Antimatter in the classroom

A brand new teaching resource has just been made available on the CERN Education website. The Antimatter Teaching Module contains eight lesson plans, together with background materials and extension topics, which are part of a wide educational project whose aim is to stimulate interest in science by introducing themes in modern physics to students aged 14-15 years, that is, earlier than is the practice in most national curricula.

Terrence Baine (left) and Rolf Landua (right) with an antimatter trap from the film 'Angels & Demons'.

In his capacity as CERN’s first Teacher in Residence, Terrence Baine’s primary project was to develop teaching modules to help high school teachers around the world incorporate modern particle physics into their curricula. “Back in October, it was decided that the first module should be on antimatter”, explains Terrence, who worked on it in collaboration with Rolf Landua, head of the Education Group and antimatter expert. “I started with designing a pedagogical platform, then did curriculum reviews to see what background students normally have in science at that age, and what I could build on from that background”.

During his stay at CERN, Terrence benefited from frequent exchanges with colleagues who were visiting CERN in the framework of the various programmes that the Education Group regularly organises. “Thanks to the teacher programmes I have been associated with since October, I have had the opportunity to talk with colleagues from all over Europe and learn about their national curricula”, he recollects.

Introducing antimatter at such an early age is a challenge, both for the teachers and the students. “When you first talk about antimatter with students, they have ideas that essentially come from science-fiction.  The goal of this resource is to allow the student to move on from these misconceptions and learn that science can be even more exciting than science-fiction”, says Terrence. “We used elements from Angels&Demons and Star Trek to first capture the students’ imagination, and then show the real science facts”.

In such a complex scenario, the most challenging thing for Terrence was to tailor the module in such a way that the end result was neither too difficult nor too easy for the students. “We did not want it to be superficial. We wanted the students to learn from it”, points out Terrence. “The whole purpose of this idea is that we need more modern physics when the students are younger. We want to catch the attention of students in science when it is still a mandatory subject, and to do so in an exciting way. This will increase the chances of having more students who will be willing to continue their education in science”.

If at present, in most secondary schools, modern physics is very often taught at the end of the student’s training plan, useful resources like the one that Terrence has produced might help the teacher acquire the necessary confidence to start reversing the trend. “The module is made on PowerPoint slides. This gives teachers  maximum flexibility as it allows them to take parts of it and even build their own lesson plans, if they wish”, he explains.

So far, the module has been tested with teachers and has received a lot of positive feedback. Very soon, Terrence and his colleagues will start using it with the end users, that is, the students. Translations of the module into other European languages are also in the Education Group’s future plans.

The Antimatter Teaching Module is available from the CERN Education Group website (click here).

by CERN Bulletin