1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Teaching particle physics in basic education

  1. Sep 17, 2016 #1
    Hi guys!

    I'm doing a research about teaching elementary particles in the middle school, something that isn't the reality in my country. Despite of the research in Physics Teaching be a lot advanced, the proposals made by them are not applied in the practice of the teachers.
    I want to propose something that can be close of the reality in the schools, something that could be applied, but I'm having a really hard time to figure out which technologies are based on elementary particles concepts to let me capable to link the physics of it and their applicability in real cases, or make explicit the importance of teaching it to let students become capable to criticize the technologies or understand it.

    Can you give me examples of technologies and the importance of teach it in the middle school?

    Thanks in advance.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 18, 2016 #2

    Simon Bridge

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Middle school would be NZ intermediate school.
    Students typically aged 10 and 11?

    I would not teach particle physics at this level.
    However, students can be introduced to fundamental particles through their investigation of electricity, and learning about atoms.

    The electron structure of atoms can be used to describe chemical reactions - showing consistency of the model.
    Technologies based on particles include florescent light, cathode rays, LEDs, x-rays, plasma discharge tubes, and Am based smoke alarms.
  4. Sep 18, 2016 #3


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    Only example I can think right now, Electron Microscope, using electron beam. How would this be taught to middle school students, not know.
  5. Sep 18, 2016 #4
    Thanks Simon!
    Oh, in my country we call middle school or middle education (in simple translate) what I think that is the "high school" in EUA
    The students are aged between 15 and 17.
    How can I introduce fundamental particles while I teach electricity? Introducing concepts like the fact that every battery is a particle accelerator, physical quantities like the "eV", phentombarn and etc? Like, starting from there the explanation of the evolution about the atom model?
    Thanks again
  6. Sep 18, 2016 #5

    Simon Bridge

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    OK. I looked it up.

    You have to start with what the students already know... or, at least, aught to know (and modify for the particular class like normal). For that you'd have to start with the existing curriculum and any national standards.

    The basic electricity course would start before secondary school ... in NZ they would have learned about magnets and electricity in general and may have heard that electricity is made up of stuff called 'electrons". Particle model for matter is not usually covered before year 9-10 in NZ, that would be 14-15yo. Before that, anything involving particles will be electrons, protons, and neutrons, and will be mostly a literacy exercise.

    Note: a battery is not a particle accelerator.
    In year 8 students will learn the water-flow model for electric circuits ... the battery is a pump.
    Students would not come across units like eV until their senior year.

    How you approach introducing the electron depends on how you approach electricity ... in NZ students may start by exploring electrostatics and the difference between vitreous (of glass) and resinous (of resin) electricity and the Edison simplification that one kind of electricity should be treated as the absence of the other. Edison's group decided that the resinous type should be treated as the one that does the moving about, and got it wrong. The electrical "fluid" is composed of electrons... etc. That's just learning words. They can experience a van der graaf generator ... hook one to the blunt end of a metal cone and demonstrate electrons flying off the pointy end using an incense stream. You can do a lot with these things.

    Students are first eligible to graduate at 16yo in NZ so we would have taught particle model of matter, states of matter, planetary model of atoms, basic atomic transitions, etc by then.

    NZ curriculum and resources for comparison with what you are used to:
  7. Sep 18, 2016 #6
    I would argue that spending any length of time trying to teach middle school students about elementary particles is a poor choice of subject to focus their effort. I would encourage you to step back and first ask yourself what your objectives are, and how a unit or lesson on elementary particles achieves those objectives.

    You are searching for applications and having a hard time. Is it possible that there are none? My knowledge of the subject is cursory at best, but I was reminded of a passage by Steven Weinberg in his recent book To Explain the World where he says "As a physicist whose research is on subjects like elementary particles and cosmology that have no immediate practical application, I am certainly not going to say anything against knowledge for its own sake, but doing scientific research to fill human needs has a wonderful way of forcing the scientist to stop versifying and to confront reality." This passage was from a chapter in which he was describing how the ancient Greeks were interested in knowledge for the sake of knowledge and that they showed no interest in knowledge for use.

    So, if you're objective is to show the usefulness of science I think you may be better served by choosing a different topic.

    Further, if your objective is to introduce students to the value of knowledge for its own sake I would argue that middle schooler's are hardly in a position to understand the theoretical structure of the Standard Model. Perhaps a unit on Archimedes is a better choice? Archimedes principle has clear practical application and the way he structured On Floating Bodies is axiomatic where all conclusions follow directly from a single postulate (though I think middle schooler's would probably not appreciate this at all).
  8. Sep 18, 2016 #7
    Guys, I'm sorry for have used the term "middle school". As I said, in My country middle school, in poor translate, is the same of yours high school. I don't want to teach the deep aspects of elementary particles, I just want to introduce the concepts that would allow them to understand what is going on around them.
    I am searching to applications of this knowledge, to use it to explain in a way more "touchable", more visible, experimental than just teach the meaning of some words with another words. (Since I will teach just superficial aspects, just the essentials of this subject).
    I will search the applications that were said ,thanks guys

    Please give me more ideas!
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2016
  9. Sep 18, 2016 #8
    Fair enough, but even if you had mentioned high school students as the target audience I would have written the same response in post #6. As far as I know (and was corroborated by the Weinberg quote also in post 6) there are no practical applications of the Standard Model. The only particles in the model that anyone interacts with directly on a daily basis are the photon and electron. And arguably, unless you are setting up a particular experiment to illustrate the quantum behavior of light and matter, one does not need to know anything about the particles to understand what is happening around them - the bulk characteristics of matter and light would suffice.

    For my high school students I used to spend time having them research topics of interest in modern physics (I present them with a menu from which they can choose or they can select their own topic with approval) and then present their research to the class in short, 10 minute, presentations. I did this because I wanted them to know about some of the frontiers of physics research. If your goal is to simply introduce students to the idea than I think this is an effective way to do it.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted

Similar Discussions: Teaching particle physics in basic education
  1. PhD in Physics Education (Replies: 10)