A unique collection of exhibits introducing students to the world of particle physics at Fermilab's Lederman Science Center
Teachers and physicists designed the Quarks to Quasars exhibits for groups of students visiting Fermilab. In a needs assessment workshop teachers, expressed an interest in bringing midlevel students to the Lab to see where and how scientists worked. We invited the teachers to help develop an instructional unit, Beauty and Charm at Fermilab, for classroom use prior to a lab visit. Since the general laboratory guided tour was not appropriate for this out-of-school experience, and students could not visit some of the most interesting areas at the Lab, we asked teachers to help design a new student tour to include an opportunity to talk with a physicist and eventually to be enhanced by inquiry-based exploration with museum exhibits. Later, we developed another instructional unit based on the exhibits alone.
In designing the exhibits, we assumed that most students who used the exhibits would be midlevel, however, we expected the exhibits to be appropriate for fourth through twelfth graders. We expected students would know something about Fermilab before they came and for most of them the visit would be part of an instructional unit of study. We also assumed that students would spend at most two hours at the Lab and would come in groups ranging in size from 10 students to grade-level teams of 140 depending on the school organization. We wanted students to work in research groups while at the Lederman Science Center and spend enough time at a few of the exhibits to fully explore them. Like scientists, students would have a logbook in which to record data and observations. Trained docents would be available to assist students. Further, we expected teachers would follow up the visit in the classroom so that students would share and extend what they learned and so that the out-of-school experience would be fully embedded in the classroom curriculum. We expected teachers would attend inservice workshops to work through the instructional units, learn about Fermilab and explore the exhibits before trying to teach their students. (Since 1993 we have offered teacher workshops at least once a year. We have had groups from fourth grade through community college students. Some high school and college groups of students who knew very little about Fermilab included Quarks to Quasars as part of a general guided tour. Students who are prepared for their visit get the most out of it. Even the physicists comment about the excellent questions the younger students ask.)
In designing the exhibits, we focused on three aspects of the work at Fermilab, what we study, how we work and the tools we use. We wrote a story to guide our work. The ideas developed by the teachers and physicists were turned into professional exhibit designs by a professional designer who contracted exhibit builders to construct the exhibits. Since the exhibits have been on the floor, Fermilab technicians have made some improvements to make them more robust, and we have added some directional signs to help students find start and reset buttons, for example. For general signage, we hung banners to indicate the areaIdeas, Methods, Detectors, and Acceleratorsand cartoon strips with characters, midlevel students, created by the designer. We designed the signs to show students how the exhibit worked and to mention some connections of the exhibit concept to Fermilab science and technology.