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Bulb danger

  • Key Stage 3
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Group discussion
Topic: Energy transfer

Poisonous mercury from low energy light bulbs is a risk to users, says a recent Government warning. But is this risk worth the benefits of using low energy light bulbs? In this activity students rank risks and benefits to help them decide.

11-14 How Science Works:
Applications and implications of science
4a About the use of contemporary scientific and technological developments and their benefits, drawbacks and risks.

Published: 17th January 2008
Reviews & Comments: 8

Learning objectives

Students will
• Evaluate and rank benefits and risks
• Judge the relative value of benefits and risks to make a decision

Try the activity

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11-14 (KS3)

From September 2008
1.2a Exploring how the creative application of scientific ideas can bring about technological developments and consequent changes in the way people think and behave.

3.1a Energy can be transferred usefully, stored, or dissipated, but cannot be created or destroyed.

3.2c Elements and compounds show characteristic chemical properties and patterns in their behaviour.

Until September 2008
QCA unit 8e Atoms and elements

QCA unit 9i Energy and electricity

14-16 (KS4)

How science works
Applications and implications of science
4a About the use of contemporary scientific and technological developments and their benefits, drawbacks and risks.

GCSE specifications
Please see downloadable teachers' notes

Running the activity

This is a short, snappy activity that will enhance any energy resources lesson. It is best run at a fast pace!

Page 1 sets the context. It aims to shock rather than give a balanced view! It would be useful to show students a low energy light bulb. Ask students if they use them at home. Tell students that traditional ('old') light bulbs are no longer sold in many countries, for example Australia. They will soon be unavailable in the UK. Possible ICT link – get students to download images and adverts from the web promoting low energy light bulbs.

Page 2 very briefly explains how low energy light bulbs work. It also includes background information about mercury for students to browse.

Page 3 describes how to use the evidence cards on page 4. The activity is designed to encourage critical thinking. Students quickly sort the cards into 'good news' and 'bad news' for energy saving light bulbs. This can be done with voting pads if you have the technology. Next they create 'top trump' cards to help them identify stronger and weaker arguments. They also decide whether there are any 'killer arguments' – ones which are more important than all the others. In deciding to ban traditional bulbs, governments are placing high priority on the arguments gives on cards 2 and 5.

Finally, do a quick class vote. Ideally students will have gone from being really certain that the bulbs are a good idea (before the lesson), to being very unsure and wanting to ban them, and then back again to a balanced argument that governments are right to promote low energy bulbs, but they have their drawbacks and it is important to keep researching new ideas.

News links

Daily Mail newspaper
The news story
Royal Society of Chemistry
Useful Q and Q on low energy bulbs
Information about low energy bulbs
Information about mercury

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?


Jul 2nd, 2013

4 Star

looks good. I have yet to use it


Bulb Danger

Mar 5th, 2010

5 Star

I find this activity very interesting and current. Students love it and were able to relate it to their everyday life. A lot of them told me that it got them thinking about what they do at home. I it has certainly changes a few mind set.

I have used this activity with different groups and it went down well each time.

Bella Okpalugo

Reviewer: Bella OKPALUGO

bulb danger

Feb 4th, 2010

5 Star

I did use not use it in my teaching but rather devised activity that is much simplier for the students. Having read through the resource, I think is a very good, and something that can create a very good dicussion in the lesson.

Reviewer: Assumpta Nwachukwu

Bulb Danger

Apr 21st, 2009

4 Star

An excellent activity. This lasted for a 35 minute lesson and provoked a good deal of discussion.

Reviewer: Anne Andrews

Useful but not perfect

Jul 2nd, 2008

4 Star

I used this with a class of Y8 as a sequence of lessons about light bulbs.

My frst alteration was to rate the 12 cards on a scale of -5 to +5 rather than the 0 to 5 suggested.

Two of my more able students noticed that card 10 was poorlly presented, rather than the five CFL and one incandescent as shown, wouldn't it better to have 1 CFL and 5 light bulbs, emphasising the fact that the life span of a CFL is about 5 times that of a traditional.

Reviewer: Stephen Brian

science yr 10

May 13th, 2008

5 Star

good thinking skills activity, most kids are really bad at critical thinking and evaluation this helps!

Reviewer: Dawood Sadiq

What a coincidence!

Feb 25th, 2008

5 Star

We had an INSET day today where we looked at research topics and investigations to address the 'How Science Works' element of KS3.
One of the research topics we came up with was the uses of mercury and how this material has been largely replaced because of safety considerations.
I got home to find the Update newsletter in my email inbox with this activity. I will most certainly be using it and sharing it with colleagues.
As a starting point we were considering showing our students a sample of mercury but, as we don't actually have any left in school now, we looked for video clips which show mercury. There are plenty to be found if you type 'mercury metal' into Google videos.

Reviewer: Christine Wolfe

Secrets of the Ice

Feb 22nd, 2008

5 Star

I used this activity with an S2 class. I started by gatting them to tell me what they already knew about ice sheets then showed them a demo of taking an ice coe from layers of coloured play dough.
The pupils were put int groups of three to take turns to read the information, then fill in the form.
the class were able to work together to complete the tests. They really liked the activity and benefitted from a real life example of tests.

Reviewer: Elizabeth Galloway

The upd8 store
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