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Playing with Protons

Primary teachers take part in an inspirational summer CPD programme at CERN.

Published: 21 August 2023

Earlier this summer, 12 primary teachers from the UK travelled to Geneva to participate in the ‘Playing with Protons UK’ CPD programme at CERN. Hosted by IdeaSquare at CERN, the project is a collaboration between the CMS Experiment, University of Birmingham and STFC, and is supported by The Ogden Trust.

The programme seeks to develop subject knowledge and confidence in areas of physics as well as share the awe and wonder of current developments in particle physics, cosmology and engineering that make CERN one of the most exciting science facilities on the planet. It also seeks to inspire primary teachers to create amazing learning opportunities for children back in the UK. The hard work and enthusiasm of Professor Cristina Lazzeroni from the University of Birmingham has ensured that Playing with Proton participants can enjoy a full and engaging programme of activities meeting with physicists, researchers and students from across CERN.

A line of 17 adults pictured stood in front of a double decker bus

Playing with Protons cohort 2023 pictured with Professor John Ellis and Dr Mick Storr (centre right)

The participating teachers explored the labs and learning of CERN; they went underground to see the CMS detector at the Large Hadron Collider, took part in interactive workshops on elementary particles and atomic structure; got hands-on with an inspiring creative CERN challenge; and heard from phenomenal physicists, including Professor John Ellis who shared his fascinating thoughts on the big questions in science that CERN is looking to answer. Dr Mick Storr guided the group throughout their visit, sharing a wealth of stories and experience that really helped the participants appreciate the amazing work that has been done at CERN over the years and to get an insight into the innovations and developments that are going on today.

“I feel like my physics capital is currently off the charts after visiting CERN! During our three-day trip, I met and worked with incredible practitioners from across the country and we all learned so much about the guiding principles behind all that CERN does – research, education, innovation and collaboration – something which really mirrored our own experience on the trip. The people we met who were connected with CERN, whether they were students, guides or world leading experts on physics, all made us immediately feel part of their special science community. Their passion in sharing the history, current projects and potential future developments at CERN was truly inspirational and something I hope to replicate when sharing my experience with the children in my school and my partnership schools.

“There are no secrets at CERN. Thanks to the efforts of the Ogden Trust team and our amazing guide, Mick, we were given access to some of the most exciting, revolutionary experiments on the planet. From particle accelerators and antimatter factories to the central control centre and the CMS itself – nothing was off limits. The moment that Michael, a physicist and artist who works at the CMS, took us 100m underground and opened the door revealing what he called ‘the princess of science’ will stay with me forever. I am heading back to the north-east with a new mission to get as many children from my region as possible to experience what I did at CERN – to feel part of a community who are asking the most important questions about the universe but are also inspired and motivated by how little we actually know!”

a row of people alongside a green barrier - they are wearing red hard hat

Ready to visit the CMS

“I witnessed first-hand the enthusiasm of the teachers who took part in this trip,” says Charley Phillips, Head of Teacher Support for the Trust. “It was a joy and privilege to be part of this journey and the feedback following the visit has been overwhelming. To see ideas and friendships germinating across the group was really inspiring, and it is why we offer these opportunities to our Teacher Network.

“The workshops, tours and speakers brought together subject knowledge and science pedagogy, inspiring the primary teachers to become ambassadors for physics, and to take that enthusiasm for science back into their classrooms. This was a transformational experience, as teachers, passionate about primary science, came together and were able to share ideas, network and learn in this very special place,” concludes Charley. 

“Playing with protons has left me so enthused to carry on inspiring the children I work with to pursue science interests! I know it is going to have a big impact on my work and the children I work with. One of the most important things for me was hearing from scientists at CERN about the small experiences and encouragement they had encountered when they were young which helped to foster their own interests, study and work within science.”

“It was such a valuable and inspirational experience which really highlighted to me the value of collaboration, curiosity, resilience and positivity. We took part in such informative and imaginative workshops to help us begin to understand the mind blowing and very important work going on at CERN. The positive energy and truly international, collaborative ethos at CERN are awesome; this was also evident within the group who all developed into friends during this special time together. The science education community is so fantastic, and I feel honoured to have been part of such a truly memorable and utterly outstanding life experience. I will strive to carry forward the sense of awe and wonder back in school and beyond.”

hand drawings and diagrams to illustrate how the teachers felt about their trip.

Getting creative: capturing their CERN experience in pictures

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