Editorial — Bringing Nobel Prize physics to high schools

By . Published on 27 February 2014 in:
Editorial, February 2014, , , ,

Today much of the ethical and political decision-making involves some understanding of the nature of science, its strengths and limits. There is perhaps no better or more recent example of this need, than the debate that arose around the discovery of the Higgs Boson and the operation of LHC at CERN, which has sparked the imagination of authors of works of fiction, occasionally causing concern among the general public. To understand the role of science in deliberations about the projected outcomes of the experiments taking place in the LHC, their safety and value – given the immense investment in human and other resources involved – all students, including future scientists need to be educated to be critical consumers of scientific knowledge.

We need to enrich our school curricula with activities that improved both students and teachers ability to engage with such debates, since they not only impart a knowledge of the content, but also a knowledge of ‘how science works’, “an element which should be an essential component of any school science curriculum”1. We need to design activities that heavily encourage critical and creative ways of thinking and enhance young people’s critical attitudes to science and its experiments. When students get involved in such activities they appreciate the challenges and limitations of an experiment or observation and as a result develop a better understanding of the nature of scientific knowledge.

There are a series of initiatives that are trying to bring Nobel Prize winning Physics to school students. These initiatives promote science teaching and learning as a process of inquiry as well as technological thinking as a process of problem solving. They act as the window onto live scientific experiments and phenomena, on-going scientific research, and the personalities and stories of working scientists across Europe and beyond. For example, through advanced technical interfaces numerous students and teachers have the opportunity to access and use remotely robotic telescopes in real time, to discuss with researchers at South Pole, to perform experiments and to make observations, to analyse data from CERN detectors to discover Higgs boson and finally to develop and suggest solutions and provide answers to selected scientific topics. In doing so the we are promoting a reversal of school science teaching pedagogy from mainly deductive to inquiry-based methods, which is more likely to increase students’ interest and attainment in science.

The European Physical Society aims to coordinate these unique initiatives and to develop a framework, through the European Science Education Academy, that will offer such opportunities to numerous schools in Europe.

On 23 January 2014 the Open Discovery Space project consortium that is working to introduce innovative practices in schools has organized a hangout between European and US schools and the control rooms of the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the South Pole and of the CMS large CERN detector in Geneva. The aim of this event was to present to high school students the basic ideas between the efforts that are taking place in order the scientists to discover the origins of the universe, either looking for high energy neutrinos in the ice or by colliding high energy particles and study their interactions. The CERN education team, the IceCube outreach group and the Ellinogermaniki Agogi research group, are working together to bring Nobel Prize Winning Physics to schools all around the world.

Read more about Open Discovery Space project on its website.

Sofoklis Sotiriou
EPS Executive Committee member

  1. Osborne, J. & Dilon, J. (2008). Science Education in Europe: Critical Reflections. A report to the Nuffield Foundation. []

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