It just so happened that two recent claims by North Korea regarding nuclear weaponry have coincided with related topics in Roosevelt Middle School teacher Peter Knutson’s eighth-grade science class. Most recently, garnering a response from former United States Secretary of Defense William J. Perry.
In January, Knutson’s classes put their lessons about nuclear fission and fusion to the test – with students using their knowledge of Uranium-235 and nuclear reactions to determine if a reported hydrogen blast in North Korea was indeed a nuclear weapons test as claimed.
Just this week, when North Korea released a statement saying it was developing a bomb that could wipe out Manhattan, his class again jumped into action. Using their earlier work as a foundation, they now combined their new learning about Newton’s Law of Motion to develop an analysis and report to share with experts in the field.
In both instances, Knutson forwarded his students’ work to the National Nuclear Security Association and the Stanford Center for International Security and Cooperation. Both agencies commended the students on their work after the project in January and the United States Geological Service shared seismic activity data with the class. This time, Knutson said responses included one from Perry, who is a professor emeritus at Stanford and was the United States’ 19th Secretary of Defense.
“I want to congratulate all of you on your thoughtful and careful analysis of the North Korean Manhattan claim,” said Perry in an email. “You considered the right issues, did your research carefully, and arrived at an accurate conclusion. The research this problem demanded is more typical of what is required of advanced high school students, or even college students, so you are getting a great head start on your education. And I especially want to commend your teacher for giving you a problem so timely and so significant.”
Perry also brought the gravity of the North Korea situation into perspective for the class. “I do, however, want you to consider that while the North Korean government was undoubtedly engaged in bluster, they do have nuclear weapons and delivery systems that can strike South Korea and Japan, and we need to be deeply concerned about the danger to the people of those countries,” he said in his email.
For Knutson, these exercises have been a chance to relate a real-life issue to topics in class – and the response from Perry was exceptionally exciting. “This was a ‘wow’ moment for the kids and I,” he said. “They were floored.”