials had done experiments, a bit of planning, and then all the sudden there were these gargantuan weapons across the planet. After reading The Age of Radiance though, I started to see that there were hundreds of individuals who put an effort into launching this project. After we learned about the science, it was time to learn about the people.
In order to pinpoint who out of the literal hundreds where to most significant to the nuclear effort, we as a class were tasked with making a list of the 17 most important individuals to the project. From this list, we would each pick someone to research and put our knowledge into a deck of character cards. Despite the teachers not being there, the first step was relatively easy. Through some organized chaos, we jotted down the list of people below:
The next step of research was also relatively easy, as it proved fun. This was because we were given a graphical novel and a video game to look into as our sources:
Things were all going well. We had our research, we had time to spare, so now all that was left was to create a template and put in our points. However, we then realized what the twist was about this project; we had to use a pre-made template:
I know you might be thinking, “What’s so bad about having someone do the creative work for you?”. Well, with most of my class being in PLP for four years, innovation and original expression has been hammered into our minds as much as speaking and reading, so it was hard to let it go. It did make the work a lot easier though, and allowed me to focus my energy onto the driving question. I took two main things away from this project regarding this:
1. Names to Great Work. There were so many aspects to the Manhattan Project, and each one had at least four to five, if not several names attached to it. In The Age of Radiance, every scientist, Government official, military commander, and general worker had paragraphs written about them, so it was hard to tell who should be the center focus. Now that I’ve completed this project though, I can confidently say not only who did what, but who did what and why that mattered.
2. A Human Aspect. Learning about the people was important because it gave a necessary human aspect to the heap of science and history. There were so many facts, dates, and events that we explored, but it was hard to care about their significance on an emotional level without seeing the people, their lives, and how they are just like people today.
At this point, we had learned the bulk of the information, but this did not mean the unit was over. In fact, things were about to come to a spectacular head with our trip to the nuclear home base; New Mexico. Here, it would be our job to take our learning to the next level by taking photos, conducting interviews, and observing phenomena all in hopes of creating our aforementioned digital media books. Recognizing the insanity which ensued on the Circle B.C. trip, the teachers decided to give us some more direction before hand and tasked us with making our templates for the books in advance (mine is linked at the top of this post).
After the template restrictions of the character cards, I was just waiting for an opportunity like this to create something creative. I was prepared to go all out, adding in every detail I could think of. Yet, my better sense caught me, and reminded me of something we had talked about last year:
One of the most memorable pieces of information I have from grade 10 is what simplicity really means. Surprisingly, it doesn’t mean doing less, but rather doing a lot more behind the scenes work, with the final product demonstrating this in the details rather than outwardly. It may not have been my go-to choice, but considering this I eventually decided to focus on simplicity for my book. Instead of some crazy, unorganized theme like what can be seen in some of my previous digital creations, I decided to use three colours, two fonts, dark grey backgrounds, and the same layout for every page. I wasn’t sure at first, but this simplicity ended up turning my book into what, in my opinion, is one of my best PLP products yet:
Once the aesthetic was down, it was time to get to work on the material. However, I had to be careful in diving straight into this part, because this is where I usually run into trouble. I am usually fearful that I won’t get my point across if I don’t include every detail, which causes my project to loose it’s focus. To prevent this, I utilized my knowledge of assessing historical significance and only picked out the most important people, places, and events to include. Instead of looking at how important the events were at the time, I looked at what the ideas behind these developments meant to the overall completion of the project, and through this was also to cut a lot out.
I am quite glad I was able to do this, because it saved me so much pointless work. Another thing that helped with this was when I utilized my goal of prioritization and wrote the key paragraphs first. Instead of going linearly like usual, I started with my introduction, wrote my transitional paragraphs at the top of the pages, and then wrote about the significance. This ended up being quite helpful to me not only because it allowed me to get my work done before our trip, but also because it allowed me to focus all the information between these points towards getting there so I didn’t get off track.
We had read about it. We had talked about it. We had seen it in pictures, in books, in videos. Now, we were going to it. On October 2, 2019, our class boarded a plane headed far south to the land of mesa and Government facilities; we were off to New Mexico. Even on the first day, I could tell that the trip was going to be incredible. Every where we went there was awe-inspiring nature, rich history, unique culture, and so much more. It took me a while to let go of my work and be willing to get out of my comfort zone to fully embrace this experience (learn more about that here), but once I did so I found myself with amazing opportunities.
One of these was with the chances for photos. I’m never one to shy away from actually dangerous photo opportunities (painted chasm “cough cough”), but when it comes getting out of my social comfort zone things can be a bit more challenging. You see, I decided to take on the task of making the PLP page for the yearbook this year, which I thought would be easy until I realized it meant actually taking photos of my classmates. Personally, I’m huge about personal space, so it felt a bit awkward for me to come up in front of people and take photos. However, following the theme of taking responsible risks on the trip, I decided to push out of my comfort zone and take them anyways. Yes, it was scary at first, but looking back I’m proud on this small, but significant risk.
Another kind of opportunity I got was with interviews. Due to the Manhattan Project being a relatively recent event (in the grand scheme of things), there were tons of people who were either part of it or impacted by it at the places we went to. This provided me with the chance to utilize all of the interview skills I had accumulated up to this point, along with improve my current method. Some of the things I did to make sure my interviews were top quality was put the subjects in front of relevant backgrounds, I learned how the lapel microphones worked to get top audio quality, and worked with others to get and share interviews, utilizing our unique skills and technologies (e.g. I would get the video with my camera and someone else with a good mic would record).
I think when I reflect back on this trip in a number of years what I’ll remember most however will have been the learning directed at our driving question. Just like I talked about at the exhibition last year, experiences like these bring an authentic understanding to what you already know. You get to make connections with real people, notice little details, access resources (like scale models of the bombs!), and above all, confirm with your own eyes if what you’ve been assessing as significant actually is so. It was only after witnessing the hundreds of people coming to the Trinity site, in taking to people like Terry Leighley (a retired nuclear submarine officer), and driving past places like the University of New Mexico (which became prestigious in part due to the science connections of the project) that I truly felt confident in my ability to answer our driving question.
Coming home from the trip, I marvelled at the amount of photos, videos, interviews, notes, and audio recordings I had. There was no dread however, because I knew that this time I wasn’t just sorting through everything I had learned (like with Circle B.C.), but rather was looking through a collection of gold that directly tied to the driving question. I understood the timeline, I knew about the science, I recognized the people, and now I had a great book and a pile of media waiting to go in it. Yes, it took a lot of work, but there’s no doubt that everything we did in the Manhattan Project unit helped me gain an awesome overstanding of just what the historical significance of the atomic bomb really is: