Pupils' and teachers' understanding of scientific information related to a matter of public concern
The focus of this research is on the interaction secondary school students and teachers had with radioactivity related information. An accident involving radioactive material which happened in Brazil in 1987 provides the context in relation to which the enquiry is framed. The selected groups' knowledge and perceptions are discussed in relation to topics which include: the conceptualisation of both the nature of physical entities involved and processes which appear to be at work in explanatory accounts of radioactivity; analogies and interpretative schemas as an attempt to go beneath the surface of the most common kinds of misunderstandings; the relationships between the layperson and the scientific information necessary to make sense of scientific/technological events, in terms of students' sources of information, interests and needs as well as self-evaluation of their understandings; the relationships between science and society and the role of secondary education in the context of the communication of such ideas considering its implications for people's daily life. The empirical study conducted with both students and teachers consisted of a questionnaire and of an interview study. Data derived from the questionnaire is essentially quantitative and was analysed by using multi-variate statistical methods. Data derived from the interviews is essentially qualitative and was analysed using systemic network analysis techniques. Results are discussed in terms of the implications of understanding better the role of analogies making sense of new information, and the use of knowledge in context as well as the use of pragmatic knowledge, derived from social expectations, for both research on commonsense and to schooling, so as to inform decisions about pedagogic interventions within a Science Technology and Society approach.