Quantitative Skills > Teaching Resources > Activities > Exploring Radiometric Dating with Dice

Exploring Radiometric Dating with Dice

Carla Whittington derived from Baer (1999)

Geology Program, Highline Community College

This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Feb 25, 2006


This is a lab where students use dice to simulate radioactive decay. The use of dice has some advantages to other similar exercises, because the half-life is not immediately obvious to students, and they will need to experimentally determine it.

Students create a standard decay curve for a fictional element (Cascadium), calculate the half-life of this element, and, using the information their graph, "date" rocks that contain the new element.

Learning Goals

At the end of this activity, students should:

Context for Use

This is used in an introductory level geoscience class where a minimum of mathematical skills are required. It takes about an hour, and can be completed individually or in small groups. It does not need much supervision, so it could be used in a large class.

You will need:

Teaching Notes and Tips

The dice rolling itself takes only 20 minutes, the graphing another 15 minutes and the questions another 20 or so (but this last part is the most variable). Only the dice rolling need be done in-class - I assign the questions as homework.

Teaching Materials

The instructions for the students (Microsoft Word 26kB Feb16 05) is a word file that gives step-by-step student instructions
Data Table (Microsoft Word 56kB Feb16 05) is the data table students will need to fill out to complete the exercise
Student questions (Microsoft Word 26kB Feb16 05) is the list of questions we ask students to get them to analyze the data they have generated.


I use traditional assessment on the submitted work.

Controlled Vocabulary Terms

Subject: Geoscience:Geology:Geochemistry:Radioisotopes, Mathematics
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity:Short Activity:Demonstration, Activities:Lab Activity
Special Interest: Quantitative, Large Classroom
Grade Level: College Lower (13-14):Introductory Level
Learning Environment: Large Classes
Quantitative Skills: Problem Solving, Units and Unit Conversions, Arithmetic/Computation, Graphs, Logarithms/Exponential Functions, Exponential Growth and Decay, Probability and Statistics:Probability, Data Trends:Curve Fitting/Regression, Probability and Statistics:Describing Data Distribution, Probability and Statistics
Ready for Use: Ready to Use
Use: Enabling Student Investigation:Collect and interpret data, Illustrating concepts and ideas
Data Derived: Data Derived
Earth System Topics: Solid Earth:Earth Materials
Quantitative Skills Activity Type: Lab Activity, Classroom Activity
Topics: Time/Earth History
Theme: Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:Intro Geoscience, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Geochemistry

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