Using Media in the Classroom: Learning and Teaching about the 2011 Japanese Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Events from a Socio-Scientific and Science Literacy Perspective

Article excerpt

This article discusses using students' analysis of media coverage of the March 2011 Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear events to develop their knowledge and understanding of geological concepts and related socio-scientific issues. It draws on news reported at that time, identifies themes in those reports, and suggests how this event can be used as a context for learning and teaching part of the Australian curriculum (science) in Year 6 and Year 9. Critical analysis of the media coverage enhances students' scientific literacy, in particular synthesis, evaluation and analysis. Ideas for classroom implementation are discussed.

An effective mechanism to engage students in topical science is to have them critically analyse articles relating to world events of scientific significance. One of the challenges for the teacher is how to construct a series of learning tasks that allow students to engage with the science during this analysis. The March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and subsequent failure at the Fukushima nuclear reactor in Japan, provided authentic science learning opportunities for students at both primary and secondary levels. The events were leading news stories for many weeks in the Australian media. Such news makes for interesting classroom lessons that address the role of the media in reporting events of significant scientific interest.

Socio-scientific issues (SSI), for example the impacts of geological hazards, are complex and challenging for students to decipher because they are best understood by bringing together multiple facets of scientific and social knowledge. Different stakeholders may interpret the same data relating to SSI in different ways (Robottom, 2012). Social, environmental, political, economic, ethical and moral issues form a backdrop to the interpretation of the science. Scientific literacy is the use of scientific knowledge to explain processes and phenomena, and to draw evidence-based conclusions about science-related issues (OECD-PISA, 2006). Students' examination of media coverage of a SSI, together with explanation of current scientific knowledge, is one way of fostering scientific literacy in the classroom.

For teachers, the question is how can topics of interest in the media be used to engage students in science in an authentic way? The Japanese case study described in this paper, allows students to explore geological, environmental and social concepts, including plate tectonics, faulting and local consequences of tectonic movement, and the linked nature of the hazards observed (earthquake-tsunami-nuclear reactor damage-environmental and social impact), in context. It follows that if we engage students in science in novel ways with respect to topical issues, then we can capitalize on their interest, curiosity and desire to know more about the science, potentially utilizing higher order skills (analysis, evaluation and synthesis) to do so.


In Australia, student scientific literacy has been a focus for school-based curriculum reform and has influenced changes to constructivist teaching practice for the past decade (Hackling 2005, Norris and Phillips 2003, Tytler 2007). One impetus for this change was a national review of the status and quality of teaching and learning of science in Australian schools in which it was argued that the broad purpose of science in the compulsory years of schooling is to develop scientific literacy for all students (Goodrum et al. 2001). Scientific literacy has been defined by the OECD-PISA (2006) as the use of scientific knowledge to identify questions, to acquire new knowledge, to explain scientific phenomena, and to draw evidence-based conclusions about science-related issues; understanding of the characteristic features of science as a form of human knowledge and enquiry; awareness of how science and technology shape our material, intellectual and cultural environments; and willingness to engage in science-related issues and with the ideas of science, as a reflective citizen. …