Education that works

3 November 2002

One of the key issues facing the nuclear industry is that of recruitment. In particular, it is imperative that students be attracted into the industry to provide the next generation. The American Nuclear Society is carrying out a programme aimed at middle- and high-school students. By Paul Williams

Usually when the phrase "The Next Generation" is used in the nuclear industry, it refers to the next generation of reactor designs. However, the next generation of engineers is just as important. To attract young people into studying to become nuclear engineers, it is necessary to catch them prior to their going to university.

A few years ago, the US government was in the process of disposing of thousands of Geiger counters from the Civil Defence Programmes dating back to the 1950s and 1960s. The American Nuclear Society (ANS) conceived the idea of salvaging these instruments, and using them as part of an educational programme for middle- and high-school students.

The educational programme package includes the following curriculum:

• History of nuclear technology.

• Natural radiation sources.

• Man-made radiation sources.

• Types of ionising and non-ionising radiation.

• How radiation is measured.

• Uses of radiation in medicine, industry, space, agriculture and research.

• Training in the use of a radiation measurement instrument.

• Experiment for use in a classroom.

The ANS gives each science teacher involved in the programme: the course curriculum, a Geiger counter, and low level sources for use in classroom experiments.

The ANS Northern Ohio Section adopted this programme as its primary educational programme. To date, it has conducted workshops for over 200 science teachers. The subjects covered in the workshop are not in the curriculum of any US school system that the ANS is aware of.

By presenting the scope and content of the workshop directly to the school system superintendent, or the curriculum head, or both, the workshop content is almost always accepted because they realise that the subject is not in the school programme, and is a major scientific increment of the industrial, medical, power, research and agriculture industries.

Due to the negative coverage by the media of any subject involving the topics of nuclear or radiation, it was initially assumed that teachers may not believe the facts and would pose many negative questions. However, the science teachers have all reacted very positively to receiving the facts. After some workshops, the presenters have received standing ovations. The teachers have asked many excellent questions, many on subjects over and above those included in the formal workshop presentation.

An example of a participating school system is the Stark County school system in Ohio, which has 30,000 students in Grades 7-12, and 225 science teachers. To date, two workshops for 56 science teachers in this school system have been carried out. The ANS workshop has been added to the Science and Technology for Understanding Research and Networking (SATURN) Programme, which is partially funded by the National Science Foundation and local companies. It is designed to improve the teaching of secondary school science by implementing a quality science programme. SATURN requires each middle- and high-school science teacher in Stark County to receive 130 hours of development over five years, including workshops in high performance technology.

The time and expense to conduct a workshop, with donated time by the presenters, is low, and there is a lot of leverage. For example, each science teacher teaches about 125 students per year. Each workshop will therefore present information to about 3125 students per year. This is the result of a programme requiring 8-10 hours of work preparing for and presenting the workshops. The objective of the Northern Ohio Section is to present workshops to at least 1000 teachers over the next few years. As an additional incentive to science teachers, some school systems provide educational credit necessary for promotion, and some school systems are paying the science teachers to attend the workshops.

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