Early career teacher blog: a School Trip to CERN

This is the fourth posting from our busy physics teacher who is now in his second year after qualifying (read his previous post here).

“This blog is about firsts:  the first time I organised a residential trip, the first time the science department organised a trip abroad and the first time I went to CERN.

Since joining this school as an NQT in 2010, I’ve been trying to enrich the physics course, offering talks, taking the students to IOP lectures and organising day trips. A trip to CERN was to be the final piece in the jigsaw, an exciting opportunity for the physics department to show the students how amazing physics is. But could I pull it off?

We set off on a Saturday morning, scheduled to return on the Monday evening. Having responsibility for 11 students (all but two of my physics group) was in itself a daunting task, and having my head of department and the school’s head accompanying only added to my apprehension.

We landed in Geneva around midday, with the students (and secretly me too!) buzzing. We got onto the train as planned – so far, so good! Of course, I spoke too soon and we missed our stop. After a 45 minute round trip, where we explored most of Switzerland, we made it back to the right stop. Putting that behind us, we caught the tram to our hostel where I almost got run over trying to figure out where we were.

But after we dumped our bags, had our lunch and headed to the lake, what a sight beheld us! Geneva is truly amazing and has an eerie silence for such a bustling place.
Our visit to CERN was on the Monday, the day we were leaving. We would only spend five hours there which was not ideal, but I have learnt for next year.  But we enriched the weekend with trips to the Natural History and Science museums and ice- skating. The students loved all of it, especially seeing their physics teacher trying to make his way around the rink without falling over (to their disappointment, I did succeed).

That aside, our timing could not have been more perfect as it was a very exciting time for CERN. It was a week after they had done their secondary exam on the neutrinos going faster than light and a couple of weeks before they narrowed down the energies in the search for the Higgs Boson. We had a fascinating lecture and tour of the ground level facilities and it was great to see the students get involved, asking and answering some very high level questions. They (and I) came back from the trip buzzing. Did I mention CERN has a gift shop? I spent a lot of money!

Despite a few hiccups initially, the trip was a huge success. Its aim was primarily to aid the students in their Unit 4 A2 physics, a notoriously difficult unit, but it achieved so much more.  Since the trip the students have sat a mock which nobody failed and half the class exceeded their target grade.  And 85% of the class have since applied to university to do a physics-related degree, with one student applying for a course that could include a year working at CERN.

The school’s head was brilliant. He made it very clear before we went that it was my trip and that he was just there as help and he stuck to his word. The head of science was also brilliant. At times she took over a little, which I suppose was to be expected, but most of the time she left me to it and let me to make the decisions. More importantly, throughout she reassured me that the trip was brilliant and gave me that occasional confidence boost I needed. They both said they enjoyed the weekend and it was vital it became a part of the A-level physics course. The head also suggested that the next trip could run from Thursday to Saturday to give us longer at CERN (they don’t do weekends) and also that one day to recover before going back to school. I have to admit that working two weeks non-stop was a killer!

So without a doubt, this was a successful and worthwhile trip. And, oh, definitely a learning-experience for me.

If you’re interested in organising a trip like this: It was a lot of hard work organising the trip, but it is doable. Firstly, I had to independently book our visit to CERN. You can do this here: http://outreach.web.cern.ch/outreach/. Once that was done, I found a fantastic company called Adaptable Travel who organised everything else for me and were available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help if we had trouble while away. Fortunately we had no need for this service, but it was reassuring knowing it was there.”