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Title: What Students Think About (Nuclear) Radiation – Before and After Fukushima

Preparing successful science lessons is very demanding. One important aspect a teacher has to consider is the students' previous knowledge about the specific topic. This is why research about students' preconceptions has been, and continues to be, a major field in science education research. Following a constructivistic approach [R. Duit et al., International handbook of research on conceptual change, p. 629 (2008)], helping students learn is only possible if teachers know about students' ideas beforehand. Studies about students' conceptions regarding the major topics in physics education (e.g. mechanics, electrodynamics, optics, thermodynamics), are numerous and well-documented. The topic radiation, however, has seen very little empirical research about students' ideas and misconceptions. Some research was conducted after the events of Chernobyl [P. Lijnse et al., International Journal of Science Education 12, 67 (1990); B. Verplanken, Environment and Behavior 21, 7 (1989)] and provided interesting insight into some of the students' preconceptions about radiation. In order to contribute empirical findings to this field of research, our workgroup has been investigating the conceptions students have about the topic radiation for several years [S. Neumann et al., Journal of Science Education and Technology 21, 826 (2012)]. We used children's drawings and conducted short follow-up interviewsmore » with students (9 – 12 years old) and more detailed interviews with 15-year-old students. Both studies were originally done before the events in Fukushima and replicated a year later. We not only asked students about their general associations and emotions regarding the term radiation, but also examined the students' risk perceptions of different types of radiation. Through the use of open-ended questions we were able to examine students' conceptions about different types of radiation (including nuclear) that could be a hindrance to student learning. Our results show that students' associations with the term radiation are almost exclusively related to nuclear radiation. Their emotions concerning the word radiation are predominately negative, and the idea that radiation is something to be avoided is widespread among students. Since most students were not familiar with the idea of naturally occurring nuclear radiation, it does not seem surprising that a lot of them generally described radiation as something artificial and man-made. Also, none of the students interviewed mentioned applications of nuclear radiation in medicine or technology (besides its use in nuclear power plants). All of these results have shown to be even more prevalent in the interview session that was conducted after the tragic events in Fukushima in 2011. In this article, we will also include suggestions for improving the teaching of the topic radiation in school.« less
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
Resource Type:
Journal Article
Resource Relation:
Journal Name: Nuclear Data Sheets; Journal Volume: 120; Other Information: Copyright (c) 2014 Elsevier Science B.V., Amsterdam, The Netherlands, All rights reserved.; Country of input: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
Country of Publication:
United States