Welcome to the Project Leadership Series! This series aims to explore the various activities under the wing of the CERN & Society Foundation, through the lens of the managers facilitating these projects. In this first episode, we have with us, Jeff Wiener, the CERN Teacher Programmes Manager.
Can you describe the programme in a few lines?
Almost every week, one group of teachers- from one country or one language speaking area, come to CERN in groups of up to 48, within each of the programmes that last about one week. So, each year we roughly host around 35 National Teacher Programmes, having a total of more than 1000 teachers!
How did the National Teacher Programmes come to be?
CERN’s teacher programmes were established in 1998. IT was recognized that some initiatives needed to be taken for the teachers, to invite them to CERN, show them some of the work that we are doing, so that they may ideally pass this down to their students. It was CERN’s way of recognizing that teachers are by far the most important stakeholders when it comes to science, and if we don’t interact with them, we have no way of reaching the next generation of scientists, who are still learning in schools.
What does the programme hope to achieve?
What we do at CERN is perceived to be world-leading, high-end physics. And of course, it is all that! But the flip side of it is that people think it’s too difficult to understand the science and don’t feel that connected with the research. The teachers that come here for the programme are very self-motivated, or they are externally motivated in the sense that their curriculum asks for it and they are not very comfortable with those physics topics. So, the main aim is to bring down all of the very difficult, high-end physics to a high school’s level so that everyone can understand it. This makes the teachers feel empowered to talk to the students about these topics, ultimately benefitting the future of science!
How does the programme work?
In its current format, the National Techer programmes has been running since 2006, when each of the member states started having their own National Teacher Programmes at CERN. These programmes generally last for 5-7 days. At the end of the programmes, the teachers get to take away many materials for the students, including animations, lectures and videos. In fact, we are currently developing Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) in Particle Physics for high school students!
Can any physics teacher take part in the programme?
We aim for in-service high-school science teachers to take part in these programmes. Of course, our main focus is on physics teachers, but since the structure of science teachers changes from country to country, we are also open to general science teachers, who are teaching age groups of 14-18. It’s not a hard and fast rule as such, but our material is built for younger students who would benefit from a certain competency level in physics.
How can the teachers participate in this programme?
Whenever there is a National Teacher Programme scheduled, we have it up on our Website. Generally, there is an application process, which is again, detailed on the website itself. All our programmes are usually fully booked, so there is a selection process as well, where we check the eligibility factors and have a look at the motivation letter that they have attached to their application. It’s a very difficult process as there are only so many seats and we get such fantastic applications in our hands!
How are the National Teacher Programmes funded?
The National Teacher Programmes are fully residential in nature. The teachers stay here in the on-site CERN hotel. The food and other arrangements are fully taken care of by the teachers themselves. The to-and-from the member state to CERN is done at an individual level as well. But for some countries, like Spain, Italy and Greece, thanks to the fantastic collaboration with the CERN & Society Foundation, we are able to fully cover the travel and living costs at CERN - including hotel and meal costs for all the teachers. This is only possible due to the donors that chip in for this programme and help us in our mission to reach the next generation of scientists!
What is the best feature of the programme?
These programmes are quite intensive, the teachers have lectures, visits, workshops, events and even social programmes for the teachers to connect. The one thing that we learnt quite early on is that for maximum impact, the teachers need a nice relaxed environment to discuss the contents of the programme in an unstructured way, within themselves. This allows them to have a conversation about what they learnt. So the free time that the teachers have in the evenings, and the social events (like a treasure hunt around Geneva, followed by the official dinner and the mid-week fondue night!) work wonders to create that environment for the teachers.
What impact has been created over the years?
Every year, we have over 1000 teachers coming to CERN to take part in these programmes. So, since its inception in 1998 some 13000 teachers have been trained overall. But the best thing is something that we like to call the ‘CERN Effect’. It’s something very difficult to explain, but once the teachers complete a programme here, they return to their home country and often come back to CERN, along with their students, to show them what CERN is about and the fantastic research that is being carried out here. This way the students get to experience CERN firsthand, which is an even better outcome than we could have hoped for!
Tell us about you, and your role as the project manager.
I originally started as a physics teacher in Austria for a couple of years. I then came to CERN for a very short contract, 9 years ago. Since then, I have been lucky enough to do my PhD at CERN, followed by a Post-Doc and now I am a staff scientist here. I have a fantastic team with me, that helps me run CERN’s teacher programmes.
I have the best job there is! For every programme, the teachers arrive on a Sunday, and I am the first one to greet them. The teachers are very excited to come to CERN, and for most of them, it’s a dream come true. I get showered in love and affection from all of them. (It helps that I have a trolley full of snacks, some beer and wine when I great them!) But the best part is that together with our network of fantastic colleagues I get to train over a 1000 teachers every year, playing my part into ensuring that the future generations are well versed in their physics and science subjects, so that one day they may lead the charge of generating knowledge for the world.