The Italian Teacher Programme (ITP) at CERN offers courses to Italian high school science teachers, who wish to update their knowledge on contemporary physics. During their one-week stay at CERN, the selected participants attend lectures delivered by CERN researchers, learn how to replicate simple yet inspiring particle physics experiments in class, and visit many experimental installations of the Laboratory.
The programme is one of many National Teacher Programmes held at CERN every year to inspire and motivate students and teachers to reach their full potential in the field of contemporary physics. Every year, around 140 teachers take part in the two levels of the ITP courses.
Recently, we had the opportunity of interviewing a participant of ITP and learning more about his experience. Saul Casalone, a 39-year-old teacher from Lecco, Italy, took part in the Italian Teacher Programme at CERN in October 2017 and October 2018.
When asked about the start of his journey in the world of education, Saul recalls vividly, “After university studies, I first thought about dedicating myself to health physics, working on high-energy electron beams for oncological radiotherapy, but then, I realized that what fascinated me most was teaching, because it requires great dedication, but also total freedom of study. I found it, and I still find it, the most rewarding work experience you can have.”
He also admits his only professional wish is to be a better teacher throughout his life, “When you're in a classroom, in order to be understood by students, you have to reduce physics to its ‘conceptual essence’. It reminds me of Michelangelo's sculpture: a tension towards an essential truth, that you achieve when all the superfluous has been discarded.”
The aim of the CERN Italian Teacher Programme is to integrate contemporary physics into schools. Thanks to the various experiments, lectures and visits to laboratories, the programme offers teachers a unique opportunity to gain exposure to an international research environment. Saul believes his method of teaching has changed after participating in the CERN ITP training. He says, “I realized that it isn't necessary to wait for the end of school curriculum to approach 20th century physics. Contemporary physics is becoming more and more the focus of my lessons, starting from the very first encounter with physics for younger students.”
After attending the ITP, Saul developed an innovative and inventive project aimed at teaching complex particle physics concepts to primary school students. Due to his initiative, he received the “ITP I Vostri Successi” award during his last participation at the ITP advanced course. He proposed eyesight as a paradigmatic model of scattering experiments.
"Studying the paths of light in different situations, I introduced the concepts of source, incident beam, target, scattered beam and detectors. I also built a large model of the Geiger-Marsden experiment so that, through playing, children can understand how scattered particles can transport information about the target. In this way I was able to introduce them to current research in particle physics.”
Receiving the award, Saul expressed his gratitude for the numerous opportunities available at CERN, along with the resources made available to teachers at ITP. He mentions, “I also know that my project has been selected among many other educational projects of great value. Bringing students the enthusiasm that I’ve experienced at CERN is certainly the best way to express my gratitude. This is why I first started working at this project and now I would just like to give it a future, making it available to other teachers.”
Saul believes his students back in Italy also benefited greatly from his ITP experience: “Currently, I teach at an art high school and many students chose this kind of school thinking they are not attracted by science, but when I teach them contemporary physics, I always see their eyes lightening with enthusiasm and interest. Like no other field of knowledge, contemporary physics carries the extraordinary promise to look at reality with new eyes: for this reason, it's really fascinating. So, it happened that some of my students, after art studies, decided to study physics or other STEM subjects at university. That’s really nice!”
Indeed, when a student pursues studies in a subject you have taught, it is definitely a moment of pride for the teacher. But when asked what advice he would give to young students who want to approach the particle physics field, Saul suggests that they should “not only take care of their scientific knowledge but also of their humanistic and human education.” It’s his opinion that the best results can only be achieved “if these different fields are not thought of as competing, but as part of the same path to the highest expression of human culture.”
After his second consecutive year as an ITP participant (two different levels), Saul feels confident to suggest the Italian Teacher Programme to his colleagues. He claims it has renewed his enthusiasm for teaching physics.
"Such an experience in one of the most prestigious international research centres represented an extraordinary moment in professional life for me and all my colleagues. Actually, ITP works as an accelerator for teachers: in the first course ITP speakers 'accelerate' us and in the second course we “collide” with each other: we have to work side by side, developing an educational project on contemporary physics”
The Italian Teacher Programme is one of the many CERN education and outreach programs that is funded by the CERN & Society Foundation via private donations. In 2018, the project was funded in part by Fondazione Silvio Tronchetti Provera.
We are now looking for new supporters for the ITP, and Saul knows exactly what to say to them. “I would thank this donor, as a teacher and as a citizen, because their support will contribute in a significant way to educational innovation. I’m more and more convinced that it is necessary to review the whole physics curriculum, looking at contemporary physics as a starting point rather than a point of arrival. In this way, we’ll make contemporary physics part of the citizenship culture and we’ll offer a profitable response to the great gap between scientific culture and popular culture, which compromises the future of research and technological development.”
This year, the ITP will be held from 10-15 March, 6-11 October and 17-22 November 2019. We look forward to this new chapter with future teachers at the Italian Teacher Program.