Pal-Mac High School science teacher Joe Perry is known for taking his students on exciting field trips during the school year, but the trip he just returned from could be the envy on anyone, including fictional TV characters.
Perry took part in the International Teacher Weeks Programme in Geneva, Switzerland. The program is coordinated by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (Commonly known as “CERN”), which is a research organization that operates the largest particle physics laboratory in the world.
“Where Sheldon [from The Big Bang Theory] wanted to go, I’m going,” Perry said.
He’s not alone, though, as he was joined by 26 educators from 17 countries from five continents.
The 7-8 hours flight took Perry from New York States’ 80 degree weather to the “heat wave” in Europe seeing temperatures hovering at 100. It is rare to see any home or building with air conditioning, and ice machines are few and far between.
Throughout the nearly two week conference, Perry and his fellow teachers learned how to teach students about a wide range of topics. This includes how subatomic particles, and high energy particles work. Perry says this will benefit students in his astronomy class, especially when it comes to demonstrations. He says it will hopefully lead to a new lab on subatomic particles in cloud chambers.
A cloud chamber is a window to the subatomic world. As particles move through the cloud, they create trails like animals do in a fresh snow field.Using a particle’s trail, students will be able to differentiate the size and charge of the particle. Think of cloud chambers as a more visual way to understand how radiation works.
“Basically you’re just giving kids a touch of the fact there’s a world they just don’t see happening all the time,” Perry said.
The trip itself is about two years overdue, as Perry applied in January of 2020, and was accepted one week before the world stopped at the beginning of the COVID pandemic. Before he got his “golden ticket,” Perry first had to submit a 12-page application with four separate essays and a video submission.
“To meet teachers from around the world that love and are passionate about science just overfills the bucket, and it just energizes me,” Perry said. “And hopefully I turn that around and bring it to the kids at Pal-Mac, and my colleagues around me.”
In 2018, Joe was part of a teacher trip participating in “Space Camp”.
He joked that students were confused at first about him traveling from Newark to Geneva by plane. (Of course, he meant Newark, New Jersey to Switzerland). All jokes aside, Perry also said he spread some “Pal-Mac love” while overseas. This included making those connections with his fellow teachers, beyond what they plan to teach in their classrooms.
Of the 26 attendees at the conference, 5 were from New York State, and one was from Webster.
He found the dynamics of the conference teachers diverse and fascinating. One woman from Iran (about the same age) as Mr. Perry, had her Doctorate in NanoTech, is teaching HS physics, but was only allowed to drive in her home country within this last decade. A teacher from Ukraine, no longer has a school to return to. Her family has relocated to the suburbs of Istanbul, Turkey and many of her students are in other countries. A Sloviakian physics teacher saw her class sizes increase by 50% last year due to the war. And yet with all the differences all of the teachers compared notes on how difficult teaching science was during the pandemic. Science is hands-on, that’s tough to do online through a computer screen.
While in Geneva, Perry also took the time to visit the International Baccalaureate, of which Pal-Mac is a member.
The curriculum, he noted, through the IB does not include a specific science course for climate or meteorology, even though this is such a current and urgent topic. The only sciences it recognizes are: Environmental Science, Biology, Physics, and Chemistry. Thankfully in NYS all students get a couple months of climate and meteorology via Regents Earth Science (a plug for his own subject)
By Patti Holdraker