Inquiry into Radioactivity - Enabling Radiation Literacy

Project No.
942699
PI Name
Andy Johnson
Institution
Black Hills State University
Target Discipline


IUSE-EHR/TUES/CCLI

Abstract 1

Inquiry into Radioactivity - Enabling Radiation Literacy

Presentation Type
Poster
Team
Andy Johnson, Black Hills State University


Need

Modern life exposes us to ionizing radiation via increasingly common medical procedures, industrial uses of radioisotopes, and, sometimes, unexpected nuclear accidents. When people hear news of a radiological incident, their fears are fueled by ignorance about ionizing radiation. Radiation literacy is a key component of scientific literacy but is rarely taught. Worse, before the Inquiry Into Radioactivity (IiR) project, it was not known what people needed to learn to understand radiation. While the major literacy topics are straightforward - what ionizing radiation is, where it comes from, and how it can harm people - the background knowledge and learning pathways necessary to understand these things are still being investigated. Thus the IiR project is conducting classroom research and developing inquiry-based course materials to identify and address learning difficulties and to create and test new educational tools for promoting radiation literacy among non-science college students.

Goals

The IiR project is conducting classroom research and developing inquiry-based course materials to identify and address learning difficulties and to create and test new educational tools for promoting radiation literacy among non-science college students. The IiR materials use guided inquiry to create a powerful, compelling, and fun learning environment. Working in small groups often at computers, students make predictions, perform experiments and re-examine their ideas in light of the results. The instructor provides questions, support, and guidance, while students themselves develop key ideas about radiation and radioactivity. Over time, the majority of students in the IiR classroom develop new, robust, and useful ways of thinking about types of radiation, atoms, the interaction of radiation with matter, along with many other topics. After repeated cycles of classroom testing, assessment of learning and modification of course materials, the IiR project has demonstrated that radiation literacy is possible (and interesting!) for our target population.

Approach

The topic of radiation touches on physics, chemistry, statistics, and a bit of biology. Along with radiation physics, the IiR materials emphasize randomness, the structure of atoms and molecules, and the molecular biology needed to understand basics of radiation damage. Two conceptual evaluations- on radiation and on atoms - have been developed. The complete course materials include field-tested student activities, extensive teacher guides, homework, assessments, equipment lists, and three powerful computer simulators for investigating radiation at a range of size scales. They can be used in most classrooms and only require modest equipment.

Outcomes

The materials work. They teach an instructor to withold answers and allow students to develop their own ideas. Field tests at two other universities have shown that IiR can be adequately replicated. Studies of learning have established that around 80% of IiR students typically develop useful and powerful views of radiation as subatomic particles in motion, which is a profound transition from their initial material-like views.

Broader Impacts

A first step has been made towards widespread radiation literacy. The IiR project is looking for ways to get these tools and techniques into more classrooms, and to apply the lessons learned to educating non-college learners about radiation. The complete course materials are freely available at https://www.camse.org/radiation

IiR has been supported by NSF DUE grant 0942699. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Unexpected Challenges

1) We discovered widespread inability to think usefully about atoms and thus had to create course materials on atoms including the Atom Builder Simulator. 2) Existing canonical topics are not the appropriate ones to teach to radiation beginners. IiR has completely revamped the content list.
3)We found that learning about radiation does not simply require accumulating new information but students must first clarify and question their existing vague but tenacious thinking about radiation, and then abandon it in favor of a particles-in-motion view.

Citations

Johnson, A., Hafele Anna (2010). Exploring Student Understanding of Atoms and Radiation With The Atom Builder Simulator. 2010 Physics Education Research Conference, Portland OR, American Institute of Physics.
Johnson, A. (2013). 'Radiation and Atomic Literacy for Nonscientists.' Science 342(6157): 436-437.
Johnson, A. and R. Maidl (2014). Students Coming to Understand Ionizing Radiation - A Radiation Literacy Challenge. National Association for Research in Science Teaching 2014 Annual Conference. Pittsburgh PA, NARST.
Hafele, A. and A. Johnson (2012). Exploring Learning Difficulties Associated with Understanding Ionizing By Radiation. National Conference on Undergraduate Research, Weber State College, Ogden, UT, UNC Asheville.



Project Page


Additional Abstract:

Student Journeys for Understanding Radiation and Radioactivity

Team
Andy Johnson, Black Hills State University Anna Hafele, Black Hills State University Rebecca Maidl, Black Hills State University Ryan Anderson, Black Hills State University
Need

Radiation literacy is a key component of scientific literacy but the topic is rarely taught. Moreover little research has been done on what people need to learn to understand radiation. The Inquiry into Radioactivity (IiR) Project is developing inquiry-based curriculum materials for radiation and researching student learning of the topic.

Goals

The goal of IiR is to enable widespread radiation literacy through characterizing student thinking, clarifying the content that must be learned to understand radiation and radioactivity, and developing tools and techniques that effectively address student difficulties. This poster describes a project to identify the learning stages required to understand radiation and radioactivity.

Approach

The inquiry approach lends itself nicely to identifying student thinking at every stage of learning because the instructor has many opportunities to listen to studentsメ honest thinking unmasked by what they have been told. One key finding of IiR is that the vast majority of non-science college students come into the classroom knowing very little about radiation and radioactivity. Radiation beginners think of radiation as モbad stuffヤ having material-like properties ヨ it contaminates things by モgetting on themヤ and then is re-emitted. Very few have a particulate view of ionizing radiation, and most fail to distinguish radioactivity from radiation itself. Most are slow to abandon their モundifferentiatedヤ and モmaterial-likeヤ views in favor of the accepted view of nuclear radiation as subatomic particles traveling at high speed. Studentsメ alternate ideas impede their learning about radiation and radioactivity throughout the course.

Using the Radiation Conceptual Evaluation we typically find that fewer than 10% of non-science majors initially use appropriate particle-like ideas about radiation. However, after completing the course, more than 80% of the class typically switches to a particle model and distinguishes radiation from radioactivity. What milestones do the students have to reach in order to develop the new view?

Outcomes

Repeated measurements throughout one semester show that, while half of the students began reliably using a particle model after the first third of the course, the next 30% gradually reached the new ways of thinking only near the end of the course, and roughly 20% never made the needed changes. It seems that different students need differing levels of support and opportunities to change their thinking about radiation and radioactivity. Also ヨ for that 30% - this change is difficult and time consuming and probably requires developing a more extensive and useful model of atoms.

Broader Impacts

If we are to embrace radiation literacy as a relevant part of scientific literacy, then careful decisions must be made about what students are taught about atoms, and research findings need to be employed in designing education about atomic theory. We should consider studentsメ needs to make meaning about what they are taught if we intend for them to learn anything about atoms or radiation.

IiR has been supported by NSF DUE grant 0942699. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.