Make it matter: How to foster interest in particle physics by setting it in meaningful contexts
Research in particle physics seems to be abstract and far away from high-school students’ daily life. Yet, research in particle physics is not only relevant for scientists but also applied in numerous fields. For example, technologies developed at CERN are used in medicine for cancer diagnostics and therapy or in cultural heritage for art authentication and restoring. These applications of particle physics may be interesting for high-school students, and thus could serve as contexts for learning activities about particle physics contents. In the framework of a PhD project in physics education research at CERN, a study examines how to foster students’ interest in particle physics by setting it in meaningful contexts. The aim of the project is to compare different contexts in order to identify the ones that are equally and highly interesting for all students. We developed an instrument to measure particle physics interest (IPPI). The items present particle physics set in different contexts. We surveyed 1049 German-speaking students aged 14 to 15 years in an online cross-cohort study. Rasch analysis revealed which contexts of particle physics were rated as more (or less) interesting by the students. For example, the most interesting context was the human body (“medical diagnostics”). Knowing the hierarchy of interesting contexts enables educators to adapt or create learning activities according to the most promising contexts.
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