The advantages and disadvantages of Nuclear Energy: The Chernobyl disaster-Never again!

Author: Stella Magid-Podolsky, STEM teacher and educator in Israel

The activity took place between 20 February – 26 April 2020

The activity that I want to describe in this blog is called: “The advantages and disadvantages of Nuclear Energy:  The Chernobyl disaster-Never again!”. This is a long term activity which took place from the end of February till the 26th of April (the date when the Chernobyl disaster had occurred 34 years ago).

I did this activity with my 8th grade students during STEM lessons when my students began to learn the topic of alternative sources of Energy. The activity was divided into two parts. The first part of the activity took place at the school (that was before the Covid-19 outbreak). The second part of the activity began during the quarantine period, so it was held in the form of digital remote learning.

During the first part of the activity, 29 students were divided into 7 groups. Each group got an assignment to pick one alternative source for Electrical energy, conduct an inquiry about their chosen source and present their outcomes to their peers in the class. Most of the students picked Nuclear Energy and when I noticed that this topic interested many students and that many of them watched the HBO television miniseries “Chernobyl”, I decided to continue with the activity, focusing on the Chernobyl disaster.

I believe in the theory that if the teacher is interested in a specific topic, he or she will be more motivated to teach this topic in an interesting way and the process will also increase students’ interest and motivation for this topic.

The “Chernobyl disaster”‘ topic is very important to me. On the 26 April 1986, I was a little girl in the former USSR who lived several hundred kilometres from the disaster area. I remember this period. I remember my friends, kids at my summer camp who came to us from the disaster area in order to recover…I remember everything. Today, 34 years later, I think that my role as a STEM teacher and educator is to make my students aware of this huge ecological accident. Our generation and the generation of our students must do everything in order to prevent this kind of disasters in the future. We should keep our planet safe from this kind of dangerous events!!!

For the second part of the activity, I prepared an educational ILS (inquiry learning space) called “The Chernobyl disaster” on the Graasp platform with the help of GO-Lab project and its features and resources. Prior to students work with this ILS, I presented it to pre-service STEM teachers whom I train. After their work with the activity, I got the feedback from them and was able to improve the ILS and make it optimally suitable for 8th grade students. It was very important for me to involve pre-service teachers in the process of producing good ILS. In general, the collaboration between educators helps produce the best educational result. Through this collaboration, pre-service teachers could also learn how to work with the GO-Lab project and how to prepare a good ILS.

The “Chernobyl disaster” ILS contains six steps:

  • Orientation: Students are introduced to Chernobyl disaster.
  • Conceptualization: Students are introduced with the principles of Nuclear energy.
  • Investigation about Chernobyl disaster through films, videos and inquiry.
  • Conclusion about the connection between radioactive radiation and human health.
  • Discussion: The step which connects different aspects of the topic: medicine, ethics, politics, public health, physics…During this step, students are required to use their critical thinking skills.
  • Students’ reflection on the activity (with the usage of Padlet, collaborative electronic wall).

My 8th-grade students worked on this ILS during the last week of April while quarantined at home. During this hard period, when our teaching process is done by distance learning, pedagogical ILS can be a great way for students to learn. 

One of the educational theories that I tried to implement in my activity was SEL (social and emotional learning). It is very important to involve students in the topic through their emotions with the emphasis on empathy to the situation. One of the steps of the activity contains a question about students feelings and thoughts when they see the pictures from the disaster area. I think when students use all their senses and feelings during the educational process their involvement in the topic is very high and the result is much more effective.

I want to say that as a teacher I enjoyed preparing this activity because it is very important to me and through students’ feedback and reflection I understand that this activity was also interesting and important to them!

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Biology and STEM teacher and secondary school at high school. Teachers' trainer at the faculty of Science education at university

2 thoughts on “The advantages and disadvantages of Nuclear Energy: The Chernobyl disaster-Never again!”

  1. Wow Stella. I bet your personal experience really did motivate the students’ interest in the subject. I often hear my colleagues who teach physics commenting how interested the students are in learning about this disaster. Imagine if their teacher would have experienced it!

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