Science at The Bay School: Raul Betancourt’s View

Why doesn’t plastic biodegrade?

What makes ice cubes float and the plates of the earth move?

What’s so concerning about the acidification of the ocean?

Reasons abound for loving science, whether for its ability to answer these questions or for how it reveals the wondrous size and scope of the universe.  What we call matter, in and underneath all things, dictates what we feel and how we interact with the world. If you were as small as an atom, only an unfathomable, huge number could describe how many atoms lie packed in around you. How do students embrace such daunting concepts and how do teachers at The Bay School help them do it?

For Raul Betancourt, discipline coordinator and science teacher, the key to simplifying a complex idea is asking why that idea might not make sense to someone else. By first answering this question, Raul and his fellow teachers have opened doors for students who previously thought themselves “not good at science.”

In college, Raul was med-school bound and eager to help his community but not too fond of working in a hospital. Through tutoring students in the sciences, however, Raul developed a fondness for teaching, which led to his first job in education. The students’ honesty, vitality and willingness to learn new things invigorated him, solidifying his choice of career.

Now in his fourth year at The Bay School, Raul shares his students’ openness to fresh perspectives. Rather than heralding exercise, obedience and regurgitation, Raul pilots new programs, such as the online Moore Lab to teach basic principles of chemistry, and asks students for feedback. Instead of asking students to memorize the definition of density, he has them conduct a “gas collection lab,” produce their own CO2 and observe how density dictates the behavior of the gas. He resists a static curriculum, constantly retooling and tweaking lesson plans.

Raul’s not the only one ensuring the success of the science curriculum as a whole. At The Bay School, teachers actually talk to each other – a lot. Different teachers go out of their way to teach the same class, so all of them have the experience of teaching the introductory courses and asking themselves “does my class really prepare students for the class that comes after it?” Science teachers meet regularly to discuss their common goals. As a team, they strive to match each other in providing students with a lot of support in their first years, then slowly removing the scaffolding as students move into their junior and senior years.

Raul feels fortunate to teach in such a supportive environment. At The Bay School, he says, teachers get to know each student really well. They teach students to appreciate and question scientific theories and how to take tests, but more importantly, they provide a safe place to make and learn from mistakes. After all, trial and error are what science is all about.

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